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Virginia defense tries to build on close call versus Louisville

Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire

Heading into Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, Virginia is hoping to avoid being beaten again by the last-minute Heisman-worthy heroics of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The Cavaliers may have played their best game of the season in the loss to the Cardinals last week, but facing a winnable game in Winston-Salem, Bronco Mendenhall’s Cavs must be mentally prepared after the heartbreaking loss. Last year, the Mike London-coached Virginia team lost to Notre Dame in almost identical fashion and didn’t play particularly well the next two weeks, squeaking past FCS William & Mary before losing at home by 42 points to Boise State.

The Cavs are hoping for a much better response with a new coaching staff in place.

“They are still learning to finish and they are still learning to win and so that just all became clear in the Louisville game,” Mendenhall said of his players during his weekly teleconference.

One area where the Wahoos may be close to a big breakthrough is on the defensive front. The Virginia front seven played a fantastic game against Louisville, getting consistent pressure on Jackson and keeping the shifty dual-threat quarterback contained as well as any team has all season.

“I’m not sure if it was our best performance, but I think it was probably the most impact they have had in a game to this point,” Mendenhall said.

“I think a lot of it is what we asked them to do in the game. Louisville’s quarterback is a very good football player. Their offense is very explosive and so not only getting pressure on them but being able to handle scramble and the run game, more was asked because of the nature of the team. I think they played an integral part.”

Of course, having Micah Kizer on the roster is a big boost to the entire defense. While UVA’s lack of depth has hurt at times, Kizer has proven to be as strong a defensive talent as there is in the ACC.

“He’s evolved and matured in every way, and he’s earned the chance for that, and so his voice is a credible voice,” Mendenhall said. “It’s a voice of impact on our team. He steps up and is courageous and bold when he needs to be.

“He’s playing exceptional football week-in and week-out, and his voice is backed up by his actions and when he does speak, which is more frequently, but also more timely, I would say that’s probably the most important thing is the timeliness of when he says what he says in terms of leadership is making an impact on our team. And what he says matters to our team and so I couldn’t be happier with his growth, maturity and performance.”

Kizer contributed another outstanding game against Louisville, making 14 tackles including two sacks. The junior linebacker has been all over the field this season and certainly will be a focus for the Wake Forest offense this weekend, potentially opening things up for his younger and less experienced teammates.

Of course, the Cavs face a stiff challenge heading to Winston-Salem to take on a Demon Deacons program that looks like one of the rising teams in the ACC.

If Virginia lives in the present moment, though, it can achieve an important victory — not just in the standings, but by gaining an awareness of how powerful a short memory can be.

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