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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Neri: Best ‘bad’ college football game to watch, Week 10

If you’ve followed my recent “‘Bad’ Game of the Week” articles, you’ll probably notice that this matchup on Thursday night seems a little more relevant than usual. First of all, Louisville is the first ranked team to make it into the prestigious “‘Bad’ Game of the Week,” club, and second, this is the first Power Five matchup to be featured in the column. At first glance, you might think that this game shouldn’t even qualify as a “bad” game, right?

That was my initial thought, too. The fact of the matter is that, by all accounts and every metric available to the football world, this game should be a blowout — over before the opening kickoff. Louisville is still technically in the playoff hunt, having its best season in years. And Virginia just got blown out by Georgia Tech, who hasn’t been relevant in ages. All signs point to a slaughter. 

But I don’t see it that way. 

The University of Virginia’s football team began this season amid some of the most challenging off-the-field issues imaginable. Before kickoff on opening day, the team honored the memories of three players who were tragically killed in a shooting last year, and before that had to spend months picking up the pieces of a damaged team following an incredibly traumatic experience. It’s hard to imagine that much work got done on the football side of things during this time, and you could forgive the players if their minds were somewhere else for the first couple of games of the season.

On the field, Virginia faced one of the toughest opening schedules in the ACC, first matching up against SEC powerhouse Tennessee, followed by still undefeated James Madison, a Maryland team that began the season 5-0 and an NC State team whose only three losses have all come against ranked opponents. As you might have inferred, the Cavaliers lost all those games and began the year 0-5.

Since then, however, they’re 2-2 with a marquee win over a 10th-ranked and undefeated North Carolina team at the time. What’s more than that, they narrowly lost at 6-3 Miami two weeks ago. While a 28-point loss to Georgia Tech doesn’t inspire much confidence, overall the Cavaliers have improved greatly in the second half of the season, proving themselves capable of hanging with the top teams in the ACC. But, can they play with a surging Cardinals team on the verge of an ACC championship appearance? 

The Cardinals have been impressive this year, to say the least. Their quarterback, Jack Plummer, has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. And their lead running back, Jawhar Jordan, is well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. Their defense has also been stout as of late, allowing only three points in its last two games against Duke and Virginia Tech. And, as those on campus here at Notre Dame are well aware, Louisville knocked off the 10th-ranked Irish just over a month ago. Bottom line: the Cardinals are good. And while this fact may be a small consolation for Irish fans still mourning the loss, it spells danger for a UVA team coming into Louisville trying to find its footing late in the season. 

While I expect the Cardinals to capture their 10th win on the season, I think the Cavaliers will give them a little more than they bargained for. Unsure of whether or not starting QB Tony Muskett will be available due to injury, look for UVA to trust its running attack just like it did to beat UNC when it rushed for 228 yards. If Virginia can establish itself on the ground, it should be able to design an air attack that will allow either Muskett or backup Anthony Colandrea to execute a simpler game plan through the air to avoid mistakes and spread the field. 

With playoff hopes still on the line for Louisville, this weekday matchup holds a lot more intrigue than most. Despite a down year, Virginia is no stranger to beating top-10 teams this season and is beginning to right the ship in the second half. Ultimately, despite a lopsided betting line and two programs at very different levels of success, it wouldn’t be out of the question to put the Cardinals on upset watch Thursday night.

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