Virginia Tech-Louisville Preview: Hokies Face Stern Road Test

Virginia Tech, Louisville
Virginia Tech has faced Louisville just once since the Cardinals joined the ACC. (Jamie Rhodes-ACC Pool)
  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Louisville: Saturday, November 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Network) from L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium in Louisville, Ky.
  • Betting Line: Louisville -9.5
  • Roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from HokieSports: Click here
  • Louisville: Click here
  • Gameday information: Click here

As expected, the only pair of one-loss ACC teams in early November are No. 13 Louisville (7-1, 4-1) and Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-1), and they’ll face off this weekend in the Derby City. The winner will be in the driver’s seat to determine who faces Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.

Louisville has had a near-perfect season that has come with some memorable moments, such as their 33-20 victory over No. 10 Notre Dame in which the Cardinals thoroughly beat the Irish at the line of scrimmage, outrushing them 185 to 44. On the other hand, they inexplicably lost to a very bad Pitt team 38-21 despite only allowing 288 yards of total offense. It was the classic letdown game a week after the win over Notre Dame, and it’s the only reason Louisville isn’t in the playoff discussion right now.

This is a very capable team that stands out on both sides of the ball, and though the playoffs seem out of reach at this point, the Cardinals have a chance to take the ACC’s spot in the Orange Bowl if Florida State makes the playoffs.

Jeff Brohm is in his first year as Louisville’s head coach after going 36-34 in eight seasons at Purdue. That might not seem like a great record for most schools, but he took the Boilermakers to four bowl games and won the West Division of the Big Ten last season. He did a great job, then made the move after the 2022 season where it’s a little bit easier to win, and that’s exactly what’s he’s done through his first eight games.

Brohm’s brother Brian, a former Louisville quarterback who spent several years in the NFL, serves as the team’s offensive coordinator and QB coach after serving in the same role at Purdue from 2017-22. Co-defensive coordinators Ron English and Mark Hagen have experience at such schools as Purdue, Indiana, Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Florida, Mississippi State, and other various places. Overall, it’s a veteran staff that has a lot of ties to Louisville as well as to Brohm, and that’s one of the reasons they have been able to hit the ground running.

Let’s take a closer look at Louisville and see what the Cardinals bring to the table.

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech run defense will face a major challenge at Louisville. (Jon Fleming)

The Challenge of Jawhar Jordan

You probably remember the struggles the Virginia Tech defense had against teams with very good running games earlier this season. If not, let me refresh your memory…


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ODU: 43 carries, 201 yards, 4.7 ypc
Purdue: 46 carries, 179 yards, 3.9 ypc
Rutgers: 34 carries, 256 yards, 7.5 ypc
Marshall: 44 carries, 214 yards, 4.9 ypc
FSU: 36 carries, 282 yards, 7.8 ypc

Whenever the Hokies have gone up against a quality running game this year, their defense has gotten torched. They fared quite a bit better against Pitt, Wake and Syracuse, but none of those teams are good at running the ball. Check out these numbers…

Pitt: No. 117 rushing offense, No. 114 yards per carry
Wake: No. 84 rushing offense, No. 115 yards per carry
Cuse: No. 80 rushing offense, No. 89 yards per carry

Louisville is more in line with Rutgers, Florida State and Marshall. They rank No. 33 nationally in rushing offense, averaging 183.5 yards per game, and their 4.77 yards per carry ranks No. 34 in the country.

