Notre Dame Football Primer: Irish Look to Bounce Back vs. #18 Virginia

Coming off a playoff-type atmosphere in Athens, Notre Dame will have to refocus as the #18 Virginia Cavaliers visit South Bend. In 2015, the Irish had all they could handle in Charlottesville but escaped with a victory. Brian Kelly and the Irish are undoubtedly still in the playoff hunt, a win this weekend could help the Fighting Irish get back to building a playoff résumé.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: September 28th at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC
  • Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
  • Matchup History: Notre Dame leads the all-time series 2-0 (Last Meeting 2015: The Irish won 34 to 27)
  • Current Odds: Notre Dame -10.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 20% chance of rain with a high of 82 degrees and a low of 66.

Virginia Details:

  • Conference: ACC Coastal Division
  • Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
  • 2019 Record: 4-0 (2-0 in ACC)
  • 2018 Record: 8-5 (4-4 in ACC)

Virginia Storylines:

Bronco Mendenhall building up the Virginia Program. After ten seasons as the head coach at BYU, Mendenhall has slowly constructed this Virginia Cavaliers team. During his first season in 2016, the Cavaliers won only two games. Then, Virginia proceeded to win six games in 2017 and 8 games last fall.

Now Bronco Mendenhall has the Virginia program in the Top 20 with an impressive 4-0 start, led by his outstanding quarterback Bryce Perkins.

Bryce Perkins is a tremendous Dual-Threat. Through 4 games, Perkins is 81 for 124 (65.3%) with 843 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. On the ground, he has 51 attempts for 193 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and 2 rushing touchdowns. Perkins will present one of the best dual-threat options the Irish will see all season.

Key Players for the Cavaliers. Wayne Taulapapa compliments Bryce Perkins in the running game. Taulapapa has 39 attempts for 152 yards and 5 touchdowns. Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois lead the receivers. Reed has 23 receptions for 215 yards and 3 touchdowns while Dubois is second on the team with 16 catches for 191 yards.

Three dominate linebackers lead Virginia’s Defense. Zane Zandier has complied 29 tackles on the season, along with 2 sacks. Joining him are Jordan Mack with 29 tackles and 5 sacks, as well as Charles Snowden who has registered 28 tackles and 3 sacks through the first four games.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Running Game was nonexistent last week. Tony Jones Jr. had 9 carries for 21 yards against the Georgia Bulldogs. Lawrence Keys III had 2 attempts for 7 yards, and Ian Book had 3 attempts for 18 yards.

The Irish Offense is desperately missing Jafar Armstrong, the marquee running back on the roster, along with Jahmir Smith who provides depth at the position. Nevertheless, it was unexpected to see Ian Book only rush three times against the Bulldogs. His running ability could have been the difference in the game, but Georgia was able to keep Book contained the entire night.

Irish need playmakers besides Kmet and Claypool. Cole Kmet coming back from injury was massive for the offense. He had 9 catches for 108 yards and 1 touchdown. Chase Claypool had a solid game with 6 catches, even while the Georgia Defense was locked in on him.

Lawrence Keys III contributed with 3 catches for 35 yards, Finke had 4 catches, and Jones Jr. added 4 receptions out of the backfield. However, the Irish Offense needs more production if they want to beat teams like Georgia. Hopefully, Michael Young is back sooner rather than later, and Braden Lenzy can fully recover from his concussion.

Notre Dame Tackling executed to perfection. Irish fans remember the National Championship Game against Alabama where the talent of the Crimson Tide broke right through the Irish Defense. With the outstanding backfield of the Georgia Bulldogs, it was expected that Notre Dame would struggle to tackle these elite running backs.

However, Clark Lea’s defense was stellar in getting the Bulldogs to the ground. The Fighting Irish defense was able to keep Notre Dame in the football game until the very end.

Head to Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. Virginia Defense: Bryce Perkins will present a difficult challenge for this Irish Defense. In their first two matchups, Notre Dame battled against dual-threat quarterbacks, but they were not as good of passers as Perkins. If Clark Lea’s defense plays like they did last weekend, the Irish will be successful.

Virginia’s Offense is one of the better offenses in the entire country, but after last week’s performance in Athens, Notre Dame has the advantage in this matchup.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Virginia Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: The Irish Offense needs to get back to running the football to have success the rest of the season. Ian Book, Tony Jones Jr., and Jahmir Smith (if back) need to dominate on the ground. Virginia’s defense has been solid all season, albeit they haven’t played a team like Notre Dame. The Cavaliers have only allowed 18 points per game this season.

