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Notre Dame vs. Virginia Football Prediction and Preview

Fighting Irish head to Charlottesville for first road trip in more than a month
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Virginia Cavaliers Football Prediction and Preview

Fighting Irish will try and slow down Cavaliers' prolific offense when the two teams meet in Charlottesville on Saturday night

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish just wrapped up a three-game homestand of wins inside The House That Rockne Built, scoring at least 30 points in all three and winning each by double digits. They'll be up against a Virginia Cavaliers team looking for their third straight home win — though the stretch would be spread across five weeks — with more than 45 points scored per victory at Scott Stadium.

That stretch has left the Cavaliers (6-3) just outside of the top spot in the ACC Coastal division (with a 4-2 mark) of the ACC, with their loss at BYU two weeks ago not impacting Virginia's conference record but leaving a sour taste heading into last week's bye. The matchup with Notre Dame (8-1) likewise won't change the Cavaliers' ACC record, but it'll set the table for the remaining two conference matchups at Pittsburgh and in the season finale against Virginia Tech.

The Hokies were the first of the Fighting Irish's rebound victims after the loss to Cincinnati, as Notre Dame picked up a three-point win in Blacksburg before its home wins over USC, North Carolina, and Navy. The Irish will look to do something they've only done twice in as many tries — win a true road game — as their victories at Florida State and Virginia Tech have been their only two true road games to date.

Speaking of true road games, Saturday will be just the second time that the Irish and Cavaliers square off in Charlottesville. Notre Dame has won all three previous matchups against Virginia, with a one-possession win in Charlottesville in 2015 sandwiched in between wins of 23 and 15 points in 1989 and 2019, respectively.

No. 9 Notre Dame at Virginia

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -5.5

When Notre Dame Has the Ball

Despite failing to score on its first three possessions and getting shut out in the first quarter, Notre Dame flipped the script and scored on its three second-quarter possessions to take a 17-3 halftime lead last Saturday against Navy. The first-half score doubled in the final 30 minutes en route to a 34-6 final, leaving the Fighting Irish with a fairly dominant 28-point win despite early struggles. Quarterback Jack Coan was hardly prolific but certainly efficient, completing 23 of his 29 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown to Kevin Austin Jr., who led had a monster day with a career-high 139 yards on six receptions.

Doing their best Midshipmen impression, Kyren Williams and Logan Diggs combined for 154 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. The touchdown was Diggs' second in as many games for the first two of his young career, while Williams has propelled himself into the top 15 in the FBS — and the leader among the FBS independents — with 138.3 all-purpose yards per game.

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While playing largely with a lead, Virginia's defense has had to endure some heavy opposing yardage dumps. The Cavaliers enter this week allowing 466.2 yards per game, better only than Duke among ACC counterparts. Even more concerning is Virginia's ACC-worst rushing defense that has yielded more than 219 yards per game on the ground, which just like its total yardage is the ninth-worst per-game mark in the FBS. And while Notre Dame has allowed more than three sacks and nearly seven tackles for a loss per game so far this season, Virginia has mustered just 1.3 and 4.4, respectively, both among the bottom quarter of teams in the FBS.

When Virginia Has the Ball

Strength will be up against strength when the Cavaliers are on offense on Saturday night. Virginia leads the FBS with 545.2 yards per game, boosted by a 588-yard performance against BYU on the heels of a 636-yard effort in the win over Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers' high-octane offense is fueled in large part by its ACC-high 401.0 passing yards per game, second in the nation only to WKU's 418.6.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong has made this engine hum all season long, and that was the case against BYU. He not only threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns, but he also had 94 yards and two mores on the ground in a losing effort. He also accounted for six TDs against Georgia Tech and continues to post big numbers without a rash of turnovers, although he does have three interceptions in his last two games. Armstong has had no choice but to fling it all over the field (or run it himself), as Virginia's running game has been nearly nonexistent. Outside of Armstrong, the Cavaliers have averaged a little more than 131 rushing yards per game over their last three.

Notre Dame's defense was sturdy against Navy, holding the Midshipmen to a total of 184 yards, including only 18 passing. The Fighting Irish didn't force a turnover last week but have 17 takeaways, 12 of which are interceptions. That could be huge going up against Virginia's prolific passing attack.

The question remains, however, whether All-American safety Kyle Hamilton will return after suffering a leg injury against USC that forced him to miss the wins over North Carolina and Navy. Hamilton still leads the team with three interceptions and is second in tackles. Both with and without their star safety, Notre Dame's defense has made a habit of causing havoc behind the line of scrimmage, tallying six tackles for a loss and nearly three sacks per game. Isaiah Foskey leads the way with nine sacks (tied for eighth in FBS) alongside three forced fumbles and two recoveries.

Final Analysis

That battle between Notre Dame's opportunistic defense and Virginia's high-flying offense will certainly be one to watch in Charlottesville on Saturday night. The Cavaliers have only once been held under 30 points this season, while only two offenses have eclipsed that mark against Marcus Freeman's Fighting Irish defense  North Carolina the first to do so two weeks ago since Florida State in the opener. If Notre Dame's offense can click as it has in recent weeks, then the Irish ought to be able to rely on its own surging defense to fend off Virginia's top-tier offense.

Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Virginia 33

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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.