Running back Jawhar Jordan (5-11, 185, r-Jr.) is the man most responsible for the rushing success of the Cardinals. Check out his game-by-game numbers…

Georgia Tech: 7 carries, 96 yards, 13.7 ypc, 1 TD
Murray State: 7 carries, 135 yards, 19.3 ypc, 2 TDs
Indiana: 18 carries, 113 yards, 6.3 ypc, 1 TD
Boston College: 18 carries, 134 yards, 7.4 ypc, 2 TDs
NC State: 16 carries, 32 yards, 2 ypc, 0 TDs
Notre Dame: 21 carries, 143 yards, 6.8 ypc, 2 TDs
Pitt: 2 carries, 8 yards, 4 ypc, 0 TDs
Duke: 21 carries, 163 yards, 7.8 ypc, 2 TDs
Total: 110 carries, 824 yards, 7.5 ypc, 10 TDs

Jordan is averaging over 100 yards per game and 7.5 yards per carry, but in reality he’s been even better than that. He got knocked out of the Pitt game after just two carries, otherwise he’s probably already closing in on 1,000 yards this season. I also don’t find it a coincidence that the Pitt game is the only game the Cardinals have lost this season.

There’s no question that Virginia Tech’s run defense has improved. However, has it improved to the point where they can contain a back as good as Kyle Monangai (Rutgers), Rasheen Ali (Marshall) or Trey Benson (FSU)? I would put Jordan on the same level as those other guys, so we’ll find out this Saturday exactly how much the Hokies have improved against the run.

The running game is sparked by an offensive line that has been good across the board. They are led by former Virginia Tech center/guard Bryan Hudson (6-5, 305, r-Sr.), who starts at center and has over 3,000 career snaps under his belt.

Quarterback Jack Plummer And The Passing Game

Jack Plummer (6-5, 215, Sr.) is a well-traveled guy. He’s been a starter at Purdue and Cal, and with 1,147 career passing attempts, he’s one of the most experienced quarterbacks that Virginia Tech will face all season.

In his career at all three schools, Plummer has completed 63.8% of his passes for 8,542 yards, with 60 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. His best season came in 2022 at Cal when he had 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he threw for a career-high 3,119 yards.

Plummer has been an effective quarterback for the Cardinals this season. Though his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 13-to-8, he has completed 63.8% of his passes, and he’s averaging a career-high 9.0 yards per attempt, tied for No. 16 nationally. As a comparison UNC’s Drake Maye is also sitting at No. 16. Plummer hasn’t exactly been a dinker and dunker this year, though there have been times in his career when he could have been accused of that.

Plummer has (-31) rushing yards for his career, so he’s not going to be a running threat. If the Hokies can get pressure on the quarterback for the third game in a row, then they’ve got a chance to get some sacks. He’ll also throw a few picks, so it’s important for the Hokies to get pressure and try to force him into a bad decision.

There’s one major Louisville receiving threat to worry about. Although the Cardinals do spread  it around quite a bit, only one player has more than 17 receptions. That’s Jamari Thrash (6-1, 180, r-Jr.), who has a great football player name. Thrash has 46 catches for 712 yards and six touchdowns on the season, with a long of 85 yards.

Thrash is a transfer portal guy who caught 61 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns at Georgia State last season. Sometimes you never know how a guy will do when he transfers up a level, but so far it’s been a smashing success for Thrash.

However, success for the Cardinals is going to come down to their running game. In seven wins this season, Plummer has averaged 24.6 pass attempts per game. He’s an efficient passer when he’s got an effective running game to fall back on. However, he had to throw it 52 times against Pitt with Jordan knocked  out of the game, and he completed a season-low 55.8% of his passes and tossed two interceptions. You can bet that Louisville will come out running against the Hokies.

Virginia Tech, Louisville
The Virginia Tech offense will face one of the nation’s better defenses. (Ivan Morozov)

The Louisville Defense: By The Numbers

Pitt ranks No. 49 in total defense, while Wake Forest comes in at No. 80 and Syracuse at No. 98. Louisville is a completely different type of challenge…

Rushing: No. 10
Passing: No. 45
Total: No. 15
Scoring: No. 19
Yds per Play: No. 25
F/+ Defense: No. 23 
Available Yards: No. 12 

You can slice it and dice it however you want, but the Louisville defense is very good across the board. I’m not saying that they are as talented as the Florida State defense, but from a performance standpoint I’d argue that they are better.

