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Keys to victory: Notre Dame at Virginia

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Keys to victory for Saturday night's matchup between Notre Dame and Virginia.


Armstrong’s health: Virginia could be without the nation’s second-leading passer Brennan Armstrong, who is dealing with an apparent rib injury. Armstrong has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this campaign, earning consideration for the Davey O’Brien Award, Maxwell Award, Manning Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. If he can play, the Cavaliers can operate as they’d like to with their trusted, proven starter. But if he can’t, it’s likely that freshman Jay Woolfolk, a former Benedictine College Prep standout, steps in. UVa offensive coordinator Robert Anae said Woolfork and Amstrong have similar skill sets. Woolfolk has only made three appearances in his young career to this point, though.

Spread it around: Regardless of whether it’s Armstrong or Woolfolk behind center, UVa needs to do what it does best and incorporate all of its weapons to thin out the Irish defense. The Cavaliers have five different receivers with at least 400 receiving yards and four different pass-catchers with multiple touchdown grabs this fall. Keeping Billy Kemp, Keytaon Thompson, Dontayvion Wicks, Jelani Woods and Ra’Shaun Henry involved only will make it tougher for Notre Dame to sort out how to do defend UVa on any given snap. Virginia leads the country in total offense (545.2 yards per game) and is tied for 11th for scoring (38.9 points per game).

Improve tackling: UVa defensive coordinator Nick Howell said the Cavaliers continued to work on the fundamentals of assignments and tackling on the heels of their 66-49 loss at BYU through the bye week and into their preparation for Notre Dame. The Cougars racked up 734 yards of total offense, and to avoid some of the long plays against Notre Dame that UVa allowed to BYU, the Cavaliers hope to clean up their tackling.

Notre Dame

Pick Buchner’s spot: Earlier this week, Irish coach Brian Kelly said freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner’s role keeps evolving and to this point the Fighting Irish have found the right time in their games to turn to Buchner for a spark. He led their first touchdown drive last week against Navy and had a stellar performance on the road at Virginia Tech last month when he rushed for a score and threw for another. If Jack Coan can’t create offense, Kelly may have to call on Buchner earlier than Notre Dame has before in order to keep pace with the Cavaliers’ No. 1-ranked offense.

Take the ball away: Notre Dame is tied for eighth in the country in interceptions with 12 this season. The Irish are opportunistic under first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and they can kill good drives — if UVa racks up yards like it usually does — with one play by turning the Cavaliers over.

Run Williams often: The last standout running back to face UVa was BYU’s Tyler Allgeier, who carried for 266 yards and five touchdowns in the Cougars’ home victory two Saturdays ago. Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams is tied for 35th nationally with 802 yards on the ground, and his nine rushing scores are also tied for the 35th most in the country. Until Virginia proves it can tackle, the Fighting Irish should test the Cavaliers with Williams. Running Williams frequently could also help put time of possession in Notre Dame’s favor and keep the ball away from Anae’s offense.


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