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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Virginia Week

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Time to hop on Teams and review last week’s blowout win and look ahead to an interesting but flawed opponent

*daydreaming about the chili I had at a tailgate on Saturday*

Wow that sounds so amazing right now. I wonder if I can get my brother’s friend’s parents to express-ship me a bucket of chili, oyster crackers, and shredded cheese right now...

Oh, shoot, it’s already the top of the hour. Better join the call and try not to zone out thinking about the chili again...

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Hellooooooo everybody, how’s it going? Y’all have a good weekend?

*momentary silence as everyone politely waits to let someone else speak first*

*three people finally chime in at once, all saying different things but the tone of each makes it clear they all had generically “good” weekends*

Awesome! Yeah I was out of town again, this time back in South Bend for the Notre Dame-Navy game. Yeah it was a lot of fun, my girlfriend and I got tickets with the entirety of my immediate family, so we had 7 of us in a row, causing trouble in section 108.

Yep, it was a really nice weekend weather-wise and we tailgated, and the day before I got to walk my girlfriend around campus and have my brother (a sophomore) take us around like he was our tour guide...yeah it was great, love me some family time, and we got some great pictures!

She couldn’t help herself, being a Michigan grad

Okay anyway, I think we’ve got a quorum — I know Dave said he might join late, so if needed I can just catch him up after. Let’s get started!

Can you all see my screen?

Perfect!

Welp, you’ll never believe this, but it’s the same agenda as always — let’s look back at last week and then talk about what’s important for this week.

Aaaand we can skip the next couple slides, you guys are very familiar with the process here...

*hums to self doing that sound everyone makes when they’re sharing their screen and trying to pull something up or flip through some slides to show something*

Okay here we go, last week’s results:

In a 34-6 shellacking of a traditional foe, it’s gotta be a mostly positive postgame conversation, and sure enough there are a lot more positives than negatives to discuss. Let’s mix it up this week and knock out the negatives first so that we can shift to positivity and celebrating all our successes!

So the biggest negative to come out of last weekend was, no doubt, Avery Davis going down with a knee injury late in the game. He was able to limp/walk off the field, but that in no way means it’s anything minor. In fact, apparently NBC reported it was significant, and from everything reported so far, it sounds like Davis will at the very least miss some games, and likely the remainder of the year.

Before I move on, I just want to reiterate what we all know and even say fairly often but can really never be said enough: Avery Davis is the freakin’ man, and what he’s put into his Notre Dame career has been nothing short of extraordinary. The guy came to South Bend in 2017 as a 4-star QB recruit from Texas, got jerked around to various other positions on both sides of the ball (never complaining or considering transferring), and then landed at wide receiver, where he’s been as reliable and fun to watch as any other receiver on the team the past couple seasons.

I’m pretty sure Davis could technically get a 6th year in 2022 if he wanted to, but in case he’s just ready to move on and this was his final time on the field in a gold helmet, let’s all take a moment to thank the good Lord that He brought Avery Davis to Notre Dame 4+ years ago. The term “Notre Dame Man” gets tossed around a lot and also is just a little hokey/corny, but damnit if Avery Davis isn’t the epitome of that term. Thanks for everything, Avery — you rock, and I hope we get to watch you take one last ride with the Irish next year.

Okay, in terms of other negatives, we need to get a little nitpicky to come up with more. I think the offensive line was fine but not as dominant as they should have been against a bad Navy team — allowing 2 sacks and paving the way for 150 yards might be solid against a good opponent, but Notre Dame should be able to run much more effectively and more or less have a clean sheet of protection against the Midshipmen. So I think there was some room for improvement there, although it’s still obviously much better compared to early in the year.

Bellyman DID fumble on his way into the end zone, but luckily was able to fall on it for the touchdown anyway.* He needs to get a handle on that, though, as that could have easily ended up squirting out the back of the end zone for a touchback or in the hands of an opponent. Either way, lock that shit up, Bellyman!

*Pat Rick Note: considering Bellyman recovered the ball in the end zone anyway, it was an excruciatingly stupid delay for the officials to review that fumble. They spent minutes of our lives looking to make a call that changed nothing about the game — that should not be allowed.