Their best performance of the year came against Notre Dame, when they held the Irish to just 44 rushing yards and intercepted Sam Hartman three times. The Irish average 4.92 yards per carry, which ranks No. 29 nationally, but they managed just 1.6 yards per carry against Louisville.

In short, this defense is excellent, and it probably represents the biggest challenge of the season for this revamped Virginia Tech offense.

Defensive Standouts

Louisville has perhaps the best cornerback combo that Virginia Tech will face this season…

Jarvis Brownlee (6-0, 190, Jr.): Brownlee is a former starter at Florida State with over 2,400 career snaps under his belt. He’s always been good against the run, but this year he’s also taken a step forward in coverage. Opponents have completed just 15 passes against him.

Quincy Riley (6-0, 185, r-Jr.): However, Brownlee is probably just the second-best corner on his team. Riley is a transfer from Middle Tennessee, where he used to go head-to-head with Virginia Tech’s Jaylin Lane every day in practice. Opponents have completed only 13 passes on Riley this year, and just 46.5% over the course of his career.

Riley and Brownlee will be a very tough challenge for Virginia Tech’s wide receivers. They are a big part of what makes the defense work.

Linebacker TJ Quinn (6-1, 230, r-So.) leads Louisville with 62 tackles so far this season, and he has been outstanding against the run. He doesn’t play in the backfield very much, with just two tackles for loss this year, but he is a disciplined and tough run defender.

The player who will perhaps give Virginia Tech the most trouble is defensive end Ashton Gillotte (6-3, 270, Jr.). Ranked outside the top 1,200 recruits in his class coming out of high school, Gillotte has 10.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in eight games so far this season. He’s got a great combination of size and athleticism. He’s got 40 pressures this year

Louisville’s other starting end is Stephen Herron (6-4, 240, r-Sr.), and he’s got 28 pressures as well. This is a very good one-two punch the Cardinals have at defensive end. They are a dangerous combination in their own right, but when combined with two lock down cornerbacks on the outside, it’s easy to see why this defense has had so much success in 2023.

Of note: the weakness of the Louisville defense is probably safety Cam’Ron Kelly (6-2, 210, r-Sr.). Kelly has been good against the run, but has struggled in coverage. Quarterbacks have completed 82.6% of their passes against him, according to PFF. You might remember Kelly if you follow Virginia Tech recruiting. He was once 200% committed to Virginia Tech, then 800% committed to Auburn, then he transferred to UNC after several weeks, then he transferred to UVA for a semester, and now he plays for the Cardinals. Kelly has always been a great athlete, but his actual football ability hasn’t caught up. If there’s a place to attack the Louisville defense, this would be a good spot.

Special Teams: The Brock Travelstead Show

Punt returner Kevin Coleman (5-11, 180, So.) has 18 returns this year, but only averages 4.8 yards per return, and the Cardinals are No. 104 nationally in punt returns. Oddly enough, Louisville has only returned five kickoffs this year, and that’s got to be one of the oddest stats I’ve ever seen through eight games*. Jawhar Jordan is one of the return men though, so the Hokies should probably just go ahead and put it into the end zone.

(*Only Rutgers, Air Force and Jacksonville State have fewer. UNC also has five.)

Kicker Brock Travelstead (6-1, 205, Jr.) has handled kickoff duties for quite awhile, and now he also handles field goals. He’s 13-of-17 for the season, and he’s got quality range with a long of 53 yards. Not only does he kick off and kick field goals, but Travelstead also serves as Louisville’s punter. If he happened to get hurt, then the Cardinals would have to do some serious tweaking on special teams.

In the coverage game, opponents average just five yards per punt return and 20 yards per kickoff return. Louisville doesn’t seem to do anything flashy on special teams, but they don’t have any noticeable weaknesses in that area of the game, either.

Before we make our staff picks, what’s your prediction?

What's your prediction for the 2023 Virginia Tech-Louisville game?

