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Football

Head to Head: Notre Dame vs. Virginia

| Friday, September 11, 2015

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CAVALIERS PASSING

Junior Matt Johns steers a Cavaliers passing attack that lived on short throws against UCLA last weekend: Only two Virginia pass plays went for more than 20 yards all game. Senior receiver and team captain Canaan Severin will have his hands full with whoever matches up against him in the Notre Dame secondary, but he can expect a heavy dose of senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell after leading the Cavaliers in receptions, yards and touchdowns last season.

The Cavalier aerial attack against the Bruins was actually led by junior running back Taquan Mizzell out of the backfield. Mizzell hauled in eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, so Notre Dame will have to key on him out of the backfield.

Like Tyrone Swoopes last weekend, Johns has the ability to make plays with his feet if he doesn’t have anything downfield. Junior linebacker Jaylon Smith handled Swoopes pretty well, though. Look for the Irish to keep him facing the quarterback when he drops into coverage.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

CAVALIERS RUSHING

Texas ran on the Irish defense 29 times last weekend for a grand total of 60 yards.

Virginia kept it on the ground 34 times against the Bruins and gained 90 yards.

Granted, Texas was basically one dimensional, so the Irish could key on the run. Johns and the air attack provide a little more of a threat Saturday, but this is still an offense reliant on the running game. Mizzell and fellow junior running back Albert Reid split the majority of the carries last week, but only Johns broke off a run longer than 10 yards.

Despite the loss of senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones, Notre Dame’s defensive line more than held its own against Texas, and a deep and hungry linebacking corps waits behind them.

It’s hard to see this one turning out well for the Cavalier offense.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

CAVALIERS OFFENSIVE COACHING

It’s no secret Virginia coach Mike London finds himself on the hot seat. After an 8-5 season in 2011, London and the Cavaliers have won just 11 games in the past three years. London has done a decent job of recruiting at Virginia, but the results on field haven’t translated.

While last week’s loss to the Bruins seemed lopsided, it would have been a lot closer, at least early on, if Virginia had been able to finish on a couple drives early in the game instead of settling for short field goals. If the Cavaliers are going to upset the Irish, London and his offensive staff have to find a way to punch it past Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

CAVALIERS SPECIAL TEAMS

Cavaliers senior kicker Ian Frye went a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals against the Bruins, connecting on attempts from 42, 39 and 19 yards out. Despite what that may say about the Cavaliers’ inability to finish drives with touchdowns, Frye has proven himself a capable backup plan. His career field goal percentage stands at 79.5 (31-for-39), including an 81.5 percent (22-for-27) mark last year.

Junior punter Nicholas Conte saw his first collegiate action against UCLA and responded by averaging 50.5 yards on four punts. Notre Dame sophomore punter Tyler Newsome averaged only a little over 40 yards per boot against Texas.

Mizzell and Reid will handle the kickoff return duties for the Cavaliers, while Mizzell is slated to field the punt returns. Neither was particularly noteworthy against the Bruins, but that goes both ways: Neither broke a return, but neither coughed it up either.

Consistency, or at least a lack of inconsistency, pushes this one to the Cavaliers.

         EDGE: VIRGINIA

IRISH PASSING

Virginia’s secondary, lead by preseason all-ACC sophomore safety Quin Blanding, was supposed to be the Cavalier defense’s strongest area.

That didn’t stop UCLA’s true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen from completing 28 of his 35 pass attempts for 351 yards and three touchdowns.

Irish junior quarterback Malik Zaire found similar success against Texas, including a 66-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Will Fuller for a score in the third quarter. Zaire’s Notre Dame Stadium debut (19-of-22, 313 yards and three scores) was helped out by a running game that steamrolled over  the Longhorn defense. If the Irish rushing attack has a day anywhere near what it did against Texas, Zaire and the receiving corps should have no trouble finding making themselves at home in Charlottesville.

Even if it doesn’t, Rosen and the Bruins proved this Cavalier secondary is still quite vulnerable. For a team as deep at receiver as Notre Dame, Zaire just needs to keep the ball in their hands, not Virginia’s.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

IRISH RUSHING

The largest negative for Notre Dame last weekend was the season-ending injury to junior running back Tarean Folston in the first quarter. Besides that, though, there was little Notre Dame’s running game couldn’t do.

Senior running back C.J. Prosise tore up the Longhorn defense behind an inspired effort from the offensive line, and freshman running back Josh Adams made a flashy debut by scoring a touchdown on his first collegiate carry before adding another one later.

Texas’s front seven was supposedly one of the best around despite the team’s overall struggles. Virginia’s isn’t in that discussion. Even with Rosen throwing for over 350 yards, the Bruin running game combined for 152 yards on nearly 20 fewer carries than the Irish against the Longhorns.

The offensive line needs to clean up the penalties, but this one is still easy to call.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING

    Coaching gets easier when you thoroughly dominate a team like Notre Dame did against Texas, and it should stay that way if the Irish play like they did last week.

With all the hype surrounding Virginia’s secondary taking a blow from UCLA and Rosen, head coach Brian Kelly, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford and receivers/associate head coach Mike Denbrock just need to not get in their offense’s way with the game plan. If the Irish establish the run game early like last week, even with the loss of junior running back Tarean Folston for the year due to a torn ACL, the play-action game should be wide open.

   EDGE: NOTRE DAME

IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS

Freshman kicker Justin Yoon looked solid enough in his first collegiate game, connecting on his first career collegiate field goal attempt from 38 yards out and drilling all five of his extra-point attempts.

There were a couple shaky snap-and-hold combinations on those Yoon kicks, especially on the first extra-point attempt. Sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer almost dropped the ball but got it up in time to meet Yoon’s foot, though it went largely unnoticed.

The Irish return game totaled nine yards combined between freshman receiver C.J. Sanders’ muffed punt and graduate student receiver Amir Carlisle’s near-knee debacle on a kickoff return.

Until the Irish special teams units get back to consistency, it’s hard to put complete faith in them.

      EDGE: VIRGINIA

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