The game was there for the taking, but questionable play from the offensive line and Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins gave No. 10 Notre Dame the home victory on Saturday afternoon. After a solid first half, Perkins finished 30-for-42 with 334 yards, three fumbles, and two interceptions as ND beat the No. 18 Cavaliers 35-20.
Despite leading at the half and getting favorable field position in the early stages of the second half, Virginia couldn’t take advantage of opportunities in front of them. Notre Dame’s defensive ends — namely Julian Okwara’s three sacks — owned the right side of the Cavalier line. Perkins had limited time, fumbling the ball twice on blind side hits, losing one fumble when he should have stepped into the pocket, and throwing an interception as he got hit. The ND defense sacked Perkins a total of eight times.
The loss has no effect on conference standings — the Hoos still lead the ACC Coastal with a 2-0 record — but drops Virginia to 4-1 on the season. Virginia is now 0-28 all time against top-10 teams on the road, and the ACC is 0-21 at Notre Dame when the Irish are ranked.
Hasise Dubois (nine receptions, 143 yards, one touchdown) and Joe Reed (nine receptions, 107 yards, one touchdown) were outstanding on the afternoon for the Cavaliers. Defensively, the Hoos got to Ian Book four times for sacks, and limited the Notre Dame QB to 17-for-25 passing and 167 yards with no touchdown passes.
The first half started out with a bang for the Cavaliers as Perkins led Virginia down the field with a seven play, 4:02 minute drive that spanned 69 yards. Reed set up the drive with a 25-yard return to the VA 31 on the opening kick off, and Perkins went 4-for-4 as he hit Reed twice, including the touchdown strike:
Notre Dame, with the help of a Perkins fumble and some questionable calls from the refs, answered with two touchdown drives to take a 14-7 with just under 20 seconds left in the second quarter. Although Virginia got good pressure on Book, the Hoos only recorded one sack against the Irish QB as he went 8-for-8 for 68 yards in the first quarter.
The second quarter, Virginia stepped it up. Virginia marched 61 yards down the field over 7:11 to start the second stanza, including a 4th down conversion and picking a first down thanks to an obvious pass interference on the Irish. Things stalled at the 14-yard line, but Brian Delaney knocked through the 32-yard field goal with ease to pull the Hoos within four at 14-10 with 8:07 left in the first half.
Notre Dame converted a 4th-and-6 at the VA 37 as they systematically progressed down the field, but the defense came up with a huge stop at the 29-yard line. The Irish elected to kick, but Jonathan Doerer went wide left to keep the margin four points.
Both teams traded 3-and-outs on their ensuing possessions before Virginia got the ball on their own 24-yard line with 1:45 to play. Perkins needed just three plays to show off his oft maligned throwing arm, connecting with Terrell Jana, Reed, and Dubois as the Hoos marched down the field. After a 4-yard pickup from Jana, Perkins placed a perfect ball down the middle to Dubois for a 39-yard gain. A sack, a 10-yard completion to Reed, and another PI call against the Irish put Virginia at the ND 16.
Then this happened:
Virginia’s defense held the Irish to a three-and-out to end the first half, taking a lead into the break. The halftime lead was Virginia’s first against an FBS team of the season.
Perkins went 18-for-22 in the first half for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The rushing game was nonexistent as the Hoos totaled -2 yards for the first 30 minutes.
Mendenhall rolled the dice to open the second half, electing to go for the onside kick. It paid off, with All-American corner Bryce Hall corralling the kick and giving Virginia good field position. After a 10-yard pick up from Wayne Taulapapa, Virginia sputtered with a Perkins sack, short pickup, and false start. Although they were unable to take advantage of the extra possession, punter Nash Griffin and Joey Blount pinned the Irish at their own 2-yard line.
Despite a defensive stop and another drive with favorable field position, the Irish took the lead after a strip fumble that game them possession at the seven yard line. Two plays later, ND made it 21-17, capitalizing on Virginia’s second turnover of the game.
Another lifeless three-and-out led to a Virginia punt, but a muff from the Irish returner gave the Hoos yet another chance in ND territory. Once again, Virginia couldn’t get anything going, and the third drive in enemy territory in the second half ended with no points after a failed 4th-and-1 conversion.
Notre Dame extended its lead to 11 points after Okwara came around blindside nearly untouched and caused Perkins’s third sack-fumble of the game. The Irish got its first touchdown off of an extended drive to make it 35-17, putting the game out of reach with 10:28 remaining.
Virginia’s first points of the second half came on a field goal from Delaney to close within two scores at 35-20 after a four minute drive.
While disheartening to lose a winnable game against a top-10 opponent, the Virginia defense was outstanding. The offensive line continues to be an issue, and one that doesn’t seem to have an easy fix. While Virginia likely won’t face many teams with defensive ends as talented as Notre Dame, Perkins has to improve on ball security and realizing when to release it. The blame shouldn’t land squarely on Perkins’s shoulders — you can’t see hits coming from your blindside and shouldn’t expect them within three seconds of getting the ball — but there are things the senior QB needs to improve upon going forward.
Next up, Virginia has a bye week before traveling to Miami for a Friday night game on October 11.