The Situation and History
The final four games of any season should never be three on the road. At least, if the scheduling clones had any souls left, they’d arrange for a 2-2 but a 3-1 with the final game being on the road is a bit much. Tech is faced with opening the road trip against a team that they haven’t played all that much. It’s also a team that has pulled itself out of a tailspin of sorts with a first-year head coach, Jeff Brohm, and an unknown roster configuration at the beginning of the season.
Over the last 8 games, the Cardinals, under their new coach have exploded out of the gate in a non-existent transition period. Brohm has the Cards at 7-1 and surprised everyone. Brohm is a former Cardinal Quarterback who played for them from 1990-1993. There has been a parade of notable names who played for or coach Louisville including Coach Lee Corso, Johnny Unitas, and Lemar Jackson. One infamous name, Bobby Petrino, brought some great success, but personal controversy as well. The end result of their current history is a team that is actually a big surprise for most analysts. Brohm looked like a good pick, but Louisville’s talent cupboard was hurting, and its fortunes looked to be rather modest this season. As of the first weekend in November, with the Hokies coming to town, that’s just not the case, anymore.
The Hokies and the Cardinals do not have a huge history to elevate the contest to any sort of rivalry. The Cardinals were a late arrival to the Big East as it was collapsing, and a later arrival to the ACC to balance the Atlantic division after Maryland’s departure from the conference. Louisville and Tech have only met 8 times over their collegiate football existences. Currently Tech holds the lead at 6 wins and 2 losses.
The first meeting between the teams was in Kentucky during Bill Dooley’s first season at the helm of the rebranding Virginia Tech Hokies (Prior to Dooley, we were officially the Fighting Gobblers of VPI.) The Hokies managed to sneak away with that win 15-14. Louisville would lose the final two games of the Dooley era. Unfortunately for Frank Beamer, the 1988 season proved to be a difficult one, and the Cardinals won in a slugfest. That was far history, though. Since their appearance in the ACC, Tech was rarely scheduled to play them, at all. The only ACC “regular season” game against the Cardinals was the hapless and horrible 2020 where Tech actually won that one in a shootout, 42-35. The Hokies did win a Gator Bowl victory from them on Jan. 2, 2006, for the 2005 season. That’s really not a huge rivalry history between these two programs.
The Present and the Big THEM
The Louisville Cardinals of 2023 have already developed a personality and that is weirdly inconsistent balance. It’s also, over the season, developed something of a decent defense. It’s not a smooth chart, however. Some games have been blowouts with the Cardinals scoring huge point totals (Georgia Tech - 38, Murray State - 56, BC - 56, and Notre Dame - 33) on offense, but they’ve also had serious trouble getting much of anywhere and relied on defense to win the game. NC State was a 13-10 squeaker and Duke was a 23-0 effort. Note that Duke would normally be better than 23 points, but their starting QB Riley Leonard was out of the game and replaced by an inexperienced Freshman. The Cardinal Defense won that one.
The Cardinals have a more “air raid” style to their read/option offense. They might not call it an Air Raid, but it quacks like that particular duck. Louisville is starting a double transfer quarterback whose history looks a whole lot like he’s a better off in an Air Raid. He’s no dual threat and the numbers say that Brohm is not using him that way.
That starting QB, Jack Plummer, is not a huge threat to run, with a grand total of 53 yards this season. He is a threat to beat teams with his arm when he’s not being pressured, however. Plummer has thrown for 2018 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. Those numbers become a bit more modest when you remove the obvious blowout games, but he’s still competent and has recently been pretty careful with the ball, though he’s tossed it to the other hat eight times this season. That might be his big weakness. As noted, he doesn’t run much. It’s more of a scramble than a predetermined play call, and at 6’5” and 212 (that’s pretty lightly sprung), he’s unlikely to do much more against the Hokies, either.
On the ground, Louisville shows some balance and power. Their top four running backs listed don’t have a pile of yards, but their leading running back, Jawhar Jordan, has 824 which with 8 games in the bag means that he’s running at a 1000 yard plus season clip. There is another wrinkle to note for Coach Marve. The fall off between Jordan (10 TDs to go with the yardage) and the next back on the list, Isaac Guerendo, is steep. Guerendo has only had limited attempts for 252 yards.
What’s fairly obvious is that the Louisville offense passes a whole lot and spreads the ball around to various receivers. The top four are operating above 200 yards each in total, with the number 1 receiver, Jamari Thrash putting up 712 yards at 89 per game and 6 TDs. The Cardinal offense doesn’t have a dominant way to get the ball in the end zone, but one thing is for sure the running backs are receivers, and the team can use every eligible receiver to do the job. It’s a typical shading toward “air raid” and the numbers bear that out. It’s a three-dimensional offense that gets both vertical and outside. They are beatable, however. Pitt proved that two weekends ago.
