Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See Against Virginia?

Sep 12, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the school alma mater after their game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium. The Fighting Irish won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the school alma mater after their game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium. The Fighting Irish won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the Spring of hope, it was the Winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, then, finally we still had everything before us. Who knew that Charles Dickens understood Notre Dame football?

The Irish achieved their first road win, and moved to 2-0 with the 34-27 win over Virginia.


The Irish established, for the second week in a row, brutal control of both lines of scrimmage in the first quarter. The defense kept up its pattern of forcing two three and outs on the opponents first two possessions.

But an old problem returned and a new one arose. The Irish, despite having over 11 minutes of possession in the first quarter, stalled in the red zone and near the red zone. The new problem was that Zaire seemed to be high on many throws, a surprise after his laser accuracy against Texas.


Say hello to Pryce Tracy, the Special Teams Assistant hired by ND to assist Scott Booker. Tracy has been busy and on Notre Dame’s first possession the Irish appeared to line up to attempt a field goal. Then Deshone Kizer, with Justin Yoon running around end on a clever fake, threw his first touchdown pass (a shovel pass is a PASS) to Durham Smythe. Doubling down on special teams the Irish then lined up in the formation perfected by Chip Kelly and went for two, but Kizer was stopped just short of the goal line. While Kizer was no doubt proud of his first touchdown pass in an Irish uniform, it is his second touchdown pass that, some day, he will retell again and again to his grandchildren.


Control just sort of drifted away from the Irish. Viriginia did not so much seize momentum as they did snatch it when the Irish weren’t looking.


He was not stopped by the talented Irish secondary, and caught 11 balls for 153 yards. He had 42 catches last year and was the leading returning Cavalier receiver, but Artavis Scott and Juju Smith will be licking their chops when they look at the cutup of Severin’s catches. Virginia 14- Notre Dame 12 at halftime.


The Irish charged out of the locker room at halftime and temporarily restored control, with Zaire’s bomb to Fuller regaining the lead. Zaire would finish 7 of 18 for 115, a pedestrian 6 of 17 for 56 without the third quarter bomb to Fuller.

The Irish were driving toward the Virginia goal line late in the third quarter when Zaire picked up 3 yards to the Virginia 24. Zaire, having gained his 87th rushing yard, grimaced and reached down to his ankle……


Spring outlook: “The Irish offense should be explosive, led by quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire and junior running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.”

Not any more.


Deshone Kizer handed the ball to C.J. Prosise, the Virginia native, who galloped in from 24 yards out for a commanding, so goes the cliché, 26-14 lead with the third quarter waning.

Prosise is fast and powerful, with some elusiveness. Denson will polish his effectiveness at the second and third levels and he will be an even greater force by November.

But Virginia kept clawing and scratching and Matt Johns kept finding Canaan Severin. Virigina went ahead 27-26 with a mere 1:54 to go.

Green clad Irish faithful stood out as the contrast with their ashen faces only made the green seem richer, brighter, more futile, more desperate.


All seemed lost until Kizer bulled for a first down to the ND 32. The Virginia goal line seemed unreachable in the mist, and nervous Irish fingers calculated the yardage needed for Justin Yoon to either make his third field goal or miss his second attempt.

But the coaches called a great play and Will Fuller cemented his All-America status with a lovely catch of a fine throw by Deshone Kizer. The two point conversion was caught by Torii Hunter from Kizer and the final was Notre Dame 34-Virginia 27.

Adversity does not build character. Adversity reveals character.

2-0 this year, and an intriguing three game win streak over Power Five teams, LSU from the SEC, Texas from the Big XII and Virginia from the ACC. LSU and Texas have won National Championships in this millennium.


“I’m the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood here. You tell the angels in heaven you never saw evil so personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.” Christopher Walken as Vincent Coccotti, counsel to Blue Lou Boyle, the “Sicilian Scene” from the 1993 movie “True Romance.” When Brian Van Gorder took over for Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Van Gorder summarily, and loudly, junked Johnson’s option offense. Johnson was already on his way to Navy, but it did not sit well with him. Paul Johnson will be in “a vendetta kind of mood” against Van Gorder. This is personal, not business.

In the last three games of 2014, Georgia Tech rushed for 399 yards against Georgia, 351 yards against Florida State and 452 yards against Mississippi State’s proud Bulldogs.

Justin Thomas is the fastest quarterback Notre Dame has faced since Denard “Shoelace” Robinson of Michigan.

A forgotten past national championship. Bobby Ross led the Yellow Jackets/Rambin’ Wreck/Engineers to a split national championship in 1990. But for a clipping call against Greg Davis on a marvelous punt return by Raghib Ismail against Colorado, Georgia Tech would have been the unanimous National Champion at 11-0-1 with the tie against North Carolina.

