Coming off an awful tackling performance, UVA travels to run-heavy Louisville

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: University of Louisville Athletics

If Tony Elliott was choosing, he probably wouldn’t have picked Louisville as his next opponent after his Virginia defense just surrendered 305 yards rushing in a lopsided, 45-17 loss to Georgia Tech.

Now, Elliott’s Cavaliers have a short turnaround, traveling to No. 11 Louisville for a Thursday-night (ESPN, 7:30) matchup with the run-heavy Cardinals. Louisville is a 20-point favorite and unbeaten at home (5-0).

Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski apologized to Virginia fans after the beating his unit took against Georgia Tech, but he may face an even stronger ground game in Blue Grass country. Louisville is fourth in the ACC in rushing offense, averaging 188 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. The Cardinals are tied with Carolina for the most touchdowns rushing with 22.

Their leading rusher is Jawhar Jordan, who trails only UNC’s Omarion Hampton in ACC rushing with 98 yards per game on the ground. Jordan averages an eye-popping 7.1 yards per rush.

Meanwhile, UVA’s rush defense ranks next-to-last in the ACC, giving up 180.3 yards per game (4.8 per carry), while giving up the most rushing TDs in the league (22).

“We just didn’t tackle well,” Elliott said of UVA’s defensive effort — or, rather lack of effort — against Georgia Tech. “I think about third-and-7 when a quarterback (Tech’s Haynes King) goes for 30-plus for a touchdown. We got one [tackler] right there at the point of attack. We’ve got an unblocked safety that’s got to be clean with his eyes, who’s got to be there to clean it up.

“Third-and-14, we had several guys that were there. We just didn’t look like ourselves. We had been improving in tackling. We just didn’t get the ball-carrier on the ground. I anticipate that this week these guys are going to accept the challenge. You’re going to have to put your pads on each running back in this run game to get them on the ground.”

When Louisville coach Jeff Brohm was at Purdue, and even earlier this season at his alma mater, his offense was mostly a throwing offense. That has changed after the Cardinals’ bye week.

In their past two games — lopsided wins over Duke and Virginia Tech — the Cardinals have been run-heavy, rushing for a combined 465 yards (passing for only 268) while outscoring the Blue Devils and Hokies, 57-3. Jordan went for 163 against a Duke defense that had been much-heralded all season long. Virginia Tech focused on stopping Jordan, so backup Isaac Guerendo rushed for a career-high 146 and three TDs.

Standing at 8-1, with UVA, Miami and Kentucky remaining on the schedule, Louisville is odds-on favorite to meet Florida State in the ACC Championship game in early December. There-in lies golden opportunities for the Cardinals if they can win out, a league crown and a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs if they can upset the Seminoles.