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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 28, 2019 7:30 pm

No. 10 Notre Dame beats No. 18 Virginia, 35-20

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND –

How it Happened 

Notre Dame won the toss and deferred, giving the ball to Virginia to start the game. The Cavaliers immediately went about proving they belonged. A simple out route turned into a 43-yard gain when linebacker Julian Okwara was caught out of position. Okwara had a chance to knock the ball away, but instead ended up behind the play and wide receiver Joe Reed sprinted down the middle of the field into Notre Dame territory. Virginia drove inside the Irish 10 and on a third-and-goal, quarterback Bryce Perkins rolled to his left. Notre Dame seemed to have everyone covered, but Paul Moala broke off from covering Reed to chase Perkins and the quarterback lofted the ball over Moala's head to a wide-open Reed for a 6-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Cavaliers lead.

Undaunted, the Irish responded with a scoring drive of their own. It was a long, sustained possession, covering 75 yards in 13 plays that included four third-down conversions. Notre Dame's biggest play was a 28-yard crossing route from Ian Book to Chris Finke, a terrific throw by Book, but outside of that the Irish moved down the field in small chunks, with no gain longer than eight yards. That was how they scored the touchdown, as well, with Tony Jones Jr. going up the middle for five yards and a touchdown to knot the score at 7. Jones looked to be stacked up at the line, but cut back to daylight nicely.

The Cavaliers once again drove into Irish territory on the ensuing possession as Perkins continued to make the going difficult for the Notre Dame defense. With the ball on the ND 46, however, Okwara made up for his earlier miscue. The defensive came around the edge and drilled Perkins, jarring the ball loose. Okwara pounced on the fumble himself, recovering it and giving the Irish the ball back near midfield.

The Irish offense took advantage, marching easily down the field with some help from a pass interference penalty on the Cavaliers. Deep in Virginia territory, redshirt freshman running back C'Bo Flemister took over. Flemister first caught a swing pass and picked his way 13 yards for a first down at the UVA 11. On the next play, Flemister took a handoff and ran through the right side, breaking a pair of tackles and carrying a Cavalier defender into the end zone for his second touchdown of the season and a 14-7 Notre Dame lead. The drive took just four plays and 1:36.

Virginia drove again in the second quarter, with Perkins handling the ball on nearly every play. The Irish didn't give up anything easily, making Virginia move down the field in small increments. After three third-down conversions, the Cavaliers settled for a field goal from 32 yards out that split the uprights to make it 14-10. The drive took 16 plays and covered 61 yards, with Perkins either throwing or running 14 times. 

The Irish got the ball with 2:30 remaining in the first half and a chance to extend their lead before the teams went into the locker room. Instead, Notre Dame went three and out, taking just 38 seconds off the clock and punting the ball back to Virginia. The Cavaliers made that hurt, as Perkins hit Hasise DuBois deep over the middle for a 39-yard gain into Irish territory. Later in the drive, DuBois ran flag route into the end zone and Perkins hit him with a perfect throw. Shaun Crawford was in tight coverage and raked at the ball, but DuBois somehow held on and got a foot down for a 16-yard touchdown and a 17-14 Cavalier lead at halftime. It had taken just 1:47 from the time the Irish got the ball with a chance to extend their lead to Virginia scoring.

Notre Dame was set to receive the kickoff in the second half, but the Cavaliers came out of the locker room looking for a knockout punch and pooched a surprise onside kick to the right side. The Irish were caught unaware and Virginia recovered without a fight. There was no Notre Dame player in the area and the Cavaliers took over at midfield. 

That play put Notre Dame on the ropes, but the defense responded to the test. The Irish first forced a punt, but Notre Dame went nowhere and punted it right back. A nice return gave Virginia the ball in Irish territory. Once again, however, the defense stepped up, this time doing more than forcing a punt. Defensive end Jamir Jones, playing in place of the injured Daelin Hayes, rushed off the edge and hit Perkins from his blind side, jarring the ball loose again. It was Jones' first career forced fumble and it was picked up in the air by Notre Dame defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who sprinted the other way with nothing but green in front of him. Perkins picked himself up and sprinted after the ball-carrier, eventually catching Tagovailoa-Amosa inside the 10-yard line and bringing him down. It was a terrific hustle play, but it turned out to be fruitless.

After Notre Dame took over, Jones Jr. did the rest rushing twice, with the second carry a 2-yard cutback run into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. The score gave the Irish a 21-17 lead, a frankly shocking development after it looked like the Cavaliers were set to take control of the game.

Later in the third quarter, the Notre Dame defense came up huge again. On a first down from the Virginia 32, Perkins dropped back to throw. For the second time in the game, Okwara blasted around the end and nailed the unsuspecting quarterback, knocking the ball loose. This time, he didn't pounce it himself, but Irish defensive lineman Ade Ogundeji picked it up off the grounded and sprinted untouched the other way, 28 yards for a touchdown and a 28-17 margin. It was an athletic play by Ogundeji, who could have simply fallen on the ball, but went for the home run with the scoop and got it.

The Irish pressure didn't let up in the fourth quarter. Early in the quarter, Perkins dropped back again and again the Irish hit him. It was Jones coming off the edge to score another big blow. Perkins heard the footsteps and rushed the throw, barely getting it off over the middle, where safety Alohi Gilman was waiting to pick it off for another Irish turnover.

On the ensuing drive, the Irish put the game away as the Cavaliers defense appeared tired. Jones Jr. broke a 28-yard run to midfield and later a 30-yard touchdown run through a massive hole in the left side of the line. He high-stepped through a tackle on his way to the end zone and the Irish went in front 35-17 with 10 minutes remaining, essentially icing the game.

Player of the Game: Julian Okwara

The Irish defensive end came into the season with huge expectations and after a relatively quiet first three weeks exploded today. The senior had a career-high three sacks and an additional quarterback hurry. On two of those sacks, he also forced fumbles and he recovered one of those fumbles himself. His strip sacks were two of the biggest plays of the game.

Facts and Figures

Notre Dame has won 13 straight home games, the third-longest Irish streak since Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930. ... Virginia has lost 13 consecutive matchups against top 10 opponents, a streak that dates back to 2005. The Cavaliers, who suffered their first loss after a 4-0 start, have not started 5-0 since 2004. ... Virginia came in with 20 sacks this season, tied for the most of any team in the country (Ohio State, Florida). The Cavaliers had four sacks today. ... The Irish had eight sacks and 13 TFLs. In addition to Okwara's three sacks, Khalid Kareem had 2 1/2. ... In the second half, Virginia had 105 yards of total offense. ... Jones Jr. had 17 carries a career-high for 131 yards, his second 100-yard performance of the season and third of his career. He scored a career-high three touchdowns. ... Virginia entered the game giving up just 2.2 yards per rush, the 11th-best mark in the country. Notre Dame ran for 178 yards on 35 carries, a 5.1-yard average. ... Notre Dame held the Cavaliers running backs to 33 rushing yards on 13 carries. ... Irish running backs have gone 1,187 carries dating back to 2015 without losing a fumble, the longest active streak in the country. ... Notre Dame has gone 17 straight games without giving up more than 30 points, tied for the longest active streak in the country with Washington. ... Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard was at the game in a scouting capacity.

What's Next?

The Irish are back at Notre Dame Stadium in Week 6 on Oct. 5, taking on Bowling Green. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC. The Falcons (1-3) are in their first year under new coach Scot Loeffler and will be coming off a bye. The only Power Five team they've played so far is Kansas State, which blasted them 52-0.

dsinn@jg.net