An interesting question about Notre Dame’s defensive design. Last year, Van Gorder brought out a special linebacker-heavy defense against Navy. Expect more of the same. Remember, Bobby Elliott has been working on stopping, or slowing down the option as one of his most special projects since he moved to the non-coaching position as “Special Assistant to the Head Coach.” Van Gorder will be as focused as Johnson. It may be a test of how much his players care about Van Gorder. Johnson has called him out. Will the players rally to defend Van Gorder?

A game in which the offense might have to rescue the defense. A huge test for Team 127, the moniker that Kelly bestowed on the 2015 Irish. Sometimes, Notre Dame responds better to a challenge than to success and adulation. In ’93 a wunderkind quarterback named Ron Powlus broke his collarbone, but the whole team responded and the team was unbeaten until that fateful afternoon against Tom Coughlin, Glenn Foley and Pete Mitchell. Some guy named Kevin McDouogal played great all year as the Notre Dame QB. The other offensive players have to lift up Kizer. He’s a better passer than runner, so rest assured Kelly, Sanford and Denbrock are scheming feverishly. A fair amount is at stake.

This Saturday is a Notre Dame moment. The Song does not say “We dominate weak opponents.” It says “What though the odds be great or small.”

Suck it up. Quit whining. You know the team will.


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  1. I am with you Duranko. I don’t care who hits the QB as long as someone knocks the snot out of him a couple of times. Although, BK has already stated that by design, their QB is protected and hard to hit. I would hope that by design, we can find a way to hit him. That was the premise I always heard back in the Jurassic period. And all the recent success and acclaim aside, the triple option is not new. And if it is unstoppable, then let’s hire Paul Johnson next time around.

  2. ND seems to have the defensive hitting and tackling talent (as Duranko outlined in a previous comment) and the offensive line to stay with GT. What is TBD is if they have the execution, discipline, strategy and coaching to adjust to the wrinkles GT will add to their game plan, as VA did both on offense and defense vs. ND. GT had to show nothing to slaughter Alcorn and Tulane, and you can bet Johnson will have something unseen and unprepared for by ND. Versus the option, any breakdown will be exploited by their experienced QB, so all ’11’ must do their part each play. Shaz in an earlier post talked about NDs big chunk plays- which is precisely what ND has to limit with GTs option attack. If they do, it could go down to the last possession. With a less than an impressive performance last game from the ND back four on D’, and with GT not even being challenged yet this season (not really an advantage for them), and with ND at home vs. the highest scoring offense, this has all the ingredients for a classic home upset victory for the Irish.
    BVGs and BKs coaching acumen is on trial and will be tested. If david (above) is correct, despite all the key injuries ND has already experienced in two games, the ‘dump Kelly’ mantra will ring loudly and clearly once again. It’s “show time” for real, not the Showtime already recorded twice- no editing allowed during Saturday’s game.

  3. The biggest question in my mind concerning defensive reaction… Is why in the name of leprechaun and leprechaunesses fornicating in the clover wasn’t Russel dialed man to man on Severin? If he lines in slot, BVG should be able to adjust. If he’s stacked in trips, or paired in doubles, BVG should be able to adjust…without total confusion, or default zone packages.

  4. They have the speed and athletes in numbers to handle Tech’s optoin offense. Do they finally have the correct strategy and discipline? Attacking only in the interior of lineman plugging gaps. Ends and backers are to string play out and not get to deep and or commit to early. Forcing ball carrier to keep or pitch. Which is then covered by backer, corner or saftey. Who cannot allow themselves to be blocked also. Assignment defense. Again, they have the speed and athletes. Patience and not over committing is how teams control the option. The option offense was premier decades ago and was defended then and can be now too. I think were going to see a defense this weekend that is up to the task stopping the run. Dumbfounded about the passing game though. I have faith that offense will show up and take control. Kaiser will have a good day too.

  5. FXM, quite seriously, I wish we could get a bunch of us in a coaches meeting room. It would be intriguing, albeit with much sound and fury. For example, not that you’re wrong, but I’d argue (vehemently even, especially if outnumbered) that Coney/Morgan/Tranquill/Shumate, four lumber bringers, be the one that are flanked outside and assigned to hit Thomas, the QB on every play. Smith should be free to float and bring down the pitch man if needed. And Russell would be on the side opposite Smith before the ball is snapped. We have a lot of athletes and a lot of tackling prowess on this defense.

