Notre Dame defeated the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday night 28-3 in a game that was basically never in doubt once it was announced Brennan Armstrong wouldn’t play. But there’s still a lot we can learn about this team and what they showed, or didn’t, against the Cavaliers. Follow along as we break it all down.
NOTE: One thing we changed for this game was we removed our garbage time filter. Since this game was out of reach so early it removed basically the entire second half so the below charts will show stats from the entire game.
Notre Dame was never really threatened in this one and after Virginia’s showing on their first drive it seemed like the only questions remaining were how many points would Notre Dame win by and when would the backups come in.
I think what may shock some people the most is the running game was pretty, um, bad on Saturday. Obviously the Yards/Play looks good but that is boosted by Braden Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles’ two runs. And it contradicts the eye test as well, because anyone watching the game saw Kyren Williams break a lot of tackles and look like one of the best players on the field. There was a reason he was Notre Dame’s second highest graded player by PFF at 83.9. But this gets back to one of our issues with the offense in that it doesn’t often put its players in a position to succeed. There was one run in particular when watching the game that Jack texted me saying “Kyren is god mode right now”. Youth jargon aside, this was following a run where he had to break 3-5 tackles and avoided a loss and picked up 4 Yards. Those 4 Yards translated into -0.31 EPA. That’s what I think many people miss in the discussion of throwing more often. It’s not that Kyren Williams shouldn’t touch the ball more, it’s that you can open up more space for him on the ground so he doesn’t need to break tackles in the backfield just to not lose yardage. Only one Offensive Lineman finished with a PFF Run Block Grade above 70 (average) in Cain Madden at 77.4, forcing him to be in “god mode” just for Notre Dame to save face.
Now, before you say the Irish were trying to run out the clock in the second half and Virginia knew that so of course they weren’t going to be as efficient, from a Success Rate perspective they actually performed better in Quarters 3 and 4. The EPA numbers are skewed because of the long receiver runs and the Tyler Buchner/Logan Diggs fumble, so we’re better off looking at the Success Rate to see the true play-by-play performance. That’s why we’re a little disappointed with how the game played out. By leaning heavily into the run, they capped the total offensive output they would produce in the game and possibly prevented some younger players further down (or absent) from the depth chart from playing.
I understand the idea that they were heavily banged up and the flu was going around so maybe their thought process was to shorten the game. But wouldn’t it be a better idea to go up big as early as you could and take out your most valuable players earlier? You wouldn’t be at risk of Virginia coming back, not like they really had a chance without Armstrong to begin with. But you would have the freedom to run the entire offense without fear of a mistake by a young player threatening the outcome. That way you could play Tyler Buchner for an entire half instead of one quarter where he mostly ran or handed it off and only had 4 pass attempts.
A win’s a win’s a win, but against a team like this we were hoping to see some more opportunities to get the younger player’s live game reps.
There were some promising developments schematically though. We did see some of the heaviest motion and Play Action usage as we’ve seen all year. Notre Dame was VERY efficient when using snap motion and still saw a significant boost when using pre-snap motion compared to none at all.
Play Action was a little different where they didn’t have any efficiency boost compared to straight dropbacks. Again, this is mostly noise because we know over a large sample Play Action passing will be more efficient. And on a day where Jack Coan and the pass catchers basically did whatever they wanted to it’s not completely unexpected either.
Keytaon Thompson had a great game and Billy Kemp IV was also productive but outside of them Virginia really struggled to find any production. They were hyper conservative with their play-calling early on and almost seemed scared that Woolfolk would lose the game for them. He didn’t look like anything special but he seemed competent and if your Bronco Mendenhall why not just let it rip and see what happens? The broadcast couldn’t have made it clearer that Virginia didn’t have anything to lose in terms of impact on their season. So why not just be super aggressive and see if you can steal one against a Top-10 team?
We don’t really have much to add from a defensive perspective. They shutdown an overmatched team without their best player and did a good job containing a dangerous receiving group.