Three Reasons Why Louisville Could Beat Virginia Tech
After a shocking 23-16 defeat at the hands of Wake Forest last Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies go back on the road to face an up-and-coming Louisville Cardinals squad, that is fresh off a blowout win over Florida State.
The Hokies played their worst game of the season last week against the Demon Deacons, and will now need to turn the page quickly to try to bounce back against the Scott Satterfield-led Cardinals.
Here's three ways Virginia Tech could lose to Louisville for the third defeat in the last four games.
1. Virginia Tech struggles to contain Louisville's rushing attack
Virginia Tech has its work cut out on defense this week.
Louisville running back Javian Hawkins has been the most consistent player on the Cardinals' offense. Despite the ups-and-downs of Louisville's passing attack this year, which has been marred by turnovers at times, the running game has been potent, with Hawkins emerging as one of the nation's best backs.
Hawkins enters play on Saturday against Virginia Tech averaging six yards per attempt on the season, becoming a staple of the Louisville rushing attack. Tech's rushing defense is allowing 4.96 yards per play, which is fourth-worst in the ACC, and the Hokies will be without defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt in the first half due to his targeting ejection last week, only further complicating matters for the Hokies defensively.
Tech's defense has had a penchant for slow starts this year, even as the unit has continued to improve as a whole. A fast start on Saturday will be imperative, especially against the Louisville rushing attack.
2. Virginia Tech falls behind early
This Louisville match-up is problematic for Virginia Tech's defense because of the team speed that the Cardinals possess at the skill positions. Couple that with strong play out of quarterback Malik Cunningham and Louisville becomes quite the offense.
Cunningham took over at quarterback for Louisville in the middle of last season, and immediately made an impact on the efficiency of the Cardinals' offense. Cunningham completed 62.6% of his passes last year for 2,065 yards and 22 touchdowns to five interceptions. If Cunningham had thrown one more pass attempt, he would have qualified for the NCAA's passing efficiency statistics, and he would have been second to only LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in passing efficiency last season.
Cunningham is still completing a high percentage of his passes this year - in fact, his completion percentage is slightly higher at 62.9% this year. However, Cunningham and the passing offense have taken a step back due to turnovers getting the best of the Cardinals' quarterback. Cunningham already has as many interceptions as he did a year ago - five - in about half of the number of games. While this is problematic, Cunningham has not turned it over in his last three outings, and has six touchdowns and no interceptions in that span. In the last two games, Cunningham has completed 74% of his passes, appearing to find his groove at the halfway point of the season.
Cunningham's skill position talent around him is similar to that of North Carolina, and we saw how Tech struggled to defend the Tar Heels. Javian Hawkins is a great running back, but Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell forms the best duo of receivers on Virginia Tech's schedule, outside of Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown of the Tar Heels.
The team speed is tangible, and Virginia Tech's defense will need to get stops and give the Hokies' offense a chance to get to work early. Falling down early, similar to how the game went against North Carolina, will likely put Tech in a very tough spot - especially if the Louisville offense is firing on all cylinders.
3. Hendon Hooker continues uneven play
Will the real Hendon Hooker please stand up?
Hooker has been a revelation for the Virginia Tech offense over the last calendar year. He entered the fray in 2019 under center and completely flipped the narrative of the season by playing well in relief of incumbent starter Ryan Willis.
This year, after being sidelined early in the season due to COVID-19, Hooker is back, but the play has been uneven.
Hooker first played in the second half of the North Carolina game, throwing for 136 yards and accounting for three touchdowns (two in the air and one on the ground) in the 11-point loss to the Tar Heels.
Hooker played his best game of the year against Boston College the following week, completing 73% of his passes for 111 yards and a touchdown through the air, while rushing for 164 yards and three more scores.
Last week against Wake Forest, the worst of the three defenses Hooker has seen, the stat line was a bit different. Hooker threw for the most yards in any game this season (223), but also threw three interceptions and completed only a shade over 51% of his passes.
Virginia Tech needs more out of the passing offense, and it starts with more consistent play out of its star quarterback. If he struggles again, the Hokies could be in trouble on Saturday.