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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Virginia

September 25, 2019
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Bronco Mendenhall surprised a lot of people when he left BYU to take the Virginia job. There were many reasons to believe why it wouldn’t work out when he did.

After struggling out of the gate, he has rebuilt the program into a contender in the ACC. (Er, at least a contender with every other program than Clemson.) They went to a bowl game in his second season and then followed it up with an 8-5 record last year that had the potential to be even better with some close losses.

This season, they came in with legitimate expectations and have somewhat fulfilled them so far. The Cavaliers are 4-0 with the defense as the backbone and the quarterback as their leader. Ranked 37th in S&P+, this is the biggest game they have played in a very long time. We’ll see if they are up for the challenge against a team that has superior overall talent.

Injuries/Suspensions

They aren’t too banged up heading into this game, at least in terms of who is not supposed to be playing.

Backup quarterback Brennan Armstrong has a foot injury and is questionable.

Cornerback Darius Bratton was projected to start this season, but is out for the year after hurting his knee in camp.

They are having some issues on the offensive line with center Olu Owatimi missing last week with a hand injury. His status for this weekend is uncertain. Then, during the game last week, they lost their backup center, Tyler Fannin, to an injury. His status is uncertain this week as well.

Offense

The Cavs are 80th in S&P+ and 81st in yards per play this season on the offensive side of the ball. They haven’t played the stiffest competition, yet have struggled quite a bit to move the ball and score at times.

They didn’t win games based on the strength of their offense last season and this season it has remained pretty much the same.

Expected Strengths:

Quarterback Bryce Perkins’ running ability is the biggest strength for them. He has flashes as a dynamic runner and is very tough. Notre Dame must be aware of him as a scrambler and may have to spy him, especially on 3rd downs.

His best plays are often when he improvises and if Virginia is going to put up points, it will be largely because of the plays Perkins makes.

Even though the receiving yards haven’t been prolific, they do have some talent at the position.

Potential Weaknesses:

The potential weaknesses outweigh the strengths for UVA on offense, which is why there is a ceiling for how good they can be, in my opinion. They aren’t efficient enough with enough playmakers to scare anyone with their offense.

They aren’t explosive. They finished 108th in IsoPPP+ last season (a metric that measures explosive plays) and are currently 87th in plays of 20 yards or more. They have had only three runs of 20 yards or more this season.

Perkins averages 6.8 yards per attempt (89th) despite completing 65.3% of his passes. They aren’t a team that is going to consistently threaten vertically.

The running game has not been great. Starting running back Wayne Taulapapa is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry and they have been under 4.0 YPC in their three games against FBS opponents. Their 6.17 average vs William and Mary had more to do with the opponent than anything they did.

They are pretty average up front and struggled to block Florida State’s front seven, the team they have faced with the closest talent to what Virginia will see against Notre Dame. If they have to move starting right tackle Dillon Reinkensmeyer to center again this game, the Irish will have an even bigger advantage.

They aren’t good when they get put into “and long” situations. Perkins is only completing 35.3% of his throws on 3rd-and-6+ and has been sacked four times.

Scheme:

It’s a spread scheme with personnel packages not that much different than what Notre Dame sees from week to week. Coordinator Robert Anae is known for being adaptable to his personnel and he’s built the offense around Perkins and his athleticism. Anae coached Taysom Hill at BYU and there are some similarities to the offenses with Perkins running it.

Anae comes from an Air Raid background where he was Mike Leach’s offensive line coach at Texas Tech. I guess it should be no surprise then that UVA is 95th in rushing play percentage (47.24%).

I think that has more to do with keeping the ball in Perkins’ hands more than anything else, though. Though he coached quicker tempo teams in the past, Anae has the offense controlling the clock more at Virginia.

They have only averaged 66.3 plays per game (101st) and were around the same last season.

Key Personnel:

QB Bryce Perkins - 44 rushes for 249 yards (5.66 YPC) for him this season. He had 180 for 1,124 (6.2) in 2018.

WR Terrell Jana - He’s shown flashes after the catch.

WR Joe Reed - He has eight touchdown catches in his last eight games. He’s much more talented than his numbers would suggest.

OT/OC Dillon Reinskenmeyer - Where he plays could determine how well the UVA O-line can block Notre Dame’s front.

Key Matchup for the Irish:

Perkins vs Alohi Gilman - When Notre Dame is in Dime, Gilman essentially becomes a linebacker and he’ll likely be the one asked to spy Perkins.

Defense

There is a lot more to worry about on defense for Virginia. Mendenhall and coordinator Nick Howell have built a very strong group that is currently 18th in S&P+ and 11th in YPP. They were good last year and even though they lost some key pieces from the 2018 defense, they are different and better in 2019 so far.

Expected Strengths:

Everyone has struggled to run the football against them. They are 9th in rushing defense in terms of yards per carry (2.17). For a team not filled with 4-star talent, they play very fast. It’s a credit to the identification and development of talent by Mendenhall and his staff.

They are currently 5th in tackles for loss per game and are creating quite a bit of Havoc (22.7%). They get after the quarterback and have averaged 5 sacks per game.

The group is led by linebackers Jordan Mack and Charles Snowden (6 TFLs each). Mack is the team leader in sacks and has been all over the field on film.

The key to their defense in my eyes is cornerback Bryce Hall. He has not been tested a lot this season, but has 4 pass breakups. He’s an All-American-caliber player and is the kind of corner who does just about everything well.

Potential Weaknesses:

They are 79th in red zone touchdown percentage, which is at least a bit surprising given how well they play the run. They also have shown flashes of being feast or famine with the big plays by giving up seven plays of 30 yards or longer (70th).

Sometimes when they attack they can make mistakes in coverage. They lost the back out of the backfield for a big play against Old Dominion last week.

It is interesting to note that they have only caused 4 turnovers through four games even though the Havoc numbers are great in the other categories.

Scheme:

The Cavs run a 3-4 as their base, but look different this year than they have in the past. Howell has turned up the pressure quite a bit with blitzes, especially from his inside linebackers where it seems like they’ll bring a Cross Dog on any down or distance.

That’s a big reason why an inside linebacker, Mack, leads the team in sacks.

We’ll also see a bit of 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 from them, which if Notre Dame throws the ball anything close to the same amount they did against Georgia, we can expect to see more of. They are going to bring the blitz against Ian Book and mix up coverage looks behind.

They will move the defensive line quite a bit as well. If the Irish can find a tell with their corners when they show blitz, Book might be able to take advantage of it. They brought their corners a lot against Old Dominion.

Key Personnel:

LB Jordan Mack - Explosive blitzer and Book will have to be aware of him on Green Dogs as well.

LB Charles Snowden - Long and agile. The best pass rusher on their team.

CB Bryce Hall - 24 passes defensed last season. He’s their Julian Love.

Key Matchup for the Irish:

Hall vs Chase Claypool - Claypool proved he can make plays against Georgia and has had a strong start to the season. This is likely the top corner he’ll face in 2019. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame elects to avoid Hall or challenge him when he’s matched up with Claypool.

Special Teams

Kicker Brian Delaney is 5 of 8 on field goal, including missing two within 40 yards. Punter Nash Griffin averages only 40.5 yards per punt. At least up to this point in the season, the Irish appear to have an edge in the kicking game.

The one returner to worry about is Joe Reed, who has taken a kick back to the house in 2019 and did so in 2018 as well. The Irish will be better off kicking it out of the end zone if they can. They don’t make a lot of big plays on offense, but Reed could provide a spark on special teams.

 
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