  • Cardinals Win by 11+ (33%, 507 Votes)
  • Cardinals Win by 1-10 (32%, 491 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (31%, 469 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (4%, 67 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,534

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Virginia Tech-Louisville Final Thoughts

Other than Florida State, I think the Virginia Tech defense will face its most significant challenge of the season this weekend. Louisville has a very strong running game, which seems to be Tech’s kryptonite. Their scheme is also quite good. They’ll spread it out in shotgun, they’ll run it out of the Pistol, and I’ve even seen them run plays from under center at times. The Brohms are veteran offensive coaches, and I don’t think there are many offenses in the country that are as well-coached as this one. These guys won games while coaching at Purdue…it takes really good coaches to do that.

I also think this will be the biggest challenge of the season for the Virginia Tech offense. Yes, Florida State is good and talented, but I don’t think they are quite as disciplined overall as this Louisville group. It’s very solid across the board, with no major noticeable weakness.

Florida State is the best overall team the Hokies will face all season. After that, it’s Louisville. What’s more, the gulf between the Cardinals and everybody else is extreme, in my opinion. Rutgers is 6-2, but it’s a bad 6-2 with a quarterback who can’t throw the football (they’ve won two games where he didn’t throw for 50 yards, including the VT game).

In other words, this is a huge test for the Hokies. This isn’t Pitt. This isn’t Wake Forest. This isn’t Syracuse. Louisville is a lot closer to Florida State than those others. What killed Virginia Tech against Florida State? Big plays. That’s what the Hokie defense has to stop. Big plays in the running game have been huge in VT’s losses, and they can’t allow that to happen this weekend against the Cardinals. If they can limit Jordan to simply a solid day on the ground rather than a spectacular day, then they’ll have a chance.

Even if they do that, on the other side of the ball they’ll be facing the best defense they’ve faced this year. I don’t think there will be as many opportunities for the Tech offense as there have been in recent weeks. However, on the other side of the coin, Tech’s offense of the last month is more challenging schematically than any offense the Cardinals have faced this season. Notre Dame’s offense is very good, but they don’t hit you with quite as much “stuff” as the VT post-Marshall offense.

This Louisville team can be a bit odd. They can physically dominate a very good Notre Dame team, but they can also struggle to barely beat Indiana and NC State, and they can lose to Pitt. College football, man.

I love what the Hokies have been doing recently, but I think winning on the road against by far the second-best team they’ve faced all season is a bridge too far for them right now.

Chris’s Prediction: Louisville 27, Virginia Tech 20

Will Stewart’s Take: It’s not relevant to this game per se, but Louisville only has six seniors in their starting lineup, including just one on defense. (I have no idea how many of them have a COVID year available next year if they want it.) So as good as Louisville is this year, they might bring back nearly everyone next year. The Hokies don’t get them again until 2025, though.

Back to the present. Louisville’s loss to Pittsburgh is baffling. Does the loss of one player really cause a whole team to tank like that? Pitt was trailing 21-14 at the half and then blew out Louisville 24-0 in the second half to win 38-21. Odd.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. Louisville is well-rounded and a tall order for the Hokies, especially on the road. You never know what’ll happen in college football, but a VT win, while it would be great to see, is not something I’m expecting or predicting. The Hokies are playing with great confidence, though.

I thought Virginia Tech showed good resiliency and playmaking at Florida State, but what they didn’t show was the ability to start well on the road against a good team. If the Hokies don’t fall behind by multiple scores early like they did against FSU, they can pull this one off. Vegas has it at about a 10-point spread, last I checked, and I think that’s fair.

Will’s Prediction: Louisville 34, Virginia Tech 24

David Cunningham’s Take: I think this Louisville team is going to open some eyes for Virginia Tech fans this weekend because this is just the second real test the Hokies have seen all year. They’re in the top 15 and are on another level compared to anyone Tech has faced outside of Florida State.

