Notre Dame 2021 Schedule Countdown: No. 8, Virginia
This is the fifth in our 12-part series where we count down Notre Dame’s 2021 strength of schedule by how we view the degree of difficulty, from 12 to one. At No. 8 is the trip to Virginia on Nov. 13.
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall — 129-75 overall (.583): Entering 6th season at Virginia, where he is 30-32
Mendenhall was 99-43 in his 11 seasons at Brigham Young University from 2005-15.
Recruiting Rankings: 2017-21
2017 (58th), 2018 (69th), 2019 (39th), 2020 (59th), 2021 (30th)
2020 Record: 5-5
The Cavaliers finished ninth in the 15-team ACC, where it finished 4-5. They had lost four straight to fall to 1-4 before upsetting then No. 15-ranked North Carolina 44-41 to begin a four-game winning streak.
The season ended at .500 with a 33-15 defeat at arch rival Virginia Tech, which marked the 16th time in the last 17 years the Hokies won in what has become a lopsided series much like Ohio State-Michigan.
Did You Know …
From 2013-19, the seven-team Coastal Division was represented in the ACC Championship by each of the seven teams. Virginia was the most recent in 2019 — the one time it defeated Virginia Tech.
Last year because of the pandemic and Notre Dame a temporary full member in football, there were no Coastal and Atlantic Divisions, and the Irish lost to Clemson 34-10 in the ACC Championship.
2021 Capsule Summary
Similar to two years ago with Bryce Perkins, Virginia has one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks Notre Dame will face this season in southpaw Brennan Armstrong, who passed for 2,117 yards, 18 scores and 11 interceptions last year while also leading the team in rushing with 552 yards. Notre Dame sacked Perkins eight times two years ago to rally from a 17-14 halftime deficit for a 35-20 win, and it might need to apply similar pressure against the mobile Armstrong.
The short passing game includes 5-9, 170-pound slot Billy Kemp IV, whose 67 catches (No. 2 n ACC) netted 644 yards last season. Complementing him at tight end is 6-7, 275 Oklahoma State grad transfer Jelani Woods, who caught 31 passes in his career with the Cowboys. Finding some more firepower in the ground attack and to stretch the field is needed.
Defense could be a problem, although that is Mendenhall’s forte. Standout nose tackle Jowon Briggs— Mendenhall’s top-rated recruit at Virginia (No. 73 nationally in 2019) — transferred to Cincinnati this winter, the linebacking crew needs rebuilding, and the Cavaliers were 123rd among 127 teams last year in passing yards allowed per game (304.4).
Why No. 8 In Countdown
The teams we rated from 12 to nine — Toledo, Navy, Georgia Tech and Purdue — are all at home, where Notre Dame has been unbeaten the past three years, owns a 24-game winning streak overall, and there is a significant gap in overall football personnel.
True on-campus road games against Virginia, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Florida State will all have their own different set of challenges for Notre Dame, particularly based on the timing of the game.
The Virginia game comes late enough in the year (Nov. 13) where Notre Dame’s rebuilding offensive line, new quarterback and new defensive coordinator situations should be finding their stride, and the Irish also have been unbeaten the past three Novembers. Plus, among the four true road games we mentioned, Virginia might have the least on paper — although Mendenhall has proven himself as an outstanding head coach through the years.
The Cavaliers gave Notre Dame good battles in their previous two meetings, an 11th-hour 34-27 loss in 2015 and a 35-20 defeat in 2018 despite leading 17-14 at halftime. Still, this is the type of game where we could see the Irish entering as at least 10-to-14-point favorites if preseason projections hold to form.
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