Well folks, we are officially 75% through the regular season of college football, which means your Notre Dame Fighting Irish have just 3 regular season games remaining after they dismantled a hapless Navy team 34-6 last weekend.
The Irish’s win and lots of action around them in the rankings helped them move up a spot week-over-week, now sitting at #9 with their 8-1 record. This weekend, they will face probably the last real threat to beat them on the schedule (no offense to Georgia Tech and Stanford, who could theoretically do it but just seem much less likely), as the 6-3 Virginia Cavaliers host the Irish in Charlottesville.
Virginia comes into the contest with one of the most productive offenses in the country, led by QB Brennan Armstrong (who can absolutely sling it). Unfortunately, Armstrong suffered a rib injury in UVA’s loss to BYU a couple weeks ago, and so it’s currently unclear after their bye week if Armstrong will play this weekend and how effective he can be with that kind of injury plaguing him.
So, to learn more about Armstrong and that offense, as well as what this match-up might look like without him out there (along with plenty of other nuggets of info), I reached out to Zach Carey, a staff writer over at Streaking The Lawn (SB Nation’s one-stop shop for all things Virginia Cavaliers). Zach did a wonderful job answering the typical wide array of serious and ridiculous questions we ask here at OFD, and so let’s not dilly-dally any longer — time to dive in and learn lots about this Virginia match-up!
1. The Cavaliers have had a solid 6-3 season to-date, but they’ve been outscored by 57 combined points in their 3 losses (to the 3 best teams they’ve faced so far). How are you/UVA fans feeling about the first 75% of 2021, and how do you expect the rest of the season to play out for Bronco Mendenhall’s squad?
Also, do you still believe Mendenhall is the right guy for the job and has the program on the right trajectory?
Zach Carey: As you noted, this season has been incredibly up and down. There have been points where this team seemed invincible and then moments where they seemed completely lost. 6-3 at this point though is a success all things considered.
At this point it’s really hard to say how the rest of the season will go. Everything comes down to how much/whether or not Brennan Armstrong plays. If he does, the Coastal and a potential ACC Championship are on the table. If not, then it’d be really nice to nab one more win, preferably against Virginia Tech.
In terms of Bronco, it’s hard to say definitely if he’s the long term answer, but he’s done an impressive job so far and there’s little to suggest that he shouldn’t be the guy. Stringing together winning seasons has been a large uptick in success. Hopefully for the ‘Hoos that trend continues.
2. Brennan Armstrong has been fantastic this year — did you guys see that kind of potential in him prior to this season, or was this a bit of a surprise? Will he be able to play this week with his rib injury, and if not, who’s expected to step in and how does it change what the UVA offense plans to/can do?
Zach Carey: There was hope for a leap from Brennan in his second season starting, but nobody can truly say they saw THIS coming.
His status for Saturday is still very up in the air. Reading the tea leaves, I’m not expecting him to play. But he’s an absolute warrior so don’t count it out.
His backup is freshman Jay Woolfolk who came in late against BYU. He’s still very raw, but has the traits that this program wants in its quarterback. He’ll likely have to rely on his legs a bit more than Brennan as he doesn’t have the arm that Armstrong does (then again, who does?).
Speaking of injuries...
3. FAN QUESTION:
What Virginia players are out for the ND game?— Cheryl Russo (@CherylR01091480) November 7, 2021
Zach Carey: Again, as of now there’s really not much that is known. Both wide receiver Billy Kemp IV and running back Wayne Taulapapa were banged up against BYU and they’re more likely to play than Armstrong. But UVA really does a good job of keeping this sort of info close to the vest, so most injury news will hit the wires late on Saturday.
4. Who are the non-Armstrong skill position names to know on the UVA offense (it seems like there are a lot of playmakers there) — who do you expect will give this Irish defense some serious trouble?
Zach Carey: Gosh yeah there are plenty to know about.
Wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks is the first guy to be aware of. He’s legit and can do it all as a receiver as he’s put up ridiculous numbers.
