Despite some early fears that a post-Georgia hangover might be evident, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish managed to shake off a bumpy start and get back in the win column with a 35-20 home victory against the Virginia Cavaliers. The defeat put an end to the Cavaliers’ perfect 2019 season, which had seen them win their first four contests.
Much like their opening game against Louisville, the Irish defense needed some time before it got comfortable, a period which came during the third quarter. That was when that unit allowed Virginia just 22 yards of offense after giving up 233 yards in the first two quarters. That helped turn a three-point halftime deficit into a double-digit lead and aided in improving the Notre Dame record to 3-1.
Below are some of the critical facets of the game:
Notre Dame’s first drive of the afternoon had all the makings of a three-and-out as Ian Book was both frustrated and under attack by the Virginia defense. However, following an incompletion on third down, the Cavaliers were flagged for being offside, a beneficial call that allowed the Irish to move the chains and drive for their first score quickly.
The next time that the Notre Dame had the ball, a pass interference call on Virginia changed from what might have been a third-and-eight into a first down. Two plays later, defensive holding by the Cavaliers tacked on 12 more yards, with C’Bo Flemister doing the rest by grabbing a 13-yard pass and then scoring on an 11-yard run.
That second score by the Irish was set up by a fumble that was both forced and recovered by Julian Okwara, which helped temporarily dull the momentum that Virginia had been building. The Cavaliers had moved the ball 45 yards, primarily thanks to a pair of receptions for first downs.
Notre Dame’s defense then began their time on the field during the second half with a forced fumble by Jamir Jones, which was picked up by Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and returned to the Cavalier seven-yard line, subsequently resulting in a score. Later in the quarter, another Okwara hit allowed Adetokunbo Ogundeji to recover the ball and dash 23 yards for the score.
Jones-ing at the Right Time
While the Irish running game entered their game against Virginia averaging 144 yards per game, they were coming off a contest against Georgia in which they gained a mere 46 yards on 14 carries. Part of that seeming lack of production could be attributed to the injury to Jafar Armstrong. However, Tony Jones Jr. had yet to pick up the slack, gaining only 148 yards and reaching the end zone just once during the first three games.
That changed dramatically against Virginia when Jones gained 131 yards on 18 carries and reached the end zone three different times. He was almost exclusively responsible for the offensive production on the Irish’s last score of the game. After gaining three yards to start a fourth quarter drive, Jones broke off a 30-yard run to put the ball in Cavalier territory. Three plays later, he scampered 30 yards to put the Irish up 35-17 with slightly more than 10 minutes left in the game.
During the first two Virginia drives of the game, Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins connected with his receivers on each of his first seven throws. On four of those tosses, the gain for Virginia resulted in a first down, while another resulted in the first score of the game to conclude a four-minute, seven-play drive.
The freedom that Perkins was enjoying would soon fade, with a relentless Irish pass rush then taking shape. By the time the game ended, Notre Dame had collected eight sacks on the afternoon, with another near-miss helping to force an interception by Alohi Gilman. That led to another touchdown which boosted the Irish lead to 35-17. Okwara was the driving force in this department, finishing with three sacks while forcing two fumbles and recovering another.
The Irish should have a breather next Saturday when they meet the 1-3 Bowling Green Falcons for the first time ever. The Falcons won in a rout in their opener, but have since been on the receiving end of three consecutive beatings that have seen them outscored, 149-27. The biggest concerns for Notre Dame for this matchup should be focused on not looking ahead to the Southern Cal game on October 12 and avoiding any injuries.