I also want to call out the whole team — especially the offense — for rough 1st and 3rd quarters and a slow start to both halves. Ending the first quarter down 3-0 to Navy and having only two first downs amongst three offensive series that ended PUNT, PUNT, TURNOVER ON DOWNS is not exactly what you expect to see when there’s this much of a talent/size/speed gap between the Irish and their opposition. And a 3rd quarter that produces 24 yards and 0 points is completely unacceptable after a halftime break. The Irish have GOTTA start getting their shit together sooner in halves, or eventually it will come back to haunt them like it did against Cincinatti with that 17-0 hole they dug.

The only other negatives I have to mention are:

  1. The performance of the Notre Dame Stadium DJ, especially on third downs: Please find new songs to play besides the weird techno song that starts with a little girl talking creepily. I don’t think anyone — even the students — really like that one, and hearing it every single third down really ruins its impact (similar to how “Crazy Train” got beaten into the ground until it was unlistenable for ND fans)
  2. People who sit in seats that are not their own when they first arrive: I’ve now seen this happen the last 3 times I went to Notre Dame Stadium, and it’s just super annoying and dumb. I have no problem with folks moving closer to vacant and better seats once it’s pretty clear they aren’t being sat in. Most of us have done that in our sports fandom lives before.

But when it’s still prior to kickoff, people are still making their way to their seats. Occupying seats that aren’t yours just creates confusion for people trying to find their own seats, unnecessary conflict/confrontation (especially when people refuse to move from seats that aren’t theirs, like I saw at the Cincy game???), and just doesn’t need to happen. If you wanted your entire group to sit together, either find a way to buy that quantity of tickets together, or otherwise plan for having two separate groups that maybe could join together in the 2nd quarter or later, provided there are some open seats.

I’ll stop now before I rant any more about this, but seriously guys — stop plopping down in random seats and then giving attitude when the people who have tickets for those seats don’t want you trying to sit there...and don’t ask them if they can slide down and make extra room to fit them in. Sit where your ticket says, ya dingus.

Okay, now that I got that little pet peeve off my chest in a somewhat healthy manner, let’s amp up the positive vibes and talk about all the good things that happened in this game.

I’ll start with Bellyman continuing to be my favorite Notre Dame player of all-time — he’s just so fun to watch as he cuts, hesitates, accelerates, spins, jukes, stiff-arms, bulldozes, etc. Dude ran for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns (5.6 yards per carry) while also reeling in 7 passes for 36 yards through the air, and I gotta say that some NFL offensive coordinator is gonna be so happy next season being able to plug Bellyman into any situation offensively and see strong results.

Staying in the running back room, Logan Diggs continued to impress as a true freshman back, running for 59 yards and a touchdown while averaging 7.4 yards per carry and showing good vision, strength, and speed as he did so. He’s honestly pushing Chris Tyree for more of a timeshare than I would have expected at the position in 2022, and his success this year could also allow Tommy Rees to use Tyree or Bellyman to fill Avery Davis’s slot receiver role, knowing that the true frosh has the backup running back role in good hands.

Speaking of Diggs and showing flashes as a freshman, let’s talk again about this 2021 class and how many of them are showing up and showing out as the season hits the home stretch. Deion Colzie had a really nice 31-yard catch yesterday, and Lorenzo Styles Jr. had a quiet but impactful 13-yard reception. Joe Alt has been really good ever since he seized the starting left tackle spot, and TE Mitch Evans has done a good job with his PT, mostly in a blocking role. Tyler Buchner didn’t see a ton of time this past Saturday, but obviously he’s shown us plenty to believe in his future.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s just on offense! Defensively, I think a lot of us have been clamoring for a little more PT for the young guys (although maybe not too much, just because the defense has been a little more consistent than the offense this season and thus the rotation of upperclassmen is clearly doing its job), and because the Irish began to really pull away in the 4th quarter, it was fun to see talented freshmen and sophomores having their names called.

