Cavaliers make first-ever trip to South Bend to face road-weary Fighting Irish
In one of two games this week that feature a pair of Top 25 teams, Virginia will try to improve to 5-0 when they journey to South Bend to face off with Notre Dame. Despite struggling to get by Old Dominion, the Cavaliers jumped to No. 18 in the AP poll and a victory over Notre Dame would be their third Power 5 victory in September.
The Irish come home after losing a heartbreaker in Athens last Saturday night. In a raucous environment, Notre Dame got up early on Georgia before surrendering the lead. But down 13 points late in the game, Notre Dame rallied and had a chance to go ahead in the final minute before falling short.
This is Virginia’s first trip to Notre Dame, but many Cavalier fans remember their own heartbreak when the Irish scored a late touchdown to win at Scott Stadium in 2015.
Virginia at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -11.5
When Virginia Has the Ball
Notre Dame will be seeing a totally different type of offense than the one they saw this past Saturday night. While Georgia runs more of a pro-style set with quarterback Jake Fromm mostly staying in the pocket, Virginia will spread things out and allow their signal-caller, Bryce Perkins, the opportunity to make plays.
Besides Perkins, Virginia has not been much of a running team. Wayne Taulapappa has been serviceable, but Perkins leads the Cavaliers with 193 rushing yards. Notre Dame did a much better job at defending the run against Georgia, but with Perkins as a threat, it becomes a different challenge. And in week one, Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass hurt the Irish with several big runs, so the Irish will have to scheme differently to stop this mobile quarterback.
Where Perkins is really dangerous is throwing the ball, especially when he is outside the pocket. Joe Reed, Terrell Jana, and Hasise Dubois are all having fine seasons and their battles with a talented Irish secondary, led by Alohi Gilman and Troy Pride, should be fun to watch. The passing game hasn't produced a whole lot of big plays for UVA and Notre Dame's defense doesn't give up many big chunks of yardage, so Virginia is going to have to be efficient on offense and convert on third downs at a high rate.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
The Notre Dame offense will continue to rely heavily on the arm of Ian Book. The Irish running game, after a promising start against Louisville on Labor Day evening, has stagnated and the passing attack has carried the team in the first three games. The Virginia defense is allowing just 75 rushing yards per game, so expect more of the same from Notre Dame this week.
The Irish got tight end Cole Kmet back from a collarbone injury last week and he was a huge factor, catching nine passes for 108 yards and a score. It is possible – the injury report actually says probable – that wide receiver Michael Young will return from his own collarbone problem this week. Another receiving threat, especially one that can get downfield, would be a nice complement to Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Kmet.
While Virginia is very good against the run, they're not bad at defending the pass either. The Cavaliers are allowing just 189 passing yards per game and each aspect of the defense does its job. Led by Jordan Mack and Charles Snowden, UVA is tied for the national lead with 20 sacks. Mack and fellow linebacker Zane Zandler are sure tacklers and the secondary features All-American candidate Bryce Hall.
Every analyst that will discuss this game will bring up what a difficult spot this is for the Irish. Notre Dame put so much energy into last week and now they come home to play a team that isn't considered on par with Georgia. But Virginia is really, really good. Bryce Perkins is the type of quarterback that has given Notre Dame problems in the past and the Virginia defense is one of the nation's best from a statistical standpoint. Notre Dame has been solid in the kicking game so far this season while Virginia has had some problems and that will prove to be the difference on Saturday. In a game where both teams will struggle at times to move the football, the Irish will win a tight, low-scoring game by a field goal.
Prediction: Notre Dame 20, Virginia 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.