Notre Dame and Virginia is not a traditional rivalry. It is hard to create bad blood in a game that has been played a total of three times. But something must be said for the last two matchups, no offense intended to the 36-13 Irish victory to open the 1989 season.
Notre Dame escaped Charlottesville in 2015 with a dramatic victory courtesy of only DeShone Kizer’s arm and Will Fuller’s speed, and then in 2019, the Irish bruised and battered star Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins to the tune of eight sacks and a 35-20 Notre Dame victory.
That was arguably Virginia’s best season in more than 20 years, a claim the Cavaliers are once again on the verge of reclaiming but something the Irish could quickly cast aside.
So while Virginia (6-3) has ACC title considerations ahead of it, no matter how tonight goes, this tilt will shed some light on the season as a whole. Nine wins is a rare occurrence for the Cavaliers, reached only seven times in 118 years, and they have gotten to 10 wins just once in that stretch. To reach double-digit victories, Virginia needs to win tonight. To reach nine wins, it will need to win either tonight or in a bowl game.
An ACC title deserves some emphasis, but no game should be diminished.
TIME: 7:30 ET. It increasingly seems this game may have been the wrong one to put in primetime, despite it receiving a six-day hold that allowed its kickoff to be set just this past Sunday. If Notre Dame (8-1) is able to quickly distance itself from Virginia, the primetime designation will reflect poorly on the ACC, but such are the risks of sports in all regards.
The weather should be delightful, relatively speaking. To some, a kickoff at 43 degrees may not sound ideal, but the clear skies make for a balmy climate compared to what Notre Dame left behind on Friday (focus on the first image) …
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) November 13, 2021
TV: ABC has the broadcast, which should also render some use to your Watch ESPN app.
In ABC’s defense, it is not the strongest weekend for primetime pickings.
PREVIEW: All week, the wonder has been if Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong will play through a ribs injury suffered two weeks ago at BYU. An idle week could do only so much to heal what Armstrong could be seen as describing as “broken” ribs during that broadcast, though it should be acknowledged, he is not a doctor.
(A more casual writer would make a “Fremulon” reference here, but this space is nothing but the epitome of professionalism.)
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was coy all week about Armstrong’s status. Well, he was either coy or sincerely unclear about his star’s chances of playing.
“I’m planning on him being our quarterback,” Mendenhall said early in the week. “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.”
If Armstrong — he of 395.2 passing yards per game and 27 touchdowns compared to only eight interceptions — cannot play, then the Cavaliers will turn to freshman Jay Woolfolk. Why lean on a freshman as the backup quarterback? Well, for one thing, Virginia’s other logical quarterback option no longer plays the position. Then again, he does.
Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson is officially listed on the depth chart under the position of “football player.” He wears No. 99.
Sure, some eye rolls may follow that oddity, but depth charts are an exercise in inducing eye rolls as often as not, anyway. Thompson played quarterback in Starkville, but he became a multi-dimensional offensive threat upon transferring in 2020. He runs the ball, he catches the ball, he takes snaps, he is … a football player.
So instead, Woolfolk backs up Armstrong, but that decision goes beyond Thompson’s Wildcat-only likelihood.
“Really, similarity to [Armstrong],” Mendenhall said. “So less change needed for the offense … That allows us to train consistently or more consistently. … That really was one of the main determinants.”
PREDICTION: The markets can be both informative and incorrect. Let’s acknowledge that duality from the top. Notre Dame began the week as a 4.5-point favorite, but by the time anyone reported to work on Monday morning, that number had risen to -5.5 and it would touch -6.0 during the week before seemingly settling at -5.5 heading into the weekend.
Now, the definition of “the weekend” begins with the end of Friday’s workday, right? At that point, this spread was still -5.5, favoring the Irish.
By the end of happy hour on the Pacific coast, though, that line had jumped to -6.5, with juice suggesting -7.0 would soon follow. (As of 3 a.m. ET on Saturday morning, it has not yet.)
Speculation would strongly suggest that jump accompanied some rumblings about Armstrong’s chances of playing tonight.
A combined points total Over/Under of 63.0 points suggests a 35-28 final result, which would mean Virginia scores 10 points fewer than its season average. That would fit in line with the underappreciated success of Notre Dame’s defense this season.
Of the nine Irish opponents this year, seven have scored fewer points than their season average, including seven of the last eight, otherwise meaning excluding the roller-coaster opener at Florida State. Those seven underperformers fell short of their usual by an average of 9.9 points.
There would be reason to expect that kind of showing from Notre Dame against Armstrong. Add in the money-informed possibility that Armstrong will not play, and suddenly those numbers seem like a floor for the Irish.
Notre Dame 41, Virginia 20.
(Straight up — 8-1; Against the spread — 7-2; Over/under — 6-3.)
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) November 13, 2021
SOME OTHER NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
39: The Irish have won 39 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest active streak in the country.
33: The Irish have won 33 straight games in which they were favored, tracing back to the end of the 2017 regular season at Stanford.
22: The Irish have won 22 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents, tracing back to the drubbing in Miami in 2017.
6: The Irish have covered the spread in six of their last seven games, the exception being their sole loss this year, to now-No. 5 Cincinnati.
ADVANCED STATS PREVIEW EXPLAINER: NOTRE DAME v VIRGINIA https://t.co/0C86ZeIvUk
— parker (@statsowar) November 10, 2021
INSIDE THE IRISH
— On three Notre Dame streaks, all applicable this week, what used to be a worrisome week for Brian Kelly
— Kyle Hamilton not yet cleared medically by Notre Dame doctors, per Brian Kelly
— Four-star Ohio tackle Aamil Wagner commits to Notre Dame, perhaps surprisingly
— And In That Corner … High-scoring Virginia looks to outpace Notre Dame’s newfound offense
— Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s defense seeks ‘revenge’ at Virginia, if not against Virginia
— Notre Dame’s o-line goes from question mark to strong spot
— UVA confident if it has to turn to ‘feisty’ freshman Jay Woolfolk at QB against Notre Dame
— Notre Dame DL Jacob Lacey faced adversity in 2020 to shine in 2021
— College coaches vote on the assistants ready for the next step
— Chase Claypool’s toe injury will not end his season