    On Kizer, that’s an easy speech to make and Devine used to make it all the time, and Urban Meyer kept making it last year after Barrett went down:

    “Lads it’s on the ten of you to lift Kizer up. He will play well, but he better rank 11th in player rating because I expect the other ten of you to raise your effort to a level even better than you showed against Texas and Virginia. He rescued you guys last week, and this week, you come charging out of that locker room and pound on Georgia Tech. They know, on an intellectual level, that we are better than Alcorn and Tulane. But I want you to TEACH them in every muscle in their body, their arms their legs, their heads, their necks, their shoulders, their hands by rote repetition so that they will never forget that they are playing NOTRE DAME, not Alcorn or Tulane. Stanley? Nelson? Luatua? McGlinchey? ARe you all in or not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Hit ’em hard, hit em early, hit em every play!.

  6. Hopefully, Jaylon is instructed to hit the QB on every play. Drue Tranquill was made to play against that offense, I hope he gets his chance. And let’s not forget about Mathias (I only play well when it counts) Farley I hope he gets on the field in place of those who practice better or are theoretically better.

  7. You are in for one brutal dose of realty this Saturday. Johnson wants to rub VanGorder’s nose in it bad enough to shorten his career. GT will whip ND like a rented mule.
    A Plan B for yourself for the 2nd half will prove prescient.

  8. I ‘m concerned about short yardage situations regardless of down.
    The closest thing we had to a power back was Folston .

    I’m just not sure what part of… 20 first downs, 34 points, 460 yards, and a road win, you don’t seem to understand.

    As to what gets me excited with ND’s special teams play…. CJ Sanders…. true freshmen. 5’8″, 185, runs a 4.4 40. Has only played in 2 games, has returned 7 punts for 47 yards for a 6.5 average.
    That might not sound like much to you, but compared to years past it is significant. In fact, it currently ties him with Adoree Jackson of USC for 39th nationally… although, Sanders yardage came against two power 5 conference opponents.

    Give this kid a chance to settle in and gain some experience and he can be something special.

  9. Shaz: So you’re not worried about how pathetic ND is on 3rd down….because not every play is 3rd down.

    Well, you must be quite excited with ND special teams play, as they aren’t on the field much. And I believe NDs onside kick coverage is the best in college football this season, as they’ve not yet faced one.

  10. “American Sniper” Shaz , I checked back on your other post regarding Big Gainers and Chunk Plays. Kizer , in the short time he played against UV , stands out in the 11–19 category. Not sure , but think 3 came on the crucial drive. 30+ category is the “I am Legend” toss. Seriously though , against GT Saturday DK will need teammates to rally round him. The players should also rally round each other and the brothers Folston , Zaire , Symthe and Jones. Fight on Irish

  11. There seems to be some concern about ND going 0-10 on third down vs UV.
    But part of that is due to the fact that ND scored TD’s 3 times on first or second down as well as
    moved the chains on those downs.

    20 first downs, 34 points, and 460 yards of total offense would appear to support those conclusions.
    (Although short yardage does appear to be an area of concern)

    On the defensive side, The ND rushing defense gave up 60 yards on 29 carries to Texas,
    and 127 yards on 30 carries to UV.
    That’s a two game total of 187 yards on 59 carries.

    Not too shabby.

    While we shouldn’t expect similar numbers vs GT, it could indicate that ND at least the talent and ability to slow the option down.

  12. I’m a lot more concerned with how Kizer performs than the Irish defense. Kizer cannot afford to turn the ball over. There were a couple passes during that last drive that were really close to being picked off. If Kizer can limit his mistakes then maybe the Irish eke out a W but I had them losing this game even with Zaire. Would be great to see the Irish run the table with Kizer at QB not only for the obvious but to see the QB drama unfold again next Spring. If that happened who do you think wins the job in 2016? Who transfers?

  13. Uh, Van Gorder took over for Mike Sewak at Georgia Southern, not Paul Johnson (I live near Statesboro). Other than that, a great article.

  14. lADDIES, I hate to confuse this dialogue with the facts, but occasionally we can learn something from the past. In last year’s game, seven of the 9 leading tacklers were, IN ORDER, Greer Martini, Joe Schmidt, James Onwualu, Max Redfield, Jaylon Smith, Drue Tranquill and Nyles Morgan. (the other two were Jones and Day, 7th and 8th.)

    Van gorder, with Bobby Elliott whispering in his ear, is going to load up with linebacker, DB types. Remember, Russell was in Washington State during the Navy game last year. Kid can tackle. Shumate was in one of his doghouses. And don’t sleep on Tevon Coney. Frankly, if they sit the injured Redfield and let Luke make his tackles that’s fine with me.