Jordan Botelho picked up a sack for the second week in a row, which has to make Irish fans happy who had high hopes for his pass rushing this season. Hopefully this is his coming-out party over these last few games, and in 2022 he can pick up the mantle from Isaiah Foskey and terrorize QBs for a full season as a starter.

Xavier Watts, who was a receiver just a matter of weeks ago, made a few really nice plays and showed a great combo of speed, aggression, and tackling ability with his 3 solo tackles. Prince Kollie and Kahanu Kia both got some time late and combined for 7 tackles, showing no hesitation to fly to the ball and prove that the 2022 LB recruiting class will need to earn every snap they get once they arrive.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Navy at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While we’re on the topic of the defense, Marcus Freeman and the whole crew deserve a shout-out for a very strong overall performance.

Obviously this was a down Navy program this season, but the Irish held the Midshipmen to 184 total yards and 6 total points. That’s pretty darn good.

Kurt Hinish earned an individual shout-out for how good he was. The 5th-year nose tackle has been as reliable and consistent as they come the last couple years and when healthy this season, but he’s had a quiet year compared to guys like Foskey and Bertrand and Hart (and obviously Hamilton).

So it was really fun to see him pick up a sack yesterday against a team that almost never passes, and to see him really stuff the stat sheet, which is not an easy thing to do at his position. He finished with 10 total tackles (8 solo), 2 tackles for loss, and the aforementioned sack. Those are linebacker numbers, man!

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

J.D. Bertrand and Jayson Ademilola were their normal, consistent selves as well. Bertrand finished with 9 tackles (6 solo), and Ademilola accumulated 4 solo tackles and a tackle for loss on the day.

Circling back to offense, I have to give Kevin Austin Jr. some praise — the dude has had a rollercoaster season with lots of criticism (plenty of it valid) tossed his way, so it was fun to see him go out against Midshipmen DBs who just never stood a chance against him, and put on a little show: 6 catches, 139 yards, and one electric 70-yard touchdown pass where it appeared Navy somehow briefly forgot he existed.

Jack Coan also deserves a quick shout-out: he didn’t do anything too crazy-impressive, but he WAS crazy-efficient on the day, going 23-for-29 and passing for 269 yards and that long touchdown to Austin. He helped the Irish get through an entire game without a turnover (albeit with Bellyman’s end zone fumble briefly serving as opposition to that accomplishment), and just played a really solid and stress-free game. Well done, Jack.

The final two positives I want to call out:

1. The weird symmetry of the by-quarter scoring in this game, as Navy scored 3 points each in the first and third quarters, and the Irish scored 17 points each in the second and fourth quarters. It means nothing, but I know there are those of you out there similar to me that enjoy the look of this:

2. Getting to go to a Notre Dame game with my entire family is something I haven’t gotten to do in a very long time — it made me reminisce about all the games we went to while I was growing up and the nostalgia and good feelings have been PRESENT these last couple days. V. excited to see those goons again for Thanksgiving in a few weeks — love y’all.

Okay, let’s quickly cover the scorecard and then move on to talk about this week’s competition — we’re gonna run over time today if we aren’t careful.

Here’s the scorecard for this week, as you can see it’s looking pretty healthy with only a few reds or yellows and mostly greens.

So, I want to give my thanks and appreciation to Kevin, Kurt, Logan, the Irish defense, the ND coaching staff, this past weekend itself, and my mom — excellent work knocking down all those action items, you guys — I’m really excited about what you all did (especially that homemade Chex Mix, Mom), and was quite pleasantly surprised that tackling really wasn’t an issue with the triple option after the many tackling failures in the UNC game.

Jeff, I know you’ve made great strides on your action item with the o-line, so I’m not concerned about the yellow right now. Just let us know if any other roadblocks or bottlenecks pop up and you need any help driving that to the finish line over these next few weeks.

Bellyman, I see you were unable to accomplish your “chill out for a week” task. I saw your explanation you sent via email so I’m not super worried about it, but please try to let some other folks make big plays too — although not too much, I want to see you crush it down the stretch and get the national recognition you deserve.

