Virginia Game Could Ultimately Define Notre Dame’s Season

Throughout the off-season, everyone said the Georgia game would define Notre Dame’s season.  A win and the Irish are back.  A loss and they are out of the playoff hunt in September.  A blowout and well, it’s the same old Notre Dame.  With Notre Dame’s narrow defeat in Athens keeping them in the top 10 though, the Virginia game this weekend could be the real defining game of the season because it will show us how they respond to a loss.

Notre Dame opened as a double-digit favorite over the 18th ranked Cavaliers who come into Notre Dame with a 4-0 record that includes three come from behind wins.  They are a good team, but far from a great one.  They’re a team that can put up a good fight against most team.  They are also a team that Notre Dame should be able to beat without things being too interesting if the Irish are indeed a playoff-caliber squad.

In our season prediction post, I circled this game, not Georgia as the defining moment of the season.  I hoped for a win in Athens but expected a loss.  With that in mind, I looked at this game as the one that will let us know if Notre Dame can make a run at the Playoffs or if a three or four-loss season is still in the realm of possibility.

Here’s what I said back in August:

While everyone is pointing to the Georgia game is the make or break game of the year, this might actually be the turning point of the season.  Virginia is good enough to beat Notre Dame if they limp into this one wounded following the battle with Georiga in Athens.  If Notre Dame is not careful, the Cavaliers could derail the Irish’s season.  Lose this game, and a four-loss season isn’t out of the question.  WR Michael Young scores the game-winner in his return to action for the Irish here.

After coming up just short against #3 on the road, the idea of a three or four-loss campaign might sound absurd given how the Irish schedule is breaking, but how this team responds to that loss will let us know which route this season is headed.  Is Notre Dame looking at a potential 11-1 record and lots of arguing about strength of schedule and 13th data points, or are we looking a Citrus Bowl type ending again?

Notre Dame has the talent to beat Virginia by 10+ points.  Oddsmakers agree and so do bettors apparently since the line hasn’t moved a whole lot since it opened.  If anything, Virginia was getting more points at one point.  Predicting how 18-22 year olds respond to a tough, hard-fought loss is anyone’s guess though.

Notre Dame does have several factors working in their favor this weekend to suggest a bounce-back is likely.

  • A veteran team that was in the Playoffs just last year who has played in a lot of big games
  • A home game played in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium
  • An afternoon start time, so there’s no added pressure of a prime-time contest
  • The return of Michael Young and Jahmir Smith to give the offense a boost

A win this weekend, and the Irish set themselves up for making a playoff run.  It’ll be difficult with the loss, but considering they are still #10 in the AP Poll, there isn’t a ton of ground to make up in the next two months.  This weekend is one of three chances for a real quality win for Notre Dame left on the schedule too.

Virginia’s schedule is set up nicely for them to make a run through the ACC.  After this weekend, there are currently no ranked teams left on their schedule.  So, even if a loss this weekend were to knock them out of the top 25, their schedule could make 10-2 very likely.

Win this weekend, and the Irish are 3-1 with a tuneup against Bowling Green next weekend before their next chance for a quality win – USC.  The Trojans saved their season last weekend though where they head in 2019 is anyone’s guess as well.  They have a lot of tough games left – including this weekend against #17 Washington.  As tough as it may be to do, Notre Dame fans should hope for a USC win in Seattle.

After USC, Notre Dame gets a bye week before traveling to Ann Arbor to face a Michigan team that just got WAXED by Wisconsin.  Now, a lot can change between then and now, but that game suddenly looks even more winnable than it did in August.  ESPN’s Football Power Index has the Irish at over 70% in their win probability factor.   Michigan has to play Iowa and at Penn State between now and then though so who knows if they will even be ranked by then.

All of this only matters IF Notre Dame takes care of business this weekend though.  The last time Brian Kelly had to prepare his team to play after a regular-season loss was 2017 following the debacle in Miami.  They responded by squeaking past Navy 24-17 in a game they could have easily lost.  That can’t happen this weekend if Notre Dame wants to have the kind of season they set out to have.

Since that Miami game was a whole different kind of loss, perhaps its better to look at how Notre Dame responded to their last close, hard-fought loss.  That would be the 2017 Georgia game in South Bend.  Following the one-point loss,  Notre Dame went on the road and beat down Boston College 49-20.  Josh Adams and Brandon Wimbush both ran for over 200 yards individually while Notre Dame for 515 as a team.

It would be downright shocking if anyone on the Notre Dame roster ran for 200 yards and the chances of Notre Dame passing for 500 are much, much more likely than rushing for 500; but they need to bounce back similarly.  However they do it, they need to come out of this one victorious.  If they don’t, we could be looking at a 2011 or 2013 type campaign, not a 2015 type season.

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  1. Hope the coaching staff have the team focused and ready to play. Would like to see a convincing win Saturday.

    Go Irish

  2. Season, schmeason…they could go undefeated for remainder of the regular season, but the troika of Kelly-Quinn-Book is not gonna do it in the Playoffs.

    Kelly: open up the playbook, short passes will not be enough, Quinn: teach the OL how to open holes AND pass protect all in the same game,
    Book: WTF? You’re proving that a guy who steps in to fill a weakness is a whole lot easier than a guy who is EXPECTED to win.

    My vote is for #7, a true freshman. We have nothing to lose. Season is lost already.

    1. Subway, so glad you aren’t playing this Saturday. Rarely have I heard such negativity from a “fan.” Guess what. Notre Dame has nothing to lose if you don’t watch the game.

  3. I agree. Win and at least give yourself a shot. But lose and you’re out of the playoff hunt.

    Really, this was a trap game win or lose. Win and lose focus on Virginia could result in a loss just as easily as losing.

    It’s up to the coaches to keep this team focused on Virginia and winning this game. The pressure is still on, but there’s not quite as much attention on the Irish for this game as there was for Georgia. This is a very winnable game, but it’s also a very losable game if they don’t take care of business.

  4. Notredame should win this game by 2 or 3 touchdowns if they are truly a playoff level team. Ask yourself this question if Virginia went on the road Saturday and played Clemson Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma Georgia LSU my guess is they would get drilled pretty badly..

  5. Frank, As SpiceyIrish noted, Brian Kelly sees this game as a defining moment too.
    I don’t see any let down here. When you train and practice as hard as Balis and Kelly have worked these guys, for as long as they have driven them, and as long as the guys have driven themselves, there really is only one gear they are going to play in…overdrive.

    As I’ve said before, ARA’s teams never lost two regular season games in a row. Not once in ten years. These guys know what those guys knew back then; if nothing else, PRIDE prohibits following any kind of loss with anything but fury and fine execution.
    PRIDE was their motto in those days…that’s what those guys saw on the brick wall at the bottom of the stairs in the tunnel every home game – before “Play Like a Champion Today” or a (long) list of National Championship records. Just one small sign with one single word on it: PRIDE. And I’m quite sure these guys have just as much of that stuff today.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  6. The ability to get back up will be tested by VIRGINIA this week!! No time to look back, IRISH need to strike early and put the pressure on the QB!! This will be another TOUGH game on the heels of the GEORGIA game!! IRISH must be at there best!!

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