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ACC foes Louisville, Virginia Tech search for consistency

2021 NFL mock draft
Nov 16, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Caleb Farley (3) celebrates after an interception return for a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlantic Coast Conference counterparts Virginia Tech and Louisville meet Saturday at Cardinal Stadium aiming to avoid falling out of the conference race.

The Cardinals and Hokies were picked fourth and fifth in the preseason ACC poll, but have experienced ups and downs through the first half of the 2020 season.

Visiting Virginia Tech (3-2, 3-2 ACC) is coming off a 23-16 loss last week at Wake Forest. The defeat was the second in three outings for the Hokies.

On Oct. 10 at North Carolina, Virginia Tech dug a 21-0 first-quarter hole, then fell behind 42-17 early in the third quarter before rolling off 28 points in just 15:38 and trimming the deficit to as few as five points. The 56 points the Hokies gave up was their worst showing since 2002.

The Hokies’ defense was much improved in holding Boston College and Wake Forest to a combined 37 points. But scoring just one touchdown against the Demon Deacons revealed another issue for the Hokies.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker threw three interceptions in the loss, including a red-zone pick just before halftime that cost Virginia Tech critical points.

“Those things happen,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said in his Monday press conference. “You’ve got to be able to shake those things off and go respond and play the next play. We did turn the ball over three things, which is not good. We’ve got to try to find a way to win the turnover battle, or it’s going to be the same thing this week.”

Louisville (2-4, 1-4) allowed 46 points to Georgia Tech on Oct. 9 then scored just seven points while holding Notre Dame to 12 the next time out.

The Cardinals look to build off the stronger showing against Florida State. Louisville rolled to a 48-16 win, snapping a four-game losing streak in the process.

“Over the last two weeks, we’ve gone out and played pretty,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said in his Monday press conference, citing improved practices during that time. “We didn’t win Notre Dame, but we beat Florida State. We’ve got to have that same approach and bring that every single week to give ourselves a chance to play on Saturday.”

Quarterback Malik Cunningham played perhaps his best game of the season against FSU, averaging almost 12 yards per pass attempt on his 16-of-24 performance. Cunningham threw for two touchdowns and added another 51 yards rushing.

Running back Javian Hawkins gashed the Seminoles for a season-high 175 yards on a whopping 10.9 yards per carry with three touchdowns.

The Virginia Tech defense is allowing 200.6 rushing yards per game, a byproduct of the Hokies’ roster inconsistencies amid COVID-19 testing protocols. The pandemic, combined with assorted other issues, forced a variety of young Hokies – such as Keonta Jenkins and Dorian Strong in the secondary — into pressurized, high-profile spots.

Fuente said Monday that defensive end TyJuan Garbutt, a starter last season and a preseason opt-out, will return.

Garbutt will not be available immediately in order to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.

The Hokies have yet to play a game at full strength.

–Field Level Media