The Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2) are back in action on Saturday night under the lights at Scott Stadium to take on the #9 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-1) at 7:30 PM on ABC. Coming off of a bye week, the Cavaliers hope to turn in a much better performance than their 66-49 loss to BYU on October 30. Meanwhile, the surging Irish hope to improve their winning streak to five games following a 34-6 win last Saturday in South Bend over Navy.
The Hoos will look to find new life on Saturday on the defensive side of the ball after giving up an embarrassing 66 points to BYU, their most points given up in a game under Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, and their most points given up in a game since 1978. Against BYU, the Cavalier defense got completely exposed, giving up a total of 734 yards of offense on 8.8 yards per play. The Hoos’ rush defense did not provide any resistance to BYU, giving up 385 rushing yards on 8.4 yards per carry. The Cavalier rush defense has been a problem for the Hoos all season, as the Cavaliers rank near last in the FBS in every major rush defense statistic. Out of 130 FBS teams, the Hoos give up an average of 234.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks 123rd in the country. UVA also ranks 127th in the country in opponent yards per rush attempt, giving up 6.1 yards per carry. The Cavalier defense will have to find some sort of solution to their rush defense problems to compete with the Irish, as Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams has been red hot as of late. In his last three games, Williams has run for a total of 95, 199, and 138 yards after struggling for the first half of the season. Cavalier fans should expect to see a heavy dose of Williams, as the Fighting Irish will likely run the ball early and often against the Hoos in part due to the loss of WR Avery Davis. The Irish will likely use many two TE sets in their offense to help block a UVA defensive line that has struggled to get after the QB. Teams that have been able to have success against the Notre Dame offense this season have been able to get to Irish QB Jack Coan, which is something the Cavaliers have not done well. The Hoos rank 117th in the nation in sacks per game with just 1.2. UVA will have to find a way to make Coan uncomfortable and chase him from the pocket, as Coan is not a very mobile QB. In the Irish passing attack, Coan has mainly been a pocket passer, throwing for 1,879 yards with 13 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. Cavalier fans should expect to see TE Michael Mayer, one of the best tight ends in the nation, and WR Kevin Austin dominate the targets from Coan in the Notre Dame passing game.
On the offensive side of the ball, the UVA game plan changes greatly depending on which QB ultimately plays for the Hoos on Saturday. Junior QB Brennan Armstrong suffered a rib injury against BYU in the 4th quarter and did not return to the game. Armstrong’s status has not yet been determined, as he has been considered to be a game-time decision. With Armstrong, the Cavalier offense has been one of the best in the nation. The Hoos lead the nation with 544.9 total yards per game with Armstrong as the centerpiece. Armstrong himself has already broken the UVA single-season record for passing yards with 3,557 with 27 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. If Armstrong plays, Sophomore WR Dontayvion Wicks, Senior WR Billy Kemp IV, and Graduate Student Jelani Woods will be heavily involved in the offense once again. However, if Armstrong cannot suit up against the Irish, the Cavaliers will likely turn to Freshman QB Jay Woolfolk. Woolfolk has appeared in three games this season for the Hoos, throwing for 35 yards on 2/6 passing. If Woolfolk plays, Cavalier fans should expect to see a much greater rushing attack with the UVA offense. Even though UVA ranks 124th in rushing attempts per game, the Cavaliers will almost certainly be forced to run the football more with Senior RBs Wayne Taulapapa and Devin Darrington. Cavalier fans should also expect to see Woolfolk involved in the rushing attack, as he is a very good athlete with speed and good instincts.
The non-conference showdown between the Irish and the Cavaliers will mark their fourth career matchup against each other. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 3-0 with their most recent matchup occurring in 2019 in South Bend in a 35-20 victory for the Irish. The Hoos will look to beat their first top 10 team since 2005 when the Cavaliers beat #5 Florida State 26-21 in Scott Stadium.