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Virginia season at a potential tipping point as Louisville comes to town

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Virginia Louisville Football

Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham (3) is pursued by the Virginia defense during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. Virginia won 34-33. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A year ago, Brennan Armstrong led Virginia to a furious fourth quarter comeback, notching a thrilling, one-point win over Louisville when he found tight end Grant Misch in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds to play, and the Cardinals’ last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards out missed wide left.

“That was an awesome comeback,” said Misch. “On the sideline, Brennan gathered a bunch of us up and said, ‘We’re not going to quit.’ And things went our way.”

Armstrong threw for 487 yards and three scores that day, helping UVA erase a 30-13 deficit in the final quarter of play.

This season, the Cavaliers (2-3, 0-2 ACC) and their star haven’t found anywhere near that same kind of offensive magic, and it’s why they head into Saturday’s home game against Louisville coming off back-to-back ACC losses, their season startlingly at a potential tipping point.

“I really think this is a big game for us, just to get our momentum going,” said senior cornerback Anthony Johnson, who began his career at Louisville.

In Saturday’s 38-17 loss to Duke, UVA’s offensive struggles were compounded by breakdowns on defense, errors on special teams and a general lack of focus and discipline that resulted in five 15-yard penalties against the Blue Devils, whom Virginia had beaten seven straight times.

Those missteps were still front and center in first-year coach Tony Elliott’s mind Tuesday.

“What I told the team was, ‘Right now, fellas, we’re not a team,’” said Elliott. “‘We’re a group of individuals. We’re undisciplined.’ … When we heal as a team, man, this team can be special. It’s got everything that it needs.”

Virginia’s schedule seemed nicely setup for Elliott to build some momentum before a challenging stretch where it faces Miami, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh in consecutive weeks, albeit all three at home in Charlottesville.

First, UVA gets a shot at two of the ACC’s weaker teams — Louisville on Saturday, with Cardinals coach Scott Satterfield on the proverbial hot seat, and, after an open date, Georgia Tech on Oct. 20, a Thursday night game. The Yellow Jackets fired their coach, Geoff Collins, last week, then upset Pittsburgh under interim coach Brent Key.

“Trust me. I want to win every game,” said Elliott. “I’m not looking at the schedule saying, ‘OK. These are the winnable games.’”

Also on Tuesday, Elliott said he didn’t anticipate wide receiver Billy Kemp IV (Highland Springs High School) would be available for Saturday’s game against Louisville. Kemp returned after battling illness to start the Duke game, but suffered an ankle injury on the first possession.

Of course, the biggest injury news surrounding the matchup with the Cardinals is the status of quarterback Malik Cunningham.

Satterfield said Tuesday that Cunningham is “day-to-day” and his availability will be decided by the team’s doctors. Cunningham left the team’s loss to Boston College for one play after a hit that drew a targeting flag on the Eagles.

Cunningham was knocked out of the game later, Satterfield said, after another hit. That blow is the one that has his status for Saturday in doubt.

If Cunningham can’t play, Louisville will turn to backup Brock Domann.

“I think he’s got confidence,” said Satterfield. “We have confidence in him. Really, he’s been practicing really well.”

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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