That’s not to say Tech doesn’t have a chance, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. This is a game where the margins are going to be extremely thin, meaning Tech has to start fast, protect the football, sustain drives and not give up explosive plays. I’m not sure everything is going to go right for the Hokies, simply because we haven’t seen them do it against this level of competition this year. When they went to Florida State, they stumbled out of the gate. I think it’s a different team now, but I think they’ll come up short on Saturday.

David’s Prediction: Louisville 33, Virginia Tech 26

Andy Bitter’s Take: Outside of Florida State, Louisville will be the toughest test the Hokies have faced this year. It’s not helping matters that it’s a road game. Tech hasn’t been great away from Lane Stadium, and the Cardinals have been strong at home. I think the Hokies are improved from previous road tests, but I’ll still trust the trends.

A 9.5- to 10-point line seems high given the way the Hokies have played lately, even though it’s been against bad competition. I like Tech to hang with Louisville, especially if they’re able to bet quarterback Jack Plummer off-schedule. He’s only had one monster game this year and that was against Boston College. Slow down the run, make Plummer beat you and force some turnovers is the blueprint to victory. But Louisville seems like a balanced enough squad to win in more ways than one, with a defense that’s probably better than its offense. For that reason, I like the Cards.

Andy’s Prediction: Louisville 30, Virginia Tech 23

Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Syracuse Prediction Poll Results

Game Result: Virginia Tech 38, Syracuse 10

What's your prediction for the 2023 Virginia Tech-Syracuse game?

  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (56%, 712 Votes)
  • Orange Win by 1-10 (23%, 291 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (18%, 232 Votes)
  • Orange Win by 11+ (4%, 46 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,281

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2023 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - TSL Staff
Chris (9-4)
Andy (9-4)
David (9-4)
Will (8-5)
Wake Forest
NC State
2023 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - Fans (10-3)

(record based on W-L, not margin of victory)
Fan Poll
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 36, ODU 17
Hokies Win by 1-10
Purdue 24, Hokies 17
Rutgers Wins by 1-10
Rutgers 35, Hokies 16
Marshall Wins by 1-10
Marshall 24, Hokies 17
Pittsburgh Wins by 1-10
Hokies 38, Pittsburgh 21
@Florida State
FSU Wins by 11+
FSU 39, Hokies 17
Wake Forest
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 30, Deacs 13
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 38, Orange 10
Cardinals Win by 11+
Cardinals 34, Hokies 3
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 48, Eagles 22
NC State
Hokies Win by 1-10
Wolfpack 35, Hokies 28
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 55, Hoos 17
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 41, Green Wave 20

14 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. 34-13 Louisville. If Jordan is out, maybe 27-13. We haven’t played but 1 above avg team all yr, and we got beat bad. This is on the road, which has been a struggle so far, so don’t get your hopes up.

  2. I picked us to lose by 11+ but it won’t change my optimism for this teams turn around. While I think we have a chance to win, the VT program has not had a lot of top 15 road wins and this team hasn’t even won on the road against an average P5. How good can this 2023 team be? We are about to find out. You always remember the wins in November.

  3. Louisville is primed for a let down and we’re just the ones to hand it to them. Thomas and Tuten (TnT?) along with Drones through the air and on the ground should loosen things up for us. As long as our guys don’t get psyched out, there is no reason we can’t win this game. Hokies 27-17!

  4. Is Jamari Thrash the son of NFL WR James Thrash? And is Jack Plummer the son of NFL QB Jake Plummer? Same last names and positions, just curious.

  5. I watched the UL vs Pitt game on YouTube & it seems Pitt’s defense caused the Cards some problems. Can our defensive pressure cause them problems as well?

  6. It seems obvious that points are gonna be precious vs this very good Louisville team. Will Pry take FG’s inside the Red Zone – or go for 4 more points and the TD.

    On the flip side – for VT to win – they will have to stop Louisville from long scores and maybe finally make a stop or two in the Red Zone.

    Captain Obvious says: that formula should give VT a win by a couple of points. 🙂

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