CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - An intriguing matchup between Notre Dame and Virginia will probably focus on one very important player for the Cavaliers. When the Irish come into Scott Stadium to play the host Cavaliers, will there be the normal quarterback behind center for the home team?
If not, all the offensive fireworks that Virginia produced this season will go out the window. The Cavaliers scored 34 or more points in eight of their nine games this season, but this is a passing team with a quarterback that’s on the mend.
Will Armstrong Play?
Here’s what UVA Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said about the injury to his star quarterback, Brennan Armstrong.
“I probably won’t have an update until the ball is kicked off, and we all look out there and see who our quarterback is,” Mendenhall stated about his redshirt junior quarterback’s injury.
Besides the non-answer comment in which Coach Mendenhall could have just admitted he’s not willing to give out injury information about his starting quarterback, it also basically admits that Armstrong is not completely healthy either.
Anyone that’s been around college football coaches knows they lie like crazy about injuries anyway. While Las Vegas casinos may hate that about college coaches and the process many of them go through with injury information, it’s just a way for them to attempt to hold an advantage. Two things to note about Armstrong’s injury from what we know.
One, if he plays, Notre Dame is going to come after him. That’s Notre Dame’s style of defense to begin with, and he’s not fully healthy either. Look for the Irish to blitz and blitz often. Two, if for some reason Armstrong does not play, or needs to leave the game early for any reason, Virginia is going to be in trouble.
Regardless of the level of play, losing a starting quarterback is really hard to handle. It’s not like Virginia has a ton of backup experience either as the backup signal caller is a true freshman, Jay Woolfolk, and he’s 2/6 for 35 yards this season. Now, assuming Armstrong does play, how the Cavaliers protect him will be key.
Can the Virginia Offensive Line Protect Armstrong?
Hello Mr. Foskey. How are you today, sir? All jokes aside, Notre Dame’s elite talent at outside linebacker, Isaiah Foskey, will not be cordial with any quarterback that gets in his way this Saturday or any other Saturday.
He’s one of those players that fits the first guys off the bus descriptions with his 6’5”, 255-pound frame, including the wide shoulders and bulging muscles. Foskey has nine sacks, three forced fumbles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and three quarterback hurries. All of that and he still plays some inside linebacker, too. He’s truly a special player.
Can Virginia’s pass protection keep Foskey and several other talented front seven defenders off of Armstrong for four quarters? That’s incredibly unlikely. Virginia allowed 23 sacks through nine games, while the Irish recorded 25 sacks.
Further, three games ago, Notre Dame sacked USC quarterback Kedon Slovis four times despite the majority of the Trojans’ passes being of the quick variety, and the next game the Irish also sacked North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell three times despite a similar playing style for the Tar Heels.
Those are two teams with more offensive line talent than Virginia. That is a major concern for the Cavaliers offensive coaches. The Irish even sacked Navy twice last week, a triple-option attack. To say that Virginia will be challenged with Notre Dame’s pass rush is an understatement.
When the Cavaliers have possession of the football, this is the category that needs to be watched. Sure, the Virginia offense will attempt to run the football and use the quick-passing game as a way to keep Armstrong away from Foskey and the rest of the Irish defense, but will that be enough to move the chains consistently and score points?
At some point, Armstrong will need to be continually sitting in the pocket, waiting, reading the defense, and hoping his protection holds up before passing the football. He can certainly throw the football well. He has thrown for 3,557 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.
The issue stems from Armstrong and his alleged bruised ribs might be taking a severe pounding in the process of sitting in the pocket to make those down-the-field passes that will be needed to keep up with Notre Dame’s offense. Let’s see if he can hold up to the pounding he’s about to take.
There’s one more category to discuss and it will be another huge factor for deciding this game.
Notre Dame’s Rushing Attack
During the past four contests against Virginia Tech, Southern California, North Carolina, and Navy, the Irish rushing attack averaged 199 yards rushing per game. Much of that can be attributed to junior running back Kyren Williams and his incredible vision, quickness, and sheer grit, as the offensive line struggled for much of this season. That being stated, Williams is the real deal much like Armstrong for Virginia.
Can Virginia and it’s absolutely horrendous rushing defense slow down Williams and the Irish? The Cavaliers rank No. 122 out of 130 teams in rushing defense, allowing 211.1 yards per game. They played worse of late.
During the past four games, Virginia allowed 998 yards rushing. Yes, you read that correctly. 998 yards rushing allowed. That’s 249.5 yards per game, including last week’s embarrassing 385 yards allowed to Coach Mendenhall’s former head coaching stop, Brigham Young.
The Irish rushing attack will be licking their chops, and they should be. Williams will run for over a 100 yards, and this game will also be a return trip to the state of Virginia for Irish sophomore running back Chris Tyree, one of the fastest players in college football regardless of position. The Irish could run for 200-plus yards with just Williams and Tyree carrying the football. Yet, there’s still more concern for Virginia.
Notre Dame true freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner is a dynamic run-pass quarterback that comes in and substitutes for starting quarterback Jack Coan. When the freshman enters the lineup, he will need to be accounted for in the run game, and that’s just not good for the Cavaliers. Look for the Irish to control the line of scrimmage, run for more than 250 yards, and dominate the time of possession as a way to keep Armstrong on the sidelines and off the field.
Armstrong is a tremendous player and one that fans of the Cavaliers should salute if he decides to give it a go and play against the Irish. He’s still not going to be playing defense, however, and the Irish will probably destroy the Virginia defense with a downhill rushing attack augmented by Buchner’s skills. Notre Dame will pull away in the second half and cruise to victory.
Notre Dame 48 Virginia 31
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