Louisville’s impressive rise to the top of the ACC continued last weekend with a shutout win over Duke. The second-place Cardinals will remain at home this week to host the Virginia Tech Hokies, who are amid a two-game win streak. With Louisville’s one bad loss of the season out of the way, I’ll break down why I think they can soar (pun intended) at home over the Hokies.
When Grant Wells went down with an injury, the quarterback position was handed over to Kyron Drones, and by the looks of it, the Hokies signal caller won’t be giving up the starting job anytime soon. In six games as a starter, Drones has thrown for seven touchdowns and one interception, helping the Hokies rank 52nd in offensive EPA. His dual-threat ability has added an element to the offense that, quite frankly, may have saved Virginia Tech’s season.
In the team’s 38-10 win over Syracuse last weekend, the Hokies rushed for 318 yards, and Drones had 56 of them on eight carries. Bhayshul Tuten added 118 himself and is another big reason why the Hokies are 52nd in average rushing yards per game. After that win, the Hokies have now scored 30 or more points in three of their last four ACC games, but even with that stat, defense is still the true strength of the team.
With a defensive success rate that ranks 36th in the country, the Hokies defense will face their first challenge since the Florida State game this weekend. Lining up against them on Saturday will be a Louisville Cardinals offense that is 15th in EPA. The run-heavy offense led by Jawhar Jordan ran for 234 yards in their 23-0 win over Duke this past weekend, helping them rank 14th in offensive success rate on run plays.
Much like the Hokies, though, Louisville would not be in the position they are in without their defense. By shutting out the Blue Devils, the Cardinals are now allowing an average of 20.6 points per game and holding opponents to a third down conversion percentage of just 30.11%.
Louisville is currently listed as (-9.5) point favorites, and I’m backing them for my play. The Hokies might be playing at a higher level than they were earlier in the season, but I still don’t think they’re ready to compete with an opponent at the level of the Cardinals. Virginia Tech’s three conference wins have come against three of their four teams at the bottom of the ACC, and in their lone conference loss, they lost by 22 to first-place Florida State.
Their defense has gotten the benefit of three lackluster offenses, but now they get a Cardinals offense that is ranked inside the top 20 in EPA for both pass plays and run plays. By allowing an average of 153.6 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, the Hokies' defense could have a lot of trouble limiting the Cardinals' rushing attack.
Defense will be the key for Louisville to cover this number, and I trust their run defense to get the job done. Virginia Tech is 27th in rush attempts per game, but Louisville is 8th in EPA per rush play, in large part thanks to the play of Ashton Gillote. With a daunting defensive line, the Cardinals should be able to challenge Drones and slow all the momentum he came into the game with.
Louisville Cardinals (-9.5)