Louisville Cardinals (6-1 SU, 4-2-1 ATS) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (2-5 SU, 3-3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date/Time: Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 12PM EST
Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LOU -32.5/UVA +32.5
Over/Under Total: 70
The fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals come to Scott Stadium to face the Virginia Cavaliers in ACC action on Saturday. The Cardinals would be perfect if not for a narrow road defeat to Clemson. Since that memorable matchup, the Cardinals have beaten Duke, followed by a win last week over NC State, 54-13. They face a Virginia team that is struggling at 2-5, coming off a 35-14 home loss to North Carolina on Saturday. Can Louisville keep it rolling on Saturday or can the Cavaliers give them a little resistance and cover the big number?
Louisville’s most-compelling element is Heisman frontrunner QB Lamar Jackson. He leads the nation’s top-scoring offense at over 52 points a game. Jackson, Brandon Ratcliff, and Jeremy Smith run the heck out of the ball. Ratcliff and Smith have combined for 10 touchdowns, while Jackson has run in 16 scores on over 900 yards rushing. Jackson has also thrown 18 touchdown receptions on 2161 yards passing. Ten different receivers have caught touchdowns, led by James Quick, Jamari Staples, and Cole Hikutini. This is a high-flying offense that can get you in any number of different ways.
Saturday was important for this Louisville offense to get back to its high-flying ways. After struggling in spots against Clemson, they put up a pretty anemic (for them) 24 points against Duke. On Saturday, they took a commanding 44-0 halftime lead, showing that the high-wire offensive dramatics are not a thing of the past. Most of the vital components were in full-flight, as Jackson ran in a TD and threw 3 more on 355 yards passing.
Other than the 42 points they gave up to highly-rated and unbeaten Clemson, the Cardinals defense has been in fine form. And in giving up 27 combined points in their last two games shows they are in robust form and should offer stiff resistance to the moribund Virginia offense. They’re getting an average of over two turnovers a game. And they can rush the passer pretty well too. They’re ranked as the 10th overall defense in the country—bad news for Virginia.
The Cavaliers have been decent at the betting windows in an against the spread sense, though they really fell flat on their face in a lopsided beating to North Carolina at home on Saturday. They lost at home to Pittsburgh the week before that, so they’re nice and dug in at home, despite not really getting results. And Scott Stadium is typically a place where even bad Cavaliers teams can at least be gritty and provide some resistance. Not so much this season.
Virginia can’t really run the ball very well, despite the occasional burst of RB Taquan Mizzell, who has also caught 31 balls. QB Kurt Benkert has talent, but works behind a ramshackle line and a cast of playmakers that is anything but electric. Mizzell and Albert Reid make for a fairly pedestrian backfield. They have some decent ball-catchers in Olamide Zacchaeus, Keeon Johnson, and Doni Dowling. But it never really comes together that well, with the Cavaliers offense the 90th ranked group in the nation.
The Virginia defense also hasn’t been making much of an impact. Again, this is a part of the team that could usually be counted on to at least be stout at home. Saturday didn’t show that, as they couldn’t keep the team in the game. They aren’t getting many turnovers and their pass-rush is totally inconsistent. They’re giving up nearly 33 points a game on average and when your offense scores 26 a game, it’s not hard to see how you end up 2-5. And against Jackson, they could really be up against it, especially as they’ve been pretty leaky against the pass this season. What chance do they have in keeping Lamar Jackson and the stacked Louisville offense in check?
One shouldn’t expect any mercy on the part of Louisville. With one loss and a forgivable one at that, they can still do big things—even conceivably make the College Football Playoff. But they need to make the most out of games like this and keep putting together a compelling resume. At the same time, it’s only human for them to let up a bit against such an unthreatening opponent. And this isn’t a terribly easy road trip, though the Cavaliers haven’t been that stout at home this season.
The number is indeed big at 32.5 points. Normally when getting that many points in conference and at home, you look for reasons to bet the underdog. But when you have a superior team like Louisville with a player like Jackson putting up video game numbers against a half-dead bunch like Virginia, it suddenly doesn’t seem so big. Yeah, we know—Virginia can make it a slog at home even against good teams. But they aren’t doing that. Not that they won’t this week, but based on what we’re seeing, Virginia is completely out of their element against teams with a lot going for them like Louisville. Still, I see Virginia putting up a couple scores, making the cover for Louisville an uphill battle. I’ll take the big number, which is perhaps a couple points too big.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Virginia Cavaliers plus 32.5 points.
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