Virginia has always been a extraordinarily tough out for the University of Louisville since the Cardinals entered the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014. Every game a grind, the outcomes always in doubt.
That’s one reason UofL’s 38-21 win over the Cavaliers was so enjoyable, with none of the tension or frustration associated with the first three games in the series. The other reason was that UofL allowed the Virginia offense only 67 yards on the ground and 312 yards overall.
Louisville’s defense, led by Chucky Williams with nine tackles, taking full advantage of a bye week to recover from injuries, toughen up and get back to basics. Attacking the ball, making stops, tipping passes — all the things they hadn’t been doing the last three games. Making huge progress, reclaiming some self-respect, along with hope for the rest of the season.
James Hearns seemed to be everywhere as far as Virginia was concerned, with three sacks and three forced fumbles. The Cavaliers could manage only 10 yards rushing in the first half.
On the other side of the ball, Lamar Jackson finally getting some help in the running game, with 88 yards from Dae Williams and 55 yards from Malik Williams. Freeing up Jackson for 160 yards on the ground and 195 through the air, Lamar rushing 68 yards for one touchdown while passing for three others.
The completion that the 46,787 fans will remember most, playing it over and over in their collective mind, will be the 24-yard Jackson to Jaylen Smith connection in the third quarter. Smith catching the ball with his extended right hand, that careful balancing act, a catch returning the joy of football to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
The UofL offense also looking competent again, thanks largely to the physical capabilities of Dae Williams. The freshman running back providing some power not seen in a running back since the days of Eric Shelton during Coach Bobby Petrino’s first tenure during the early 2000’s.
Dae and Malik Williams relieving Reggie Bonnafon in the backfield, not allowing defenses to focus solely on Lamar Jackson. Giving UofL some badly needed versatility at a time of the season when it absolutely needed a boost, needed reason for optimism with only two games to go in the regular season.
The sixth win against four losses making Louisville bowl eligible. That’s nice. Even better was the way UofL went about it, taking care of business, getting better, providing some promise for the immediate future.