Notre Dame Opponent Preview: Virginia Cavaliers Defense


Malik Zaire and Notre Dame face the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

In what was a surprising display to some, Notre Dame’s offensive line easily contained the Texas defensive line and the rest of the Longhorn defense. Malik Zaire was in top form and put up some incredible numbers against a defense that was supposed to challenge the Irish. In the end, it was the Irish offense that proved their worth putting up 527 total yards ( 313 passing and 214 rushing). Now, Notre Dame moves onto their second opponent of the young season, the Virginia Cavaliers. This is only the second time these two teams have met. The first time was in 1989, where Notre Dame out gained the Cavaliers 333-60 in route to a 36-13 victory.

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Virginia faced a very tough opening game at UCLA a week ago and fell 34-16. They gave up 503 total yards, which currently ranks 103 in total defense. They also gave up 351 yards passing. Virginia does play tough at home, but it may be too tall a task for the Cavalier defense to hang with the Irish offense for 60 minutes. Virgina lost 13 players on defense, including 6 starters. They do retain 17 players, including 5 starters and most of their returning players have some experience and are upperclassmen. Virgina uses a 4-3 scheme and is coached by former Notre Dame assistant coach John Tenuta, who was with the Irish from 2008-2009.

Virginia Cavaliers Defensive Line

The Cavalier’s defensive line isn’t as talented as Texas, but does have some solid contributors that come off the edge. They’re coached by another familiar face Jappy Oliver, who was with Notre Dame from 2005-08 and he will most certainly be looking to get the better of his former team. Junior Donte Wilkins and senior David Dean are to solid athletes at the defensive tackle position. Look for either to challenge the Irish this weekend as both were impact players a season ago. Last year, Dean had a decent 8 TFL’s and he is most likely the biggest threat to the Notre Dame offensive line. It’s going to be hard to fill the hole that defensive tackle Eli Harold left as well, so look for Virginia to occasionally rotate that spot. Though, sophomore Andrew Brown will more than likely see the majority of reps. Brown was hampered by injuries as a freshman, but many are saying he could develop into a very good player if he can stay healthy. Overall, Notre Dame shouldn’t see too much trouble from the Cavs defensive line. The edge goes to the Irish offensive line here.

Virginia Cavaliers Linebackers

If there’s one weak spot in the Cavalier defense, it’s definitely in the linebacker corps. They are coming into the season needing to replace all 3 of their starting linebackers, including OLB Max Valles. ILB Micah Kiser had a great showing against the Bruins, leading the defense with 12 total tackles including 1 for a loss. Both OLB’s Zach Bradshaw and Malcolm Cook only combined for 3 tackles. Notre Dame needs to make sure they take advantage of Virginia’s shaky linebacker unit. Kiser won’t be able to do everything on his own, so there’s a chance the Irish could run wild against them.

Virginia Cavaliers Secondary

Virginia’s secondary is arguably their best defensive unit, led by star sophomore free safety Quin Blanding. Just a season ago he was named to the All ACC second team and was one of only 2 freshman to start at least one game (he started all 12). What really stands out is he finished second in the ACC and 12th nationally with 123 tackles as well as grabbing 3 interceptions. This former 5-star recruit will definitely need to be heavily scrutinized by the Irish. They will need to be aware of his presence at all times this saturday. He’s a big play just waiting to happen. Blanding has already started off his 2015 campaign with 10 tackles with 1 for a loss. They also have a talented strong safety, junior Wilfred Wahee and solid cornerbacks, Demetrious Nicholson who is 6’2″ and is great in man coverage situations. Opposite of Nicholson is the very athletic Maurice Canady, who could challenge some of Notre Dame’s quicker wide outs. Virginia has some depth at corner with having Kevin Rainey as well. Look for the Cavaliers to try to keep them in rotation to give them fresh looks against Notre Dame’s speedy and intelligent receivers.

By the end of the game, Notre Dame could have another 500 yard performance if they can keep up the same intensity like they did a week ago against Texas. The Cavs do have some talent on defense and home field advantage, but I don’t think it will be enough to hold an extremely gifted Notre Dame offense at bay. Look for the Irish to win big Saturday.

Stats pulled from