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Mendenhall hopes Armstrong, defense can show up in prime-time tilt with Irish

| Friday, November 12, 2021

Both No. 9 Notre Dame and Virginia are, on paper, down a key player at the moment. The Irish lost starting safety and presumptive top-10 NFL draft pick Kyle Hamilton to a knee injury in the first quarter of the USC game, and Cavaliers starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong suffered an apparent rib injury in the team’s 66-49 loss to BYU two weeks ago. While Hamilton’s status for Saturday’s tilt in Charlottesville seems doubtful, UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall was close to the vest regarding Armstrong in his weekly press conference Monday.

“I don’t have an update on Brennan, and I won’t have an update until the ball is kicked off and I look out there and see who our quarterback is,” Mendenhall said. “Collectively I don’t plan to address it. I don’t think it helps our football team at all in its preparation. It helps us most to let Brennan recover and get ready to play on Saturday.”

Armstrong’s availability is by far the biggest storyline as kickoff approaches. The Cavaliers simply won’t have the same explosiveness on offense if they’re missing their starter, who averages 395 passing yards per game (second-best in the nation) and set a single-game school record with 554 passing yards on the road against North Carolina earlier this season. Against a depleted secondary, Armstrong would have a clear opportunity to pad his stats if the Irish failed to consistently get pressure on the quarterback. One thing Mendenhall did seem to hint at was that the Cavaliers would not run out a two-quarterback system if Armstrong is not 100%. He’s hopeful his star will be ready to play under the lights at Scott Stadium and could not hide his praise for a player he believes is one of the best at his position in the country.

“You try not to prepare multiple options [at quarterback]. Even off of a bye week, for any team, once you start designing two different plans you run out of practice time,” Mendenhall said. “In my opinion there’s no quarterback doing more for his team and impacting his team than Brennan is for us. I’m not exactly sure of the criteria for those awards, but if it has anything to do with value to his team it should go to Brennan.”

Virginia’s defense has been completely gashed in its last two games, surrendering 570 yards of total offense against Georgia Tech and 734 yards against BYU. There certainly hasn’t been a particular area of concern for the Cavaliers that they could have addressed during their recent bye week. UVA has struggled to stop anybody and anyone in their most recent stretch, and Mendenhall knows his team needs to play better on the defensive side of the ball against a rejuvenated offense like Notre Dame’s.

“Ultimately players need to make plays when they’re in position,” Mendenhall said. “After watching that BYU game there were about seven plays that kept me up at night. Defensively we gave up way too many big plays.”

Mendenhall said his defense will be gameplanning for Notre Dame’s two-quarterback attack that includes graduate student Jack Coan and true freshman Tyler Buchner. In recent weeks, the Irish have become predictable, using Buchner as a change of pace on the ground. The Cavaliers defense seems like it will be stuffing the box and pinning its ears back when the California kid trots onto the field.

“There’s two distinct styles and they’re becoming more and more specific as to when they’re using each quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “You’re preparing more for the situational usage of each offensive player. We just try to use our personnel the best we can, and that’s what Notre Dame’s doing too.”

Mendenhall wrapped up his press conference by discussing the progress he’s seen in terms of generating interest in the football program with a school dripping with esteemed basketball tradition. He suggested that a prime-time matchup against the Fighting Irish will only help grow the excitement for the sport in Charlottesville.

“We’re trying hard to have elite football and have it invigorate the community at UVA,” Mendenhall said. “Right now attendance is a little more conditional on opponent than we’d like it to be. I’ve also noticed that game time certainly matters. The later we play, the more people come.”

The UVA head coach did emphasize that winning, and winning the right way, will ultimately be what takes his program to another level and helps it carve out a place atop a Power 5 conference.

“It’s not only what we do, though, but it’s how we do it. I hope that there’s an acknowledgement that we’re trying to do this with really good students and really good people,” he said. “I think there’s a beginning of what this thing could be. I have to do my job in beating some of the country’s best teams, and maybe people who are wondering if they should come to games will come.”

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About Colin Capece

Colin is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in political science and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He hails from the great state of New York and currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer for the 2021-2022 academic year. You can sometimes find him on Twitter at @ColinCapeceND

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