Historically, these two teams are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Notre Dame has 11 National Championships and has spent 804 weeks ranked in the AP Poll. Virginia, by contrast, hasn’t won a National Title and has been ranked in the AP Poll just 171 weeks.
Virginia has steadily improved over the last three-plus years under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers went to one bowl game from 2008 to 2016, Mendenhall’s first season, but have been invited to a bowl in each of the last two years. This year, Virginia is 4-0 to start the year, including wins over Pitt (30-14) in week one and Florida State (31-24) in week three. Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins is the heart and soul of the Virginia offense as he leads the team in rushing (193 yards) to go along with 843 passing yards and six passing scores. Perkins has plenty of options when spreading the ball around as the Cavaliers have three solid receivers. Senior Joe Reed leads the team in catches (23), receiving yards (215) and touchdowns (3), while fellow senior Hasise Dubois is second in all three categories (16, 191, 1). Junior Terrell Jana is right behind Dubois with 15 catches for 174 yards.
The Virginia defense has made a living in opponents’ backfields this season. The Cavs lead the nation in sacks with 20, including five players with multiple sacks, and are fifth in the country with 39 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Jordan Mack leads the Cavaliers with five sacks and is tied for the team-lead with 29 tackles and six tackles for loss. Virginia has also been effective at shutting down opponents rushing offense. The Cavaliers have allowed opponents to run for 75 yards per game, which is 12th best in the country. That doesn’t mean Virginia has been poor against the pass. The Cavs have held opponents to just 189 yards per game through the air, fourth best in the ACC.
Notre Dame is coming off a tough loss to No. 3 Georgia, 23-17, but proved they are among the nation’s best teams in the loss. Senior quarterback Ian Book threw his first two interceptions of the year against Georgia, but still managed 275 yards passing and a couple touchdowns while nearly leading the Irish to a come-from-behind win. Senior receiver Chase Claypool extended his team-lead in receiving against the Bulldogs. Claypool has 15 catches for 256 yards on the year, more than double any other pass catcher for Notre Dame. The running attack for the Irish is off to a slow start this year, but Book has the ability to tuck the ball and run, if needed.
On defense, an improving Notre Dame shined in the loss to Georgia. The Irish held one of the most dynamic offenses in college football to just 339 total yards. Notre Dame has allowed 204 yards per game on the ground, but held Georgia, one of the top rushing attacks in the country, to just 152 yards rushing. The strength of the Irish defense is in the secondary and junior safety Alohi Gilman, who leads the team with 21 tackles this year. The rest of the secondary, junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr., senior cornerback Shaun Crawford and senior safety Jalen Elliott, combine with Gilman to have the 10th ranked passing defense.
This is one of the biggest games of the year on the schedule for Virginia and the Cavaliers will be ready to play. Notre Dame can’t overlook this one, but coming off the loss, the Irish have plenty to prove. This should be a close one and will likely come down to the fourth quarter.