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Notre Dame Football

Uyeyama's Keys to Game vs Virginia

September 27, 2019
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Virginia might be a top-20 team in the polls, but they are 37th in S&P+. That fits when you watch them on film. They are a good team, but not on the verge of being a great team. That’s primarily because they are much better on one side of the ball than the other.

That doesn’t mean they won’t present challenges to Notre Dame’s offense and defense, though. Much like Bronco Mendenhall’s teams at BYU, he has molded Virginia into a tough, physical group. They are going to make the Irish earn a victory. Nothing will be handed to them on Saturday, except maybe their behinds if they don’t come ready to play.

Aside from matching Virginia’s physicality, this is what I see as the three keys to the game for Notre Dame.

Book vs the blitz

Virginia is going to blitz. A lot. That’s a huge part of their defense this season under coordinator Nick Howell.

He doesn’t wait to cause havoc either. He’s not shy about bringing corners or safeties on early downs, but it’s the inside linebackers who pose the greatest threat to disrupt Notre Dame’s offense.

Jordan Mack and Zane Zadier have combined for 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks through four games. Zadier had a pick six last week against Old Dominion as well, which happened on a play where he broke off a blitz to intercept a screen pass.

via GIPHY

Run down? Blitz. Pass down? Blitz. Every down? Not always a blitz, but it just feels that way.

The two questions for Notre Dame are 1) what is Chip Long to going to call to counteract the pressure Virginia is going to bring? And 2) how will Ian Book handle it?

Book has been up and down against the blitz in his first 13 starts at Notre Dame. He burned USC with some big plays last season, but has also been rattled in the pocket even when the offensive line has done a decent job of protecting him.

I think the offensive line under Jeff Quinn has always done a solid job picking up pressure and it will be more about how Book handles it than the line. Long also has to design some passes and runs to take advantage of their aggressiveness to produce big plays.

We might see some short drives for the Irish tomorrow. That could be a good thing depending on how Book performs because the opportunity for big plays against the blitz will be there.

Don’t let Perkins beat them with his legs

There’s not much that’s scary about Virginia’s offense.

They haven’t run the ball very well (3.38 yards per carry against FBS opponents). They have struggled to convert on 3rd down (92nd vs FBS opponents). They also don’t create many big plays (99th in plays of 20 yards or longer vs FBS opponents).

Take out the William and Mary game and the offense is, at least statistically, bad.

They do have a quarterback who can be dynamic as a runner, though. Bryce Perkins is solid throwing the ball, but he presents different problems as a dual-threat. Minus lost yardage for sacks, he rushed for 1,124 yards (6.2 YPC) last season. This season he hasn’t been as prolific, but is still averaging 5.44 YPC.

Clark Lea’s defense can’t let Perkins beat them with his legs. Him having a huge game as a runner would give Virginia their best shot at an upset.

When he runs, the Irish have to make him pay for it as he doesn’t do a great job of protecting himself. They also might be best to spy and bring a lot of Green Dog blitzes to get to him in the pocket.

They don’t have a back on their roster that would scare a defense. Perkins leads their team in rushing and Notre Dame can’t let him go off with a big day.

Moving Claypool around

Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall is not only an All-American candidate, he’s a projected first round pick. Not bad for a former 2-star recruit who wasn’t included in the top-2000(!) prospects in the country.

He’s Julian Love in terms of production (26 pass breakups in his last 17 games), but he’s bigger (6’3”). He’s an elite player and he’ll be matched up with Chase Claypool a lot in this game.

Will Notre Dame take their chances with Claypool vs Hall or avoid throwing his way to potentially exploit other matchups? Both might end up being correct, but they are going to have to find ways to get Claypool the football no matter who is covering him.

That’s why moving Claypool around the formation could be huge. If they can get him away from Hall, then I like Claypool against anyone else in their secondary. And there is no doubt that the Irish will need Claypool to create big plays even if they are getting back some help this week with Michael Young returning.

Claypool vs Hall is great for NFL scouts to watch, but Claypool vs another defensive back would be preferable for Notre Dame fans. Because if we see more of that, then the chances of Claypool making a big impact will go up.

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Uyeyama's Keys to Game vs Virginia

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