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Notre Dame Football: Virginia Cavaliers Q&A with Streaking the Lawn

Pat Rick talked to Caroline Darney from Streaking the Lawn to understand everything you’ll ever want to know about the #18 Virginia Cavaliers

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I think we can all agree that the emotional wounds of yet another heartbreaking loss in a big game have left all Notre Dame Fighting Irish football fans feeling a bit unprepared and vulnerable for the remaining 9 games to be played.

After the Irish fell short on a potential game-winning drive to ultimately lose at the #3 Georgia Bulldogs 23-17, all the doubts and questions about whether Notre Dame was already eliminated from the College Football Playoff discussion immediately began to materialize. If ND wins out, though, and gets some help from the results in a few regular season and conference title games, there’s still a chance that our heroes sneak into the CFP with an 11-1 record and their one close loss being to an elite Georgia team (that also would probably need to make the CFP, likely as SEC champion, in this scenario).

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Georgia Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Anyway, for the #10 Irish to do that, they still have plenty of games to go that could trip them up, including this Saturday’s home game against the 18th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers. Bronco Mendenhall has put together a solid program that continues to improve each season, and the Wahoos will come to South Bend with a stifling defense and some up-and-coming hype that have at least a few folks thinking the Irish could be on upset alert after such an emotionally draining game in Athens.

So, to ensure we are all prepared for what could be another tough, close game between ranked teams, I spoke to Caroline Darney, an editor over at Streaking the Lawn, to get the skinny on this UVA team’s ceiling, how Mendenhall has turned the program around, the key players on offense and defense, an All-Cavaliers casino heist crew, and more.

Check out all the fantastic knowledge Caroline hit us with below.

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1. Virginia is 4-0 and looks to be in the early driver’s seat for the ACC Coastal Division. How do you see the rest of the season playing out, what is the ceiling for this team, and, getting completely ahead of ourselves, do you think UVA could give Clemson a run for their money in the ACC title game?

Caroline Darney: Looking at the rest of the schedule, it’s so hard not to get a little ahead of ourselves. After this game, it’s likely the Hoos will be favored in all of their remaining games.

Louisville looked better against ND than I would have expected, and Carolina is doing this thing where they are like, doing stuff, but I’m not quite sure what to make of Duke or Virginia Tech yet. Which Miami team will Virginia see? The one that struggled with Central Michigan, or the one that had some really great moments against UNC?

The Pitt win to open the season was remarkably huge to get things going in the right direction for Virginia, and following it up with a win over FSU gives them a 2-0 conference record before the Hoos have even had a bye. I still feel pretty strongly that the Coastal is Virginia’s for the taking.

As for giving Clemson a run for their money....yeeeeesh. They’re really good. No one knows better than UVA fans that the games are played for a reason, but not losing by 20+ in that game seems like a win overall.

2. The Wahoos’ record has steadily increased every year in Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure, going from 2-10 to 6-7 to 8-5 last year, and now UVA is 4-0 and ranked in the Top 25. What has Mendenhall brought to Virginia and how was he able to turn around the trajectory of a program that appeared to be mired in mediocrity under his predecessor, Mike London?

Caroline Darney: Mendenhall has brought improvement and consistency, and it makes me so happy.

The turnaround was rough. Losing to Richmond to start your tenure is NEVER what you want, but I think that game showed just how far this team had to come. Learning not to lose is one of the hardest things a new coach can teach a team that struggled as much as Virginia did, and Mendenhall has made strides in recruiting that have made all the difference.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers aren’t getting all the flashy names with stars, but they are getting solid players that fit the system well and can develop under the coaching staff (hmm, sounds like a reigning national champion program on Grounds, too). The cupboard was bare, but Mendenhall has established more progression and depth...it can’t be overstated how important that has been.

3. Let’s talk about QB Bryce Perkins — what are his strengths and weaknesses, and how do you see him faring against a Notre Dame defense that played exceptionally well against Georgia but may be a little drained and due for a lapse this weekend?

Caroline Darney: Perkins is the man. He’s a solid, not stellar, passer, and he’s one of the most elusive QBs in the game. When you think you have him wrapped up, he’s suddenly 10 yards downfield and picking up a first down.

Virginia hasn’t been much of a deep ball/explosive play threat, but Perkins is confident, accurate, and efficient in the 7-15 yard range. He’s made a couple questionable passes (threw across his body against William and Mary, dumb pick against FSU on the first drive), but he’s overall a smart player that consistently puts the team in positions to succeed. He has been asked to run less this year (thank goodness), but with some questions at the OL (namely the starting center missing last game), he hasn’t gotten as much time as maybe Virginia fans would like.

I’m curious how this will play out because Louisville’s Puma Pass was able to make some plays in the opening game against the Irish, and Perkins can take advantage with his legs if the opportunities arise. He’s also a very different style QB than Jake Fromm, so I can see, potentially, issues as the Irish go from a pocket passer to a QB that’s a run threat.

4. Who are the skill position players on the UVA offense that Notre Dame should be worried about?

Caroline Darney: My fellow writer Paul would take exception to the usage of skill position and me not listing a lineman, but I’m going to go with Joe Reed and Wayne Taulapapa.

