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Louisville Relishing Spoiler Role

By Dave Holcomb
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For the second time in three weeks, an ACC opponent came into its matchup against Louisville with a golden opportunity, but, each time, the Cardinals had different ideas.

For the second time in three weeks, an ACC opponent came into its matchup against Louisville with a golden opportunity.

First, it was Wake Forest, who moved into the AP rankings with a perfect record before playing Louisville. In the weeks that followed, the Demon Deacons were eyeing an all-undefeated showdown with Clemson.

This week, Virginia rolled into its showdown in Kentucky with an opportunity to open a two-game lead in the ACC Coastal.

But each time, the Cardinals had different ideas.

Louisville picked up another early signature victory in the Scott Satterfield era Saturday, holding on to beat Virginia, 28-21.

In its previous big victory against Wake Forest, Louisville’s offense exploded for eight touchdowns and the team needed all of them in the 62-59 victory. Against Virginia, the Louisville defense shined brightest.

The Cardinals held the Cavaliers to 311 total yards and under 4.6 yards per play. Louisville also forced two turnovers without giving up one.

Last week, Virginia rolled to a lopsided victory against Duke, but statistically, Virginia’s offense didn’t look that much different, posting 307 yards of offense and about 4.4 yards per play, than it did in Saturday’s defeat. Against the Blue Devils, the Cavaliers forced five takeaways and created great field position all afternoon with their special teams.

While Virginia returner Joe Reed did average more than 31 yards per kick return, overall, the Cavaliers didn’t create as good of field position this week. Credit Louisville, though, for limiting Virginia’s special teams opportunities and taking care of the ball.

Louisville running back Javian Hawkins and quarterback Micale Cunningham combined to rush for 233 yards and three touchdowns, but just as important as those yards and scores was preventing mistakes against the opportunistic Cavaliers.

The ACC is one of the weakest Power 5 conferences, so on a national scale, Louisville still has a lot of work to do, but in Satterfield’s first season, the Cardinals have gone from ACC Atlantic doormat and just utter embarrassment to perhaps the second-best team in the ACC.

Outside of Clemson, Louisville has beaten two of the other three teams in the conference with a winning ACC record -- Virginia and Wake Forest -- both of whom have taken claim to the title “second-best team in the ACC” at some point this year.

Even if Louisville finishes 2-2 down the stretch -- which appears to be a worst case scenario with Miami, N.C. State, Syracuse and quarterback-depleted Kentucky left on the schedule -- the Cardinals will win seven games and earn a bowl bid.

That was unfathomable two months ago heading into Satterfield’s first season. Most predicted Satterfield would bring Louisville back to prominence in the ACC Atlantic, but not this quickly.

As for Virginia, the Cavaliers missed a golden opportunity Saturday. Before kickoff to its game, Virginia received a big break from Miami beating Pitt at Heinz Field early in the afternoon.

With a victory at Louisville, Virginia would have been the first Coastal team to four ACC victories and moved into at least a 1.5-game lead over every other team in the division except North Carolina.

Instead, the loss keeps Virginia back with the rest of the pack, which is awfully crowded in the Coastal. Six of the seven teams in the division have two or three conference wins.

This loss also makes Virginia’s road showdown with North Carolina hugely important next week. The winner will become the newest frontrunner in the chaotic Coastal.

The Cavaliers still have a home game with Virginia Tech to cap off the season as well, and while that’s a game Virginia needs to win if it’s truly a division champion, it’s far from a guarantee in the hectic Coastal, especially when considering Virginia Tech has won 15 straight in the rivalry.

Virginia is still in fine shape to become the seventh different team in seven years to win the Coastal, but the Cavaliers lost out on a huge opportunity to end the chaos in the division in Week 9.