Notre Dame (-12.5) at Virginia
Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
Date: Saturday, September 12, 2015
Series: 1-0-0 Notre Dame
This is the One Foot Down preview for Saturday afternoon's first road game against the Virginia Cavaliers.
Fresh Off a Title
The last Virginia team to win 10 games came back in 1989 when the Hoos finished 10-3 and co-champions of the ACC. However, they would open the '89 season against the defending National Champion Fighting Irish inside Giants Stadium in the "Kickoff Classic."
In a game that featured possibly Lou Holtz' most talented team--and certainly one of the best teams of the last 30 years not to win a National Title--the Irish were +273 in yardage by halftime and led 33-0 before backups played most of the second half in a 36-13 win.
Mike London Was Bunk Moreland, Basically
Virginia head coach Mike London played football in college at Richmond and then had a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Cowboys. Before pursuing a coaching career he spent a few years with the Richmond police department eventually rising to a street crimes detective.
London went back to his alma mater to become a position coach in 1989 and in 2008 after bouncing around a couple places (but spending 10 years at either Richmond or Virginia) he finally became a head coach of the Spiders. Following a 24-5 record and FCS Championship, London took the Virginia job in 2010.
3-16 vs. Power 5
London was our original Doing Good Things™ head coach back in the 2011 off-season when he was coming off an 8-5 season and 5 conference wins. Since then, he's basically been recruiting just well enough to stave off a firing. Since the 2013 season the Cavaliers are just 3-16 against Power 5 programs. Go back a year and the Wahoos are still only 6-23 against major conference opponents.
Notre Dame has had success in recent years recruiting out of Woodberry Forest, a prep school just under an hour north of Virginia's campus. Irish running back C.J. Prosise hails from Petersburg just outside Richmond, while defensive end Doug Randolph comes right out of Richmond. Notre Dame linebacker Greer Martini also attended Woodberry Forest but his hometown is Cary, North Carolina just outside Raleigh.
.500 Ball at Home
If there's one thing Virginia has done reasonably well under London it's defend their home turf. Since taking the job the Cavaliers are .500 at home and have sprung a couple of nice upsets over the years--more on this below.
Granted, they do have 9 home wins since 2010 against non-Power 5 teams.
4 Players to Watch
RB Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell
One of the top backs from the 2013 class and the 60th overall Composite player (5th player in state a LOADED year for Virginia) he's finally ascended to the top playmaking spot for the Cavaliers after being an important backup as an underclassman. He's not the biggest back (5-10, 195) and has been as much of a threat catching the ball than running it. Through Saturday, he's racked up 535 yards receiving and 509 yards rushing in his career. Against UCLA, Mizzell carried the ball 16 times for 45 yards but caught 8 passes for 100 yards and a score.
WR Canaan Severin
A late bloomer (6 receptions during his first 2 years in Charlottesville) he's now a captain and the top target at wideout for Virginia. Severin is coming off a solid 42 receptions, 578 yards, and 5 touchdowns a year ago, all team-leading stats. So far this year he's hauled in 5 passes for 58 yards and will be looked at as the top receiver to stretch the Irish defense and use his big body (6-2, 205) to make some big plays.
TE Evan Butts
Singled out by Mike London after Saturday's game against UCLA, the redshirt freshman only caught a pair of passes against the Bruins but totaled 42 yards. Butts is someone Virginia is going to look for this weekend for more explosiveness in the pass game.
S Quin Blanding
Just a true sophomore, the former No. 6 Composite recruit will be making his 14th career start at free safety this weekend. He's long, rangy, and Zaire will have to know where Blanding is at all times. He totaled 10 tackles last weekend (7 solo) and picked up a tackle for loss.
Avoid the Road Upset
From 2012 to 2014 the Cavaliers were tied for 106th nationally in win percentage with Akron and UAB. As mentioned above though, they've been frisky at home.
Last year, they beat Louisville (we didn't!), Pittsburgh, and Miami inside Scott Stadium and nearly upset UCLA, too. Two years ago they upset BYU at home, and Penn State back in 2012.
The Decrease in Atmosphere
Maybe it's just a certain comfort level? Scott Stadium is far from being known as a rowdy venue, but has been friendly as can be for Virginia. This weekend there should be plenty of Irish fans in attendance and not much of a hostile atmosphere. It's not quite a noon game at Pitt but the possibility exists for a very flat Notre Dame team by kickoff Saturday afternoon.
Is there a chance for an upset this weekend? Absolutely. Should the Irish take care of business all the same? Absolutely. This is not the game to have injuries make the game closer or set the team back further down the road, particularly with Georgia Tech on deck.