    Basically, we have all the key tacklers back who were deployed to stop Navy. Plus Shumate, Russell and Coney. We have the athletes to tackle in space. Now this defense will be utterly useless against Clemson and USC, but each day has enough care of its own.

    There are no free lunches, so I think they will tilt toward stopping Georgia Tech’s rushing and take some risks in the passing game. It’s combat tactics gentlemen. And Bump Elliott’s son, Bobby has been busy refining this.

    While most of us are obsessed with the defense, the local American Sniper, Shazamrock, is in charge of the offense, and his post is noteworthy. Tech is a little undersized in the front seven, compared to what we have faced against Texas and UVA.

    The closer you get and the more you look at it, the better you feel. And while everyone moans about playing Navy annually, we are in a far better place to prepare for Georgia Tech because we play Navy. Oh, Gilmore knows about Georgia Tech from his days at UNC. And two of ND’s defensive coaches, Todd Lyght and Mo Crum have a lot of experience playing against the triple option of Navy. Crum may have been out there on the field when Johnson was at Navy.

    Buckle your chinstraps, lads!

  15. It should be a dog fight! We will find out just what the Irish are made of. Kizer has his work cut out for him and hopefully is up to the task. The defense will have to be at their best because they have not been great against the option. Let’s hope for the best. It will come down to NDs passing against the run of GT.
    Wow! Go IRISH!

  16. Great article and comments on GT and how to stop their option attack. As Duranko points out Justin Thomas is fastest QB ND will face this season. Fullback Skov , Stanford transfer, reminds me of Gerhardt. GT has a wide out named “Searsy” a game breaker. I hope this new BVG assistant Bobby Elliot has scheme/assignments to stop , slow down , neutralize , stall this option attack. Irish need a 1st quarter like the one against Virginia but don’t stop there. Cause the Yellow Jackets — “They ain’t stop’in for nut’in.” (from the movie “Platoon”)

  17. What did we see? We saw a defense that sucked ass for 3 quarters of the game. Talented and experienced. No more excuses BVG and BK. Some of these guys have aspirations to play at the next level. Every play and every game is an audition. With the exception of one linebacker and 3 d linemen, I’m not impressed. No more excuses. Football is a violent game. I want to see some violence (controlled) and passion. No more damned excuses. If the first string can’t perform, put in the second string. They couldn’t play any worse.

  18. Being aggressive defensively with stunts and blitzes to dictate the tempo vs. option teams is definitely a strategy that DCs follow. Protect your knees against chop-blocking and then read and react rather than pressuring and disrupting the QB out of his rhythm is a strategy not yet tried much by BKs ND DCs Diaco or Van Gorder- and the defensive results have been less than impressive, especially vs. Navy.
    With all the current athletic LBs and safeties who can pressure and disrupt, I look for more of that.
    I’ll also be watching for how many of NDs first 20 scripted offensive plays are runs.
    I expect GT to pack it in defensively and try to take away NDs run-first strategy. I’m hoping ND doesn’t get too far behind before they use Kizer’s passing ability vs. what I expect to see out of GT- stacking the box stifling much chance at establishing the run against them. Passing can loosen up and defeat their focus on stopping the run and lead to big chunk plays that, as Shaz has pointed out- have helped ND average well over 30 points per game so far. I suspect ND will need all that-and more.

    True- players must execute blocks and run through the right gaps- but if they stack more defenders than you can block, post-game excuses about players’ failure to execute, or to read opposing defenders’ reactions should be viewed as just an excuse for being outcoached. Paul Johnson heard Van Gorder’s reply that he would bring Geo. Southern to modern football after he replaced him as head coach.
    Both have something to prove- and I suspect both would like to emphatically prove it against one another Saturday. Despite a few new wrinkles Johnson has not needed to show yet, ND knows what to expect from GT. Here’s hoping Johnson doesn’t know what to expect from NDs offensive and defensive strategies on Saturday.

  19. The defense has to play with more discipline this week versus Tech and CAPTAINS have to play better. Joe Schmidt played terrible. Yes he is great at getting everyone lined up right but he was not very good at all versus UVA.

    Schumate is SO aggressive trying to stop the run and while he is a rock in run defense he was burnt on the trick play that the Cavs ran. Ga Tech is going to test him again this week and you can bank on at least two trick plays this weekend. This is not Navy, Tech can throw the ball.

    BVG needs to fit his system to his players. He is not with the Jets, his guys dont have the time needed to fully digest everything he throws at them. Isaac Rochell says thst BVG is constantly throwing new things at them. This is not the time of the year to be trying to install things into the playbook. You do that during the spring and during bowl prep. I hate using the words “dumb down” but that’s what he needs to do. His guys are thinking instead of going out and just playing. There is no way Kelly can have this continue much longer.

