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Way-Too-Early Preview: Virginia

| Friday, April 30, 2021

Up next in our Way-Too-Early preview series is Notre Dame’s penultimate road game, a November matchup against Virginia down South.

Opponent: Virginia

Date: November 13, 2021

Location: Charlottesville, Va.

Kickoff: TBD

History of the Matchup

Notre Dame and Virginia have met only three times prior, with two of those meetings coming in the Brian Kelly era after a 26-year hiatus. The Irish lead the all-time series 3-0. The largest margin of victory is 23 when Lou Holtz led his squad to a 36-13 win in 1989. Most recently, in 2019, then- No.10 Notre Dame beat then- No.18 Virginia 35-20 in South Bend thanks in part to a 21-3 second-half surge. The Irish recorded eight sacks in the contest.

2020 Performance

After a season-opening win against Duke in 2020, Virginia dropped four straight in October, finding themselves 1-4 midway through the season. The Cavaliers reversed the tide in the second half of their schedule, winning four in a row, but they lost their season-ending rivalry game at Virginia Tech to drop back down to .500, ending the year at 5-5 and 4-5 in the ACC.

Dual-threat quarterback Brennan Armstrong played under center and had a completion rate of 58.6% with 18 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He also rushed for five scores, averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry on 126 attempts.

Tight End Tony Poljan led the scoring through the air, nabbing six touchdowns and 411 yards. Receiver Lavel Davis Jr. was the next-most dominant threat, averaging 25.8 yards-per-catch on five scores and 515 total yards. On the ground, running back Wayne Taulapapa tied Armstrong with five rushing touchdowns, gaining 395 rushing yards on 88 attempts.

Defensively, outside linebacker Charles Snowden anchored the pass-rush, recording a team-high six sacks. Sophomore Nick Jackson had a breakout season with 10 starts and 105 total tackles, 55 of them solo. The Cavalier secondary recorded 11 interceptions, with four different players recording two apiece.

Virginia elected not to participate in a bowl game, the second time in the Bronco Mendenhall era they did not play in the postseason. The team failed to record a winning record for the third time in five seasons.

2021 Outlook

The Cavaliers will return the majority of their offense stalwarts— Armstrong, Taulapapa and Davis Jr. — though Poljan will depart for the NFL Draft, effectively taking the tight end threat with him. Explosive back Shane Simpson and mid-distance receiver Terrell Jana will matriculate to the pros as well.

Defensively, the linebacker position will be relatively thin, with Snowden, Zane Zandier, Matt Gahm and Rob Snyder all gone, but Jackson will be back, as will junior linebacker Noah Taylor. The Virginia secondary struggled throughout the 2020 season and remains a large question mark headed into 2021.

(Way Too Early) Predictions

Ellen Geyer — Senior Sports Writer

There’s something about Notre Dame football in November that brings chills to my spine. The Irish haven’t lost that late in the regular season in the last few years, but more than a few great records have been ruined by the 11th month of the year (2014 and 2017, I’m looking at you). Given the status of South Bend weather in November, Virginia is lucky to have this one at home, and they’ll likely be hungry to beat Notre Dame for the first time in school history. The Irish don’t have a particularly grueling schedule in 2021, and hopefully they’ll be able to keep the late-season curse broken. Given that the Virginia defense has struggled immensely, I think Notre Dame will win this road matchup in spite of any first-half scares that may occur, hopefully preserving a fairly successful season.

Notre Dame 42 – 21 Virginia

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