2 Sides of the Ball
Redshirt junior Michael Mooney (6-6, 290) returns at left tackle after making 9 starts on the edge last year. Another redshirt junior Ryan Doull (6-5, 290) started the first 6 games at left guard last year, missed the rest of the season, still hasn't returned to the lineup, although he might play against Notre Dame. This past Saturday, redshirt sophomore Jack McDonald (6-5, 290) made his first career start at LG.
Fifth-year senior Ross Burbank (6-4, 310) is now a captain after making 11 starts at center last year but has moved to right guard for 2015. Now, redshirt junior Jackson Matteo (6-5, 290) is handling the snaps after a couple starts last year.
Right tackle junior Eric Smith (6-5, 300) came into the off-season with 21 career starts but was trailing redshirt freshman Jake Fieler (6-5, 295) throughout most of camp before winning the job back. Smith started against UCLA, but Fieler played some too and went down with a season ending injury. Backup center junior Eric Tetlow (6-6, 305) was also lost for the season with an injury against the Bruins.
On the defensive line Virginia will rely heavily upon three players on the edge. Senior Mike Moore (6-4, 265) is a returning starter from 2014 and has 12.5 TFL over his career. The Cavaliers had Eli Harold (7 sacks, 79th pick to the 49ers) forego his senior season and senior Trent Corney (6-3, 255) picked up his first career start against UCLA. A third senior, Kwontie Moore (6-2, 280), is a combo jumbo end and tackle. He was a highly rated inside linebacker recruit who has put on a lot of weight with 2 career starts now.
Virginia has lots of options at tackle. Fifth-year senior David Dean (6-1, 290) will be making his 24th career start this weekend and has 18.5 TFL over his career, including 2 last week against the Bruins. The Hoos are still looking for 5-star sophomore Andrew Brown (6-4, 280) to break out but he didn't play much last week. Also in the rotation will be junior Donte Wilkins (6-1, 290) who has 5 starts and 5 TFL in his career. Rounding out the group is redshirt junior Andre Miles-Redmond (6-4, 280) with minimal experience.
I was watching Virginia's defensive performance against UCLA and thought they did a lot of good things. For one, they limited the Bruins' run game. Paul Perkins gashed them for an 18-yard run but finished the afternoon with just 59 yards on the ground. And while they only recorded one sack I thought the pressure they applied was pretty decent.
The problem was that hyped true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen was adept at moving in the pocket and getting the ball out quickly into zones vacated by blitzers. As you may know, former Irish DC Jon Tenuta is currently holding that position for Virginia and he sent a lot of delayed blitzes from his young linebackers with mixed results.
Especially early, Rosen was satisfied with a lot of dump-offs and short passes--18 of his completions totaled just 87 yards. The issue was Rosen's other 10 completions. Half those went for at least 30 yards each and all 10 together brought Rosen 264 passing yards.
2015 Early Season Advanced Stats
On offense, Virginia should be frustrated by Notre Dame if the Irish tackle well. Quarterback Matt Johns is a bit of a goofy signal-caller with a delivery that pushes the ball out of his hand. As a result, he doesn't have the type of arm that can get the ball downfield so UVA relies a lot on screens, dump-offs, and short patterns.
Their offense is pretty diverse and mixes a lot of heavy sets with spread concepts, and some tempo with wildcat too. However, I don't see them having much of a running game with the smaller Mizzell having to be their workhorse. Getting explosive plays from the passing game (or on offense in general, UVA was 114th in 30+ yard plays from scrimmage last year & didn't have any against UCLA) is going to have to be the difference. That isn't really a smart bet.
For the Irish on offense things are going to be a lot like last week versus Texas. The Wahoos have a solid defensive line but very inexperienced linebackers and a secondary that can be taken advantage of for big plays.
Does that mean Zaire could throw the ball 40 times? Probably not, but we could see a little more reliance on the pass early in the game.
A lot of things are pointing to a convincing win for Notre Dame, and the line for the game has been steadily climbing all week. Still, some mental things could work in Virginia's favor. They'll be pissed off after a loss while the Irish could be thinking too highly of themselves. We already talked about their strength at home, and UVA's defense could frustrate Notre Dame early. Additionally, the Irish got off to a great start last week in adding a Power 5 blowout to their name--can they do it twice in a row? What about 2 covers in a row?
Let's not forget Virginia having to come back east after playing in California last week. That'll work in Notre Dame's favor.
Vegas likes a Notre Dame victory in the ballpark of 30-17 and that feels right to me. This game has frustrating close(er) road win written all over it. Virginia has a good kicker/punter (PunterBro confirmed this so you know it's legit) and their defense really was a handful of beautiful Rosen throws away from keeping things close with UCLA for 4 quarters.
There's blowout potential for ND if the Cavaliers' offense has a bad day, can't get the run game going, and is consistently being put in third and long passing situations. That unit is the least talented in this game by far.