Notre Dame heads to Charlottesville tonight for the first time since Will Fuller’s iconic touchdown grab in 2015 delivered one of the most dramatic Irish wins of the Brian Kelly era. The Irish look to improve to 9-1 on the season while Virginia limps into the contest, perhaps without its star quarterback Brennan Armstrong. With Armstrong, this game could be a wild shoot-out. Without him, it could be a laugher for the Irish.
What Worries Me This Week
Please, no more of them this year. Notre Dame keeps on chugging along with injury after injury, but we’ve now reached the point at linebacker, safety, and wide receiver where the Irish might not be able to overcome another significant injury. While the Irish have some solutions for replacing Avery Davis after he was lost for the year last weekend, there is almost no depth left at wide receiver, just like linebacker earlier this year.
The week after Navy effect
Outside of monstrosities in 2010 and 2016, Notre Dame has returned to beating Navy year in and year out. What they still have had issues with, however, is the week AFTER Navy. Preparing for Navy requires you to radically shift your defensive approach for one game in the middle of the season, and the physical toll of all the cut blocks from the Midshipmen is genuine.
The Irish lost to Stanford a week after beating Navy in 2017. In 2018, the Irish struggled with Northwestern for much of the night before putting the game away late. In 2019, the Irish might have solved the post-Navy puzzle with a 40-7 win over Boston College on Senior Day.
No Kyle Hamilton, again
Virginia has the deepest and most talented wide receiver corps Notre Dame faces this year. Facing them without Kyle Hamilton is not what I would consider ideal. The Irish secondary has managed OK without Hamilton so far, but the Cavalier receivers offer a much stiffer challenge than North Carolina did since the Tar Heels really had one star receiver to slow down. Virginia has a stable of receivers, all capable of doing damage if they get the ball.
After a light day at the office last week, Notre Dame’s corners should be pretty well-rested, but the safeties were heavily involved. Watch out for how much Xavier Watts plays should Houston Griffith struggle this week.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
If Brennan Armstrong plays tonight and is his usual self, Virginia can put up a lot of points on Notre Dame. However, I am banking on Armstrong either not playing at all or being severely limited if he does. It’s just too hard – and there’s too much risk – to play this soon after a rib injury for a quarterback. Sure, he could wear extra padding, but quarterbacks get hit in their ribs all the time.
My guess here is that he doesn’t play much, if at all. If he does play, I can’t imagine he’ll be 100%, and the injury will impact his effectiveness quite a bite. The spread in this game has been dropping steadily all day from -6 down to -8. That tells me the late money coming in isn’t expecting Armstrong to play or play well if he does.
All this said, if Armstrong does play and isn’t limited, then look out because Notre Dame might need to win a track meet.
Anything about Virginia’s defense
Luckily for Notre Dame, if this game were to become a track meet, the Virginia defense is very bad. It might be the worst defense that Notre Dame faces all year. Two weeks ago, they gave up 66 points to BYU. Georgia Tech put up 40 on them the week before. Somehow Duke managed to be shut out by the Cavaliers, but every other offense has put up points on the Cavs.
Notre Dame’s offense is far from prolific right now, even with the improvement we’ve seen the last few weeks out of the bye week. That said, they are good enough to put up a bunch of points on the Cavalier defense tonight. I think they’ll need to mix things up more this week since Navy really gave a good blueprint for slowing down the Irish last week, but UVA isn’t getting a lot of stops in this one.
Players to Watch This Week
- Lorenzo Styles – He should have an expanded role with Davis out. Still not sure why he had such a limited role against Navy, but that should change.
- Chris Tyree – We haven’t seen him much in weeks since the turf toe injury took him out of the Virginia Tech game. Is this the week we finally get to see him at full speed again?
- Xavier Watts – He got real defensive reps last week for the first time and looked pretty good in his debut. Greg already predicted an INT for Watts this week.
- Isaiah Foskey – If Notre Dame can jump out to a lead, UVA will be forced to pass a lot regardless of who the quarterback is. That feels like a recipe for another big week from Foskey.
- Tyler Buchner – Kelly said that Buchner could see his role expand and then Notre Dame made him available to the media mid-week for the first time this year. Maybe we see more of him this week.
- Kevin Austin – He had his big breakout last week. Can he build on it or will we see more of the inconsistency that we saw earlier this year. I am betting on the former.
Predicting this game is tricky since it really all hinges on whether or not Brennan Armstrong plays. As I said earlier, I am betting on Armstrong either not playing or having a minimal role this week. Without him, I don’t see Virginia putting up a ton of points even with a talented receiving corps. I see Notre Dame being able to score a lot as well, which should lead to a comfortable Notre Dame victory.
Notre Dame 42, Virginia 17