Another first for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish arrives on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Virginia Cavaliers to the Golden Dome for the first time ever. These two teams have faced off on two other occasions, though the most recent instance came in a 2015 clash at Charlottesville in which the Irish came away with a 34-27 win.
The Irish are coming off a loss at third-ranked Georgia in which a bad third quarter doomed them, and a furious late comeback fell short. That means that running the table over the remainder of the regular season is the only possible path for a playoff berth. As far as their opponents for Saturday, Virginia is coming off a 28-17 victory over Old Dominion, a clash that would have been an embarrassing home upset to after having fallen behind early by a 17-0 score.
Below are some of the key matchups for Saturday’s contest:
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Bryce Perkins
For three of the four quarters, Notre Dame’s defense held Georgia’s potent offensive attack in check. Lapses during the third quarter of that game proved costly, though some of that can be attributed to the fatigue caused by the ineffective offense during that stretch. In this game, they need to be on patrol against a mobile quarterback who already has more than 1,000 yards of total offense to his credit.
Perkins has been more vulnerable to interceptions so far this season, but he’s still connected with six receivers on scoring tosses. In addition, he enters this game as the Cavaliers’ leading rusher, so zeroing in on him is paramount to keeping the Virginia offense in check.
RB Tony Jones vs. MLB Jordan Mack
While the Irish didn’t completely abandon the run against Georgia, they only toted the ball 14 times during the contest. That’s because Jones is the lone back contributing due to injuries, but even he’s only gained 148 yards in three games. Virginia’s 2019 opponents have only averaged 2.2 yards per carry, which may keep the Irish throwing the ball. However, at some point, Notre Dame needs to establish its running game.
Mack knows how to bring down his man and stop them behind the line of scrimmage, given that he currently is tied for the Cavaliers’ team lead in tackles with 29. Despite missing four games last year, he still finished with 66 tackles, one year removed from his 114 stops in 2017.
OT Robert Hainsey/Liam Eichenberg vs. OLB Charles Snowdon
Both Hainsey and Eichenberg had their issues in the loss at Georgia as they were both flagged for false starts. In the case of Eichenberg, he had a miserable evening, with multiple false starts coupled with a penalty for unnecessary roughness and a personal foul call against him.
Those flaws need to be cleaned up since both are protecting Notre Dame’s backfield from the strong side rush of Snowdon, who has three sacks and six tackles-for-loss to his credit this year. Even when Snowdon hasn’t made them stop, he’s knocked away a pair of passes, so he could make Book’s comfort level drop if Hainsey and Eichenberg aren’t on their game.
CB Troy Pride vs. WR Joe Reed
Pride hasn’t been quite as active as his counterpart on the other side, Shaun Crawford, collecting just five tackles and deflecting one pass during the first three games of the season. Yet his underrated play from last season offers a window into what he can provide against the Cavaliers’ top receiver.
Reed wins that designation due to his status as Virginia’s best pass-catcher, grabbing 23 tosses that have been mainly short-yardage pickups. He is capable of being a deep threat and at 6-foot-1 won’t have the six-inch height advantage that Georgia wideout Lawrence Cager had for his touchdown over the 5-foot-11 Pride.
WR Chase Claypool vs. CB Bryce Hall
Claypool enters this game as Notre Dame’s top wideout with 15 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns. The latter of those two scores came in the waning moments of the Georgia defeat. He’s become Book’s favorite target during the first three contests but is still waiting to have a monster game in which he continually serves as a deep threat.
Hall brings plenty of experience to the table and will be a challenge for Claypool. Last season, Hall led the NCAA in the area of pass deflections with 21 and has four so far this season. He could have headed to the NFL after last season but instead returned to lead the Cavaliers’ secondary, bringing a high level of intensity to the field.