Finally, Notre Dame Stadium DJ: please, please, please, for the love of God, send out some sort of comprehensive poll to the students to understand the music they want to hear to get hyped for third downs and other big moments during games. Take lots of suggestions and incorporate as many as you can — it would improve the game experience drastically.

Okay, moving on — it’s time for our favorite slide, the Team Members of the Week!!!!

Big-time congrats to these guys — I don’t think anyone would disagree with Kevin, Bellyman, and Kurt getting Chipotle gift cards for their excellence. Furthermore, I wanted to award all the young guns who contributed a few plays here and there (especially Logan) — it was fun to see you all making some moves and makes us as fans VERY excited for the next few seasons and what the possibilities could actually be with you guys running the show.

Also, I wanna give a quick and special shout-out to Chase Ketterer, the walk-on who ran the triple option for the scout team in practice all week last week, and then was rewarded with a rep on the kickoff team — he took full advantage of the rep and the sideline’s reaction is incredible. Bellyman sprinting down the sideline to go congratulate him and celebrate with him is *chef’s kiss*.

Alrighty, let’s turn the page now and take a quick look at our competition for the week.

I certainly won’t read all of this off the slide for you, but would like to quickly point out a couple items:

  1. You might remember Scott Stadium as the location where Will Fuller broke the hearts of Virginia fans everywhere, but especially that one guy...
  2. It’s kinda wild that UVA has never beaten Newport News Apprentice School, but to be fair they have been a college football powerhouse for a long time now
  3. This is one of my favorite lineups of alumni for any opponent this season: the original Dr. Pepper, the former host of “Sports Science,” Ryan Atwood himself, and one of the GOAT athlete names in D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Just an absolute unit of a notable alumni squad right there.

Alrighty, let’s keep it moving — just let me know if you have any questions or concerns about any of the other details in that competitor overview!

Here’s a bit more info about the Cavaliers and what to expect from them this weekend...

The biggest thing to note right now is that UVA’s starting quarterback, Brennan Armstrong, is questionable/may not be 100% for this weekend. For most football teams, losing the starting QB is certainly a tough blow, but it would be especially devastating for the Wahoos. The left-handed Armstrong has emerged as one of the best QBs in the country this season (3,557 yards, 64% completion, 27 TD, 8 INT) and has led this Virginia offense to elite status. UVA is ranked 6th in the country on offense by SP+, and the vast majority of the typical metrics support that.

The Cavaliers are 1st in the country in total offense (545.2 yards per game, driven by their #2 passing offense), 4th in yards per play (7.18), 11th in scoring (38.9 points per game), 26th in yards per passing attempt, 32nd in yards per carry, and 28th in QB rating — needless to say, they can sling the ball.

Armstrong gave a very vague but somewhat optimistic update at an NIL appearance during UVA’s bye week last week, but if for some reason he’s ruled out for Saturday night’s game or if he goes down after trying to play, it will be interesting to see whom UVA brings in to replace him.

True freshman Jay Woolfolk is the only other player on the team to have thrown more than 3 passes this year, but he’s just barely the 2nd-most-experienced option considering he’s only 2-for-6 for 35 yards on the year. Maybe Bronco Mendenhall could instead go with redshirt freshman Iraken Armstead (a South Bend native), but he’s 1-for-5 for 9 yards passing in his career, so he’s largely an unknown as well. Hell, perhaps Mendenhall would be most comfortable moving Keytaon Thompson back to the role he held in Starkville and giving that a shot? No matter the decision, UVA is PRAYING that Armstrong is good to go for this one, because he’s the key to their offensive production this season.

Unlike some other pass-heavy offenses the Irish have seen recently (USC, UNC), Virginia has more than one talented receiver for the Irish to worry about, too. Sophomore Dontayvion Wicks is the ringleader of Armstrong’s targets, having caught 42 passes for 972 yards and 9 touchdowns so far this season, including one of the catches of the year.