The Louisville defense did not start the season dominant, but it is growing in experience and confidence. The shutout of Duke is not a trivial event. Duke is struggling a bit this season, but is a very competent program, and having that offense shut down for an entire game is not a small event. Few defenses pitch shutouts against first rate opponents. The Hokie offense has to be better right out of the box and be unpredictable from the first snap. If the Duke game is a negative example of what not to do, the Pitt game is probably a good picture of what can work. Pitt’s woeful offense actually got rolling for that contest.
The Hokies Need to Bring It, Again
The Virginia Tech Hokies need to show up in Louisville with a really bad attitude, especially on defense. “Air Raid” style offenses are difficult to stop if they get clicking. The quarterback gets the ball out fast, and there are lots of targets to hit. It is imperative that the Hokie defensive line get natural heavy pressure up the ‘A’ Gap on the Cardinals. Jack Plummer needs to look like Bunson Honeydew’s lab assistant Beaker for the entire game. That pressure needs to be from the front four with minimal assists from the linebackers and safeties. The reason is that Plummer is going to be looking to get the ball out in under 4 seconds, and that means collapsing the pocket and making that quick throw nearly impossible. The balancing act for Coach Marve is going to be that the longer Plummer stays on his feet and can target a receiver, the more chances that someone is going to get open downfield. It’s just not possible to cover-out an air raid.
The running totals for their lead back also means that most teams have had difficulty accounting for him in the offensive structure from either the passing or the running perspective. Coaches Marve, Price, and Quinn will have their hands full playing whack-a-mole if they can’t figure out a balance that allows the secondary to cover with help. To stop this scheme, they need to stop Plummer from throwing the ball, or handing it off cleanly to his lead back in space.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tech needs to stand on the accelerator. The big issue with the Virginia Tech offense that has developed under Kyron Drones, this season, is the “-4 problem”. That’s on the offensive coordinator. He has to learn to call smarter plays, using more of the field, and taking advantage of the edges and seams for passing when the team is inside the 15-yard line. He’s too “predictable” in trying to slam the ball up the middle with an offensive line that is still in the process of getting better. (The O-Line has been playing better each game, but it’s still having difficulty with the inside running game.)
It’s time to take advantage of Drones’s size, speed outside, and better available patterns in the end zone. Get Drones rolled out to the field side of the formation get him receivers past or at the goal line and let him choose whether or not to pass or pull it in and run through the open lanes that always develop. Let Tuten and Thomas use their outside speed to run to the corner flags instead of running to the post. To win this game (and more games for that matter) the offense has to score touchdowns, not just field goals.
The Hokies can definitely win this game if they replay the Syracuse effort and add better play calling and design in the red zone. They don’t have to be absolutely perfect, but a well-balanced and excellent effort is necessary for this one.
The Odds and Ends
Currently the odds published for the game are all settling on the Cardinals favored by 9.5 with an O/U of 48.5. The Sunday early spread was a weird 12 points. The movement down is showing that maybe the wiseguys in the desert Southwest are seeing a chance that the Hokies might pull this one off. It will depend greatly on which Hokie team shows up on Saturday. The odds makers still don’t have a ton of confidence that Tech has made the turn. Though true to their nature they are hedging a bit.
Time for You to Chime In
There are several lines of thinking on this one, and it’s time for you to pick which one is on the right track.
How do you think this one is going to go?
This poll is closed
Louisville dominates. Tech can’t defend against a pass heavy offense that spreads it around. The Hokie O is still struggling to score TDs in the red zone. It’s too big an ask on this game. Louisville takes it, beats the spread, bet the over.
Tech shows up. The defense shuts down Plummer like Schrader, and the other stuff becomes irrelevant. Drones has another big game and Tuten racks up the yards. Tech wins it by a touchdown or more but bet the under 49 is too high a total.
It runs into a low-grade shootout with neither defense dominating but neither offense managing to dominate either. Tech scores -4s too many times, and Louisville takes the game by less than the spread and the over gets nipped by a point or two.
The game turns into a slug fest. Tech pulls off a close one with a decent ground game and getting the slants, seams, and bubbles to work. Hokies manage to get a few field goals extra to take it by 3. But it’s definitely an Under proposition.
Next Up for Tomorrow Evening, we have Predictions, News and other tidbits for you.
Special Note: We have photo credentials for the basketball games (both women’s and men’s) and other Spring sports, so it’s going to be a busy Winter and Spring. November 6th we’ll be there for the opening of the Women’s basketball season. Stay tuned it’s going to be an exciting season of hoops for the Hokies and Gobbler Country, too.