After one of, if not the, most dominant performance by Notre Dame’s defensive line, the Irish improved to 8-1 overall with a win over the Navy Midshipmen and moved up to number nine in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish held the Midshipmen out of the endzone for the entirety of the game to complete a 34-6 routing.
For the Irish, Jack Coan finished the game completing 23 of his 29 passing attempts for 269 yards and one touchdown through the air. Six of those 23 completions went to Kevin Austin Jr. who totaled 139 yards through the air. Kyren Williams continues to impress on the ground, adding in 17 carries for 95 yards and two rushing touchdowns. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – Williams may be one of the most impressive running backs in the Brian Kelly era. Unfortunately, everything wasn’t sunshine and rainbows for the dominant Irish offense this past week. On one of Kyren Williams’ touchdown runs, Avery Davis went down with a non-contact injury that was later confirmed to be an ACL team. Davis will have to miss the remainder of the season – a big loss for Notre Dame’s offense as the Irish are now down to only five scholarship wide receivers. The loss of Davis will mean more expanded roles for freshman wide receivers Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Deion Colzie.
Defensively, as mentioned at the top, the dominance for the Irish started up front. Defensive lineman Kurt Hinish led the way for the Irish racking up 10 total tackles and one sack. This was probably Hinish’s best game of the year, and it felt like he was living in the backfield for majority of the game. I was extremely impressed with the execution of Marcus Freeman’s defensive scheme – no matter what an opponent’s record is, it’s impressive to not give up a single touchdown in a collegiate football game.
After taking care of business against the ground and pound triple option run by the Midshipmen, the Irish look to change gears and hone in on the dynamic offense that the Cavaliers of Virginia will bring to the contest. Virginia comes in with a 6-3 record but a great deal of questions surrounding the availability of their starting quarterback, Brennan Armstrong. The Cavaliers are coming off a bye week, but prior to that, Armstrong took a big shot against BYU resulting in a rather significant rib injury. His status remains a “game time decision” but would be a huge blow for Virginia if he cannot play. Just how big, you may ask? Well, Armstrong has 406 passing attempts on the year, the next closest quarterback on the Cavaliers roster is Jay Woolfolk who has a total of six. Armstrong is also Virginia’s second leading rusher on the season and has accounted for seven rushing touchdowns through the Cavaliers’ first nine games.
Other Virginia players to keep an eye out for are senior running back Wayne Taulapapa who has been averaging over five yards per carry. The Cavaliers have a plethora of playmakers at the wide receiver position as well, led by Sophomore Dontayvion Wicks. Wicks has hauled in 42 receptions through nine games for 972 yards and nine touchdowns. Yes, that’s an average of just over 23 yards per catch. To go along with Wicks, Virginia trots out Keytaon Thompson at what might be the most unique position I have seen – “FBP”. Thompson is listed as a “football player”; technically a quarterback but has also seen 32 carries at running back and 51 receptions at wide receiver. A unique skillset to say the least.
I look at Virginia similar to North Carolina – a good football team that has quite a few playmakers at the skill positions and a dynamic quarterback. The unique position that Virginia is in however, is that they have the chance to win the ACC Coastal division regardless of the outcome against the Irish. With Armstrong potentially being less than 100%, is it worth rushing him back for what is essentially a “meaningless” game in the grand scheme of things? That is the question that Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall will have to answer.
For the Irish to have success, I think it comes down simply to building on the performances that they have put out in the last three to five games. There have been major improvements on both sides of the ball as this season has developed and it’s time to continue to take another step forward. The Cavaliers pose the biggest threat remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule and will be featured in another primetime matchup. The Irish are currently 5.5 point favorites and I think the final score will be very reliant on whether or not Armstrong plays for the Cavaliers. With Armstrong in the game, I think the Irish will win 38-31; if Armstrong is not able to go, I think the margin of victory will be much bigger. Go Irish. Beat Cavaliers.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Florida State: 3-6 overall, lost to NC State 28-14
Toledo: 4-5 overall, lost to Eastern Michigan 52-49 (playing Bowling Green on 11/10/21)
Purdue: 6-3 overall, beat Michigan State 40-29
Wisconsin: 6-3 overall, beat Rutgers 52-3
Cincinnati: 9-0 overall, beat Tulsa 28-20
Virginia Tech: 4-5 overall, lost to Boston College 17-3
USC: 4-5 overall, lost to Arizona State 31-16
North Carolina: 5-4 overall, beat Wake Forest 58-55
Navy: 2-7 overall, lost to Notre Dame 34-6
Virginia: 6-3 overall, coming off bye week
Georgia Tech: 3-6 overall, lost to Miami (FL) 33-30
Stanford: 3-6 overall, lost to Utah 52-7