  20. Not many adjustments for the defense this weekend, it’s pretty much the same Johnson option offense just run with higher caliber athletes than Georgia Southern or Navy. The easiest way to defeat the option, score lots of points early and make them pass to catch up.

  21. If the Irish only give up 30pts, I’ll be thrilled. I think something like 40+ is more realistic. Kelly mentioned being aggressive on offense because he knows GA Tech will put points on the board. I’m afraid that “aggressive” will translate to 3 and out, and more GA Tech possessions – which is not what we want to see. Long, sustained drives that are led by an intelligent and efficient DK will be vital.

    I think the athletes are there on defense to hang with Techs, but will they be in position? Tillery and Cage need to have huge games. I agree that we’ll see an abundance of ‘creative’ LB sets. Redfield makes me nervous – is he scared to hit someone?

  22. This game against GT and the other against Navy are two in which the presence on field of J. Jones and I. Williams would’ve helped immensely.

    Like others have intimated, ND needs to involve the TEs and WRs not named Will Fuller more in the O game plan.

    The D will need to get a turnover or two and a fourth-down stop or two. I still see GT putting up close to 30 or more. Sure hope I’m proven dead wrong by BVG and company!

    Go Irish! Beat the Yellow Jackets!

  23. Regression shown on defense, against an apparently average Va team, based on their performance against UCLA is troubling. Offense was like the Dow Jones: very very good or very very bad. Some real tough blows on the injury front. We can, and should all be proud of the teams reaction to the adversity. There IS fight in our Irish!

    The team is difficult to judge, but we can see the talent is there. Is the coaching staff up to the the talent level. Time will tell

  24. Archangel, I agree on loading up on tacklers. We may even see, in addition to Smith Onwualu Shumate Russell and Tranquill, guys like Martini Coney and Nyles Morgan. They have been planning for this for a long time.

    Kizer? I like the kid. And he may find receivers other than Fuller.

    TES Luatua, Weishar and Alize? That’s enough to say grace over. Jones and Weishar are strong enough to block against Tech.

  25. There is no question they will give an all out effort. The concern is a VG defense has never stopped
    the option and this is the best one.

  26. This week’s game against GT will tell us a lot about what to expect out of ND this year. Not that it will tell us everything, of course, but it will at least tell us how the offense will operate and if the defense can stand up to an option attack.

  27. ND is great first of all. It isn’t easy to stay focused against a program like UVA. The trick play deceptions is my ‘pet-peeve’ for ND this week. This includes: onside kicks, fake field goals, reverse sweeps, flea flickers, fake punts, end around plays, statue of liberty types, double reverses, direct snaps to tailbacks, quarterback draws, etc. Expect to see them because you will.

  28. Despite Coach Johnson selling this game as just another challenging road game, I’m not buying it.
    I’ve read VA used different formations and pass patterns they didn’t even try vs. UCLA the previous week.
    At least with GT and Johnson, they’ll run what they run and dare you to stop it.

    re: “A special LB heavy D’ scheme” . . . With Morgan, Schmidt, Grace, Onawaulu, and the incredible Jaylon Smith, why not? It’s no surprise they’re going to try to run the ball.Throw into the mix the LB-like tackling prowess of Shumate and Tranquil and K. Russell and the Irish certainly have the numbers to stall their option. How well they take away or neutralize GTs passing is another critical part of the equation. Finally, NDs OL must dominate. GT can’t score when ND garners first downs and, this week, converts third downs on their way to TDs and not FGs. Scoring thirty one and still not being done might be needed for this one.
    re: ” Adversity does not build character. Adversity reveals character.”
    Their character is evident. The adversity is beyond question. Successful schemes and execution remain the question when playing against option or teams with a mobile athletic QB (see: NC and Navy last year). That’s on the coaches’ preparation as well as the players’ execution. Go Irish!

  29. ND offense
    Big Gainers & Chunk Plays

    Through 2 games the ND offense has recorded a total of 37 big gain plays and Chunk Plays.
    (20 vs Texas / 17 vs UV)

    vs Texas, the ND offense recorded:
    Plays of 11 to 19 yards = 13
    Plays of 20 -30 yards = 5
    Plays of 30+ yards = 2
    Longest play = 66 yards

    vs UV, the ND offense recorded:
    Plays of 11 to 19 yards = 11
    Plays of 20 -30 yards = 3
    Plays of 30+ = 3
    Longest Play = 59 yards

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