Reed, a wide receiver, is a guy that just makes things happen when the ball is in his hands. He has 215 yards on the season with three touchdown receptions, and added a 100-yard TD kick return against William and Mary. The offensive coordinator has also taken to getting Reed the ball with some hand-offs, so keep an eye out there. After the catch, he has the ability to make defenders miss.

Taulapapa is the primary ball carrier. The Virginia run game is a little lean (see: previous comments on offensive line struggles), but Taulapapa is the kind of runner you love to see. His legs never stop moving, and he has shown the ability to pick up key yardage. He’s also outstanding at the goal line with five touchdowns on the season.

5. Which position groups on the Cavaliers defense could give the Irish trouble on Saturday, and which ones do you think Ian Book and his crew could exploit to move the ball up and down the field? What are the big defensive names that Irish fans can expect to hear over and over again in this game?

Caroline Darney: Wooo I love this defense. The linebacking corps — led by Charles Snowden and Jordan Mack — are unforgiving. The Virginia defense is tied with Florida in first place in the nation with 20 sacks on the season so far, and that duo has combined for eight sacks and 12 TFL. I also really like the secondary, and it’s hard not to with All-American Bryce Hall back there. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hall follow Chase Claypool, either.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The most likely path to moving this defense down the field is probably giving Book a solid pocket and Book getting the ball out before the blitz. Virginia likes to bring creative blitzes to create disruption, so staying out of trouble in the backfield is key.

Beyond Snowden, Mack, and Hall, you’ll likely hear the names Zane Zandier (ZZ Stop), Aaron Faumui, and Joey Blount a lot.

6. Notre Dame has a sophomore RB named C’Borius Flemister. What are the best/funniest/most ridiculous names on the Virginia roster, and do any of them measure up to my guy C’Bo?

Caroline Darney: I gotta go with my main dude Hasise Dubois as the best name on the roster. It’s 1. just a fabulous name and 2. SO fun to say in excited commentator voice (you’re doing it now, I know you are). On top of that, he’s a great receiver, so there’s usually a few opportunities to say it during a game.

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-South Carolina vs Virginia Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

7. Karaoke battle between Brian Kelly and Bronco Mendenhall - what song(s) does each coach sing, who has the better stage presence and charisma, and who ultimately wins?

Caroline Darney: Let me set the scene for you.

It’s a restaurant and Coaches Kelly and Mendenhall are there as part of a meet and greet. Neither one really wants to sing, but the ND staff coerces Kelly into doing a number. A classic kind of guy, Kelly picks up the mic and heads to the center of the stage. The soft drum intro of “Fly Me to the Moon” and Kelly hits the crowd with Frank Sinatra. He’s a little pitchy, but the crowd gets into it. As he finishes, he looks over at Mendenhall — who really didn’t want to sing and hadn’t planned to — and gives him a “your turn” look.

Not one to decline a challenge, Mendenhall rises and heads to the DJ. Without hesitation he tells him what song he wants, and heads to the stage. The opening notes of “The Sound of Silence” start, and Mendenhall destroys all 3:05 of Simon and Garfunkel’s haunting melody as the entire restaurant is mesmerized.

Mendenhall takes this one.

8. You’re assembling a crew to pull off the heist of the century at a casino in Las Vegas. Which Virginia football players/coaches (former or current, up to you) do you convince to join the cause during a “let’s get the band together” montage, and what special skill does each bring to the table?

Caroline Darney: I thought a really long time about this and I’m still not certain I’m happy with my answers, but here goes.

I am taking Perkins as my getaway driver. Who better than someone who is nearly uncatchable? I’m definitely having Bronco Mendenhall as my team leader. He’s a good tactician and only brings folks on that I know I can trust. Chris Long and D’Brickashaw Ferguson are my muscle. I mean, come on yes. I want former punter Lester Coleman as my in-the-van guy controlling the stoplights, and finally Heath Miller because he’s my absolute favorite.

Virginia Tech v Virginia

9. Have Virginia fans recovered from the 2015 Kizer-to-Fuller game-winner? Where is that one super-sad fan nowadays?

Caroline Darney: I don’t know what game you’re talking about, doesn’t sound familiar.

The super sad fan is probably less sad now that the basketball team won a National Championship (which I’m legally required to remind you of).

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-National Championship-Virginia vs Texas Tech Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

10. Prediction time: give me the final score for UVA @ ND, who wins, and your reasoning why.

Caroline Darney: I go back and forth depending on the day/time, but I’m going to stick with my preseason prediction and say it’s going to be a slim ND win, like...28-24. I think Virginia will keep it close, but facing a top-10 team on the road in a place that no ACC team has beaten a ranked ND in 20 tries...that’s too much.

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I want to thank Caroline for all her thoughtful, fantastic answers to my questions — even the ridiculous ones. Be sure to check out her work, along with the rest of the Streaking the Lawn staff, over at their site for all Virginia/ND coverage from the enemy’s perspective heading into Saturday’s game (plus there will be some of my answers to their questions later this week).

Furthermore, I HIGHLY encourage you to follow Caroline on Twitter (she’s hilarious and a super-great follow for UVA sports, as well as just sports in general), and also check out the Streaking the Lawn account for any and all fast-breaking stories and news ahead of this weekend.

That’s all from me on this one, folks — tune in Friday for my game preview, and go Irish!