He’s followed by a few other really good pass-catchers, though, including former Mississippi State QB Keytaon Thompson (51 receptions, 663 yards, 1 TD), Billy Kemp IV (59 receptions, 562 yards, 6 TDs), Ra’Shaun Henry (28 receptions, 493 yards, 2 TD), and Jelani Woods, who has 29 catches for 446 yards and 6 touchdowns from the tight end position.

So, if Armstrong is good to go, the Cavaliers passing attack will be at full strength and might just be the biggest test the Notre Dame secondary faces all season. Add in a rushing attack that’s decently efficient in its limited reps — led by senior running back Wayne Taulapapa (290 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 2 TDs), Armstrong (271 yards, 3.3 yards per carry, 7 TDs), Thompson (216 yards, 6.8 yards per carry, 3 TDs), and Devin Darrington (213 yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 2 TDs) — and the UVA offense provides a pretty formidable bit of opposition for Marcus Freeman’s unit.

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

Luckily, the other key note here is that the Virginia defense is extremely not-good. The Wahoos defense under coordinator Nick Howell is currently 102nd in the country in scoring (30.8 ppg allowed), 122nd in total defense (122nd in rushing and 123rd in YPC allowed, 95th in passing and 80th in YPA allowed), 81st in QB rating allowed, and 116th in yards per play allowed at 6.56. To put it gently, the Notre Dame offense should be able to eviscerate the Cavaliers defense — it’s going to come down to execution and whether the Irish can score at a rate that tops what UVA is able to do against Freeman’s defense.

Okay, with all that said, What’s Important Now for the Irish as they travel to Charlottesville to take on the 6-3 Cavaliers?

There’s nothing here that’s really shocking or next-level thinking, to be honest. Assuming Armstrong plays, the Irish NEED to bring the heat on him. Yes they’ll need to contain him as well so as not to have a Sam Howell-type of situation, but the worst option would be to sit back and hope the Irish secondary — who may not have Kyle Hamilton back, and if he is, who knows if he will be 100% — can cover all those quite capable UVA receivers.

This is a game where guys like Isaiah Foskey and Jordan Botelho need to be UNLEASHED on the QB, just like when the 2019 ND defensive front teed off on Bryce Perkins to the tune of 8 sacks (led by Julian Okwara’s 3 and Khalid Kareem’s 2.5).

Furthermore, I think the Irish defense should cycle a few more of the young guys into the rotation, even if just for a play or two on certain series. Get fresh legs, speed, and athleticism onto the field to help deal with all of UVA’s weapons — Watts, Kollie, etc. could be quite useful in that regard.

Offensively, the Irish need to start fast — this isn’t the kind of team you want to play from behind against, trying to play catch-up. Luckily, ND should be able to impose their will on a defense like this, so a heaping helping of Bellyman, Tyree, and Diggs should be on the table for Saturday. Let those guys wear down an already-rough UVA defense (UVA allows 5.72 yards per carry...LFG) and also keep the ball out of Brennan Armstrong’s hands as long as possible. The defense — especially the short-handed linebackers and secondary — will certainly thank Tommy Rees if his squad is able to do so.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of replacing Avery Davis, Rees should use the position group with lots of depth and plenty of talent that could be playing more simultaneously. Use Bellyman or Tyree to help do things from the slot, as they’re great receivers and could do really nice things with the ball in space. Diggs has proven he can pick up some of the slack at RB.

Finally, the offense should use the emphasis on the run game early on to set up some deep shots — Austin/Lenzy/Styles can all be sent deep to stretch the field and really break this game open, and even someone like Deion Colzie could be fun to send down the field for a jump ball and a big gain. Don’t be afraid to test this very bad UVA defense, Tommy.

Okay, that’s really all I’ve got for this week — does anyone have any questions about all that?

*complete and utter crickets as I stare blankly at the camera*

Okay then, well per usual I will make sure and send the link to the deck out right after the call, so let me know as you peruse that on your own time if there’s anything pressing or concerning about it.

Otherwise, everybody have a nice week and I’m sure we’ll be in touch — buh bye now!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

Time to go to the grocery — I need to try to recreate that chili and eat an embarrassing amount of it by myself today.