No. 18 Virginia another big test for No. 10 Notre Dame

Field Level Media

September 25, 2019 at 2:57 pm.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly offered a surprising perspective this week.

He said Saturday afternoon’s game between No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1) and No. 18 Virginia (4-0) will serve as a defining moment for the Fighting Irish — more so than last week’s prime-time showdown against No. 3 Georgia.

Maybe Kelly believes that, or maybe he is trying to get his players to move on from a 23-17 road loss to the Bulldogs. Either way, he knows that another tough opponent awaits when Notre Dame returns home to South Bend, Ind.

“I think our team will define who they are this week because they’re coming off of a game where they were disappointed in their performance,” Kelly told reporters. “So they have a chance to do something about it. …

“Virginia has their attention, there’s no doubt about that.”

The Cavaliers have defeated Pittsburgh, William & Mary, Florida State and Old Dominion to begin the season. They trailed in each of their past two games and had to rally to victory, including a 28-17 comeback effort last week at home against the Monarchs.

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said he is focused on accumulating wins, not style points.

“When you start winning and winning consistently, which we’re starting to do, wins come in all shapes and sizes and forms,” Mendenhall told reporters. “Each one of those game scripts end up adding to a collective that kind of binds your team together. …

“I saw a connection being formed (against Florida State and Old Dominion) that had more depth and substance than could have been formed without the circumstance of being down, needing a play, making the play, and then the collective celebration and investment in each other. And so I think those things will help us have our best chance to be poised and ready in the setting we’re going into.”

It’s a setting that no one on Virginia’s roster has experienced. Mendenhall visited Notre Dame Stadium three times during his tenure with Brigham Young, going 0-3 in those contests.

Cavaliers defensive lineman Eli Hanback said he is looking forward to the pomp and pageantry.

“I think anyone who’s a big college football fan knows about Notre Dame football and their history and their success, and the ‘Touchdown Jesus’ and all that stuff,” Hanback said. “There’s a lot of history that goes into that, and it’s going to be an exciting challenge for us as a team.”

Notre Dame is led on offense by quarterback Ian Book, who has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 828 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Chase Claypool has been his top target with 15 catches for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Defensively, safety Alohi Gilman leads the Fighting Irish with 21 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Meanwhile, speedy Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins has completed 65.3 percent of his pass attempts for 843 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He also leads the team with 193 rushing yards to go along with two scores.

On defense, linebacker Jordan Mack has five of Virginia’s 20 sacks on the season. Linebacker Zane Zandier and defensive back Nick Grant have each scored off interceptions.