I give the advantage to the Irish.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams: The Irish special teams haven’t been tested this season. They did make a few mistakes last weekend as far as formations and blocking, but then again, some of the calls were outlandish. Jonathan Doerer is 2 for 2 on the season with minimal action. Freshman punter, Jay Bramblett is off to a terrific start. Last weekend, Bramblett had 4 punts for 190 yards (47.5 yards per punt).

Virginia’s kicker, Brian Delaney, is 5 for 8 on the season with his longest conversion at 49 yards. Last season, Delaney was 12 for 16 on attempts.

There is no distinct advantage for either team.


My Prediction:

Notre Dame had an up and down game against the Bulldogs last weekend. The first half went accordingly to the game plan, the 3rd quarter was horrendous, and in the 4th quarter, the Irish battled back, while almost pulling off the upset in the final minute of the game.

I may be crazy, but I still think the Irish have a shot at the playoffs. They only dropped down to #10 in the rankings, and they still have three ranked opponents left on the schedule via #18 Virginia, #20 Michigan and #21 USC. A lot of things can happen across the country for the Irish to move up several spots over the year.

This will be a monumental contest for Virginia. Conversely, Notre Dame is coming off a gut-wrenching battle in Georgia. This matchup will redefine the rest of the season. I expect Virginia to present many challenges, but the Irish will pull away late in this game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31 Virginia 17

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  1. Yes you have to play them one at a time. I think what Notredame needs more than anything is for a few players on offense to do what Dexter William’s did last year.Another words be great and make a huge impact starting Saturday. Guys like Young Lenzy Smith next couple of weeks Armstrong maybe probably a long shot Austin.Poor running back recruiting and receivers being suspended really hurts notredame

  2. 1. There is no sense at all in talking about making the playoffs since our fate is totally out of our hands until multiple other teams in multiple conferences accumulate some losses. Until then, forget about it – it’s a non-starter.

    2. Instead, let’s see if we can roll against Virginia from the opening whistle until the final second of the fourth quarter. On all three sides of the ball, I might add. That makes a lot more sense than philantisizing about an 11-1 Irish Team making the playoffs over a 13-0 Oklahoma, the winner of the Big Ten Conference , Clemson, Alabama, LSU and God knows who else! (Philantisizing: If you are wondering, it’s a cross between philosophizing and fantasizing; it’s what gamblers do, reflecting on how games they bet might have gone, as they are on their way to pay off their bookie, according to my brother Frank).

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Yeah, team wise they just have to worry about each game as it comes. They can’t get trapped thinking about things that might or might not happen. That’s the surest way to lose focus and lose games.

      It’s one thing for fans. We speculate all the time. But as much as I criticize BK for other things, I have to admit I never get the feeling his teams aren’t focused on the next game. I am concerned a bit that the loss against Georgia might get in their heads a bit. But I’m not actually worried they might be thinking about future games or playoff chances or things like that.

      To be honest at the beginning of the season I wasn’t even going to think about the future but just take each week as it comes. It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking about what can be. But it’s probably not worth it. There are a 100 things that can happen between now then. I’m just thinking about ND vs. Virginia right now. Then I’ll worry about ND vs. Bowling Green (ok, maybe not worry…if we have to worry about BG then things really are going south). And on from there.

      1. I hope you are right MTA. The OL has been the only disappointing unit on the field. They pass block well, very well actually, but as we’ve all noticed, the run game between the tackles is non-existent. And the penalties! Good Lord. I am hoping that Coach Quinn can coach them up a bit, and that Liam starts giving his brain a chance! He was a wrecking crew last Saturday.
        I feel especially bad about it because I predicted that the OL would be dominant this year…and they’ve been excellent at our wide game, and our passing game – but between the tackles has been putrid.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  3. First, I think the headings are backwards (Notre Dame Offense vs. Virginia Defense and vice versa).

    But on the substance, ND can’t have a let down this weekend. Virginia will be a tough game. They are beatable if ND takes care of its business. But they’ve got to leave Georgia in the rear view mirror and focus on Virginia. You of course try to improve on things from Georgia (and the first two games) but don’t dwell on it.

    That’s my main fear of this game. It’s still a tough match up–not as tough as Georgia of course, but the Irish have to stay focused. I have serious doubts they will make the playoffs now (I have a feeling a 1 loss conference champion will beat out a 1 loss ND team). But if you lose 2 games then it’s over for sure. All they can do is win–and dominant wins would be even better. Dominate the rest of the season and that can’t hurt. But lose a game, or struggle to win too many games and I think that kills any CFB playoff chances.

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