After a disappointing, albeit expected, loss to UCLA in the opener, the Hoos return home where it won't get any easier facing the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is coming off a 38-3 trouncing of Texas and shined in all the areas that gave Virginia fits in Pasadena. Given a week to observe the Hoos and Irish, here are the things I am looking for this week from the upper deck:
1) Establish a running game - If there is something that makes winning a college football game against a top-ten opponent impossible, it is being one-dimensional. Last week, the Bruins were able to get after Matt Johns and the Hoos receivers as there was no threat of a running game. However, if you look back at the game log, that wasn’t always the case. Look at the Hoo’s first drive. It went, run, pass, run, run, pass, pass, run, run, pass, before an Ian Frye field goal. That’s five runs to four passes. Even Taquan Mizzell ran up the gut. It was a beautiful opening drive, and what capped it off was that the mix was nice. It wasn’t predictable, the run set up the pass and kept the Bruins honest. It’s just a shame it didn’t last that long. The rest of the day, the backs got bottled up before they could get anything going, and then the Bruins just pinned their ears back and made life frustrating for Johns. While things won’t get any easier against this Notre Dame front seven, the Hoos have to remain committed to getting something out of the running game.
2) Let the secondary be the strength of the defense - I get it that a Jon Tenuta defense is going to blitz, blitz, and blitz some more. But at some point you have to recognize what isn't working. As Tiki pointed out in his game analysis, the Hoos threw everything but the kitchen sink at Josh Rosen, and still couldn't get to him. Thus, the secondary was left on an island, vulnerable to the sharp play of Rosen. This week, Malik Zaire comes to town coming off a 19/22, 313 yard, three TD clinic that saw him pick apart the Longhorn defense. The key for Virginia will be keeping Zaire inside the pocket where, while he is still very good, is not as good as he is when he gets outside. His ability to extend the play both with his legs and his arm is a TD waiting to happen. If Tenuta brings the house again, Zaire is more than potent enough to make the Hoos pay. The Hoos secondary has all of the defenses playmakers. If the front seven can keep Zaire from getting outside, that should provide the secondary enough space to cover tight and give Zaire nobody to throw to.
3) Keep Matt Johns upright - Last week the offensive line was fairly successful at keeping their quarterback's jersey clean allowing only one sack. However, the pressure was constant, and a lot of the sack avoidance could be credited to Johns either moving away from pressure or getting rid of the ball quickly. The test, as difficult as it was last week, could get tougher this week as the Irish are coming off a four sack dismantling of Texas and their offensive line. Pay close attention to linebacker Jaylon Smith who in addition to one of the team's four sacks contributed seven tackles and shows speed that is unmatched across the country for a player his size. If Johns can stay on his feet, he showed enough last week to prove that he can make plays that will keep the Hoos in the game.