Virginia is 6-3, and they are the 6th opponent who will have had a bye the week before playing the Irish. In their last game they lost in a shootout at 25th ranked BYU 66-49. The Cavaliers also lost in week three to common opponent North Carolina 59-39 and their other loss was to 12th ranked Wake Forest’ 37-17.
Bronco Mendenhall is now in his 6th season at Virginia, and has been a head coach for 17 years. He has faced the Irish four times previously, three times when he was at BYU, and once while at Virginia in 2019. The Irish have won all 4 meetings. The score of the 2019 game was 35-20.
This year’s version of the Cavaliers is a lot like how we described North Carolina a couple of weeks ago. They score a lot of points, they give up a lot of points. the Cavaliers are scoring 38.9 points per game, 11th most nationally, and they give up 30.8 points, 102nd nationally.
A lot about this game will depend on the status of QB Brennan Armstrong. In the Cavaliers last game Armstrong walked off the field in the second half pointing at his ribs and telling a coach, “it’s broken”. Brennan is a “game time decision” but with two weeks to heal, chances are fairly good he will play, and that is a big deal. Armstrong leads the nation in passing with 3557 yards, and has thrown 27 TD passes. Armstrong can also run it, and done so for 271 yards and 7 scores. Wearing a flak jacket to protect broken ribs however, would undoubtedly limit his running.
Plan “B” behind Armstrong at QB is fuzzy.
There are several players on the roster with QB experience but no clear-cut number two. When Armstrong went out in the BYU game it was Jay Woolfolk who took over. Woolfolk is a 5-11 freshman who has thrown just 6 passes in his career. It is possible that Bronco Mendenhall could employ a QB by committee approach that would include some wildcat if need be. Certainly having two weeks to prepare is an advantage here, particularly if Brennan can’t play and Virginia has had to game plan the committee approach.
Virginia is loaded with athletic receivers. They are the only team in the nation with five players with at least 400 yards each receiving. The best of the batch may be 6-1 Sophomore Dontavion Wicks who has 972 yards and 9 TDs. He averages 23.1 yards per catch.
Wayne Taulapapa is the leading rusher with 290 yards and 2 TDs, but make no mistake Virginia wants to throw the ball. They are #1 nationally in total offense at 545 yards per game and 400 of those yards come through the air.
Defensively Bronco Mendenhall has long been associated with the 3-3-5 scheme, but this year it has not been particularly effective. Besides giving up a lot of points, the Cavaliers give up 466 yards per game which ranks them 122nd in total defense. They are just averaging slightly over 1 sack per game, and they don’t get a lot of tackles for loss.
A lot depends on the availability of Armstrong to play in this game. With him in the line-up Virginia’s offense is formidable and can score points on anyone. Without him, the Cavalier offense, while full of weapons, is a big question mark.
And that makes it very hard to prognosticate a final score, my guess is that Brennan will play, but will not be at peak effectiveness. One thing seems to be certain, the Irish will be able to score points.
TV coverage is on ABC and starts at 7:30 PM. The Irish are 5.5 point favorites and the over/under is 64.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 40 Virginia 28