Designated a “football player” on the depth chart, former dual threat quarterback Keytaon Thompson is Virginia’s Taysom Hill of sorts except he does even more. He’ll line up just about anywhere and is a big threat in both the passing and running game.
Then 6’7” tight end Jelani Woods is one to look out for as well.
5. How’s the Wahoos defense been this season? Where is it strongest and what position groups are potential weaknesses/liabilities that the Irish could exploit?
Zach Carey: It’s bad. There’s no getting around it, this defense is straight up bad. If it was even decent, this team could legitimately be a one loss team right now.
The defensive line gets just about nothing in the pass rush and has been gashed by running backs with poor offensive lines all season long. The secondary is better but still very questionable. The linebackers are admittedly solid but they’re not good enough to make up for the seemingly countless holes across the defense.
If the Irish can commit to running the ball, they’ll have a field day on the ground.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Does UVA still do the Cav Man videos for each game, and if so, what’s the storyline for the one for this matchup against the Irish? (he’ll know what I’m talking about)— mike winchell (@ThatSmith15) November 7, 2021
Zach Carey: Tragically, no, UVA no longer does the Cav Man videos.*
*Pat Rick Note: Oh my goodness these videos are ELECTRIC — I highly recommend you all go to YouTube, search “Cav Man,” and have yourself a Thursday.
7. FAN QUESTION:
When did Bronco Mendenhall decide to change his team into a model team from the Big 12?— Clutch Sports: Notre Dame (@ClutchSportsND) November 7, 2021
Zach Carey: Assuming this is in reference to Virginia’s high flying offense and paper thin defense, I’ll tell you that Mendenhall would much rather win a game 7-6 than 45-42, this is just what’s become necessary. The offensive coaching staff has done a tremendous job developing talent. The defense… eh.
8. FAN QUESTION:
*if…..dammit!— IrishHawk (@LeroyK25) November 7, 2021
Zach Carey: Eh, it’s definitely up there. But I bet you could find some even sadder ones from another UVA game in March of 2018…
9. FAN QUESTION:
Does the UVA fan base have an opinion on the possibility of Susan attending? If not, humbly request the writer take one #ForSusan— Andrew Callan (@acallan1) November 8, 2021
Much needed context for both you and me on this question — apparently Ashton Pollard, a staff writer for On3, was on an ND pod talking about her mom Susan’s conditions for attending the ND/UVA game (see the linked tweets)
Zach Carey: Well, as the ‘Hoos tend to struggle to really pack Scott Stadium and with a premier opponent coming to town, I’m sure the Wahoo fan base would love to have any and all fans in the stands, assuming Susan is rooting for Virginia, of course.
10. In honor of UVA great D’Brickashaw Ferguson, does this year’s Cavaliers squad have any fantastic names that come close to measuring up to the GOAT?
Zach Carey: Gosh, I mean the name Armstrong for a quarterback known as a gunslinger is pretty great, right? Especially considering that another one of Virginia’s quarterbacks is named Ira Armstead, the ‘Hoos have a great line of succession in terms of quarterback names and have for a while looking back to guys like Kurt Benkert.
11. Alright, let’s get down to it: who wins, what’s the final score, and why do you think that?
Zach Carey: Armstrong is UVA’s only hope in this game. Even then though, I see Virginia’s defense being far too paper thin.
If Armstrong plays it’ll be something like 42-31, Notre Dame.
If Woolfolk is behind center, I’ll say 42-17.
I wanna give a huge shout-out to Zach for navigating the minefield that is a One Foot Down Q&A with excellent insight, honesty, and humor. Be sure to head over to Streaking The Lawn to check out all the great content Zach and the team over there are putting out around UVA sports, especially heading into this weekend’s game. You might even find a little ole Q&A with some idiot named Pat Rick on there tomorrow.
Additionally, be sure to throw both Streaking The Lawn and Zach some follows on Twitter for any and all late-breaking updates, especially to check-in on Brennan Armstrong’s status leading up to this one.
Well folks, that’s all I’ve got for this week — as usual, GO IRISH!!!