Sep 12, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers running back Taquan Mizzell (4) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9), Fighting Irish cornerback Devin Butler (12), and Fighting Irish linebacker James Onwualu (17) while carrying the ball in the first quarter at Scott Stadium. The Fighting Irish won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The linebackers were, for the most part, what we expected. Junior captain Jaylon Smith was everywhere, and made multiple plays on screen passes that, if they had not been made, might have resulted in huge Virginia plays. He led the team in tackles with 11 and in tackles-for-loss with 2.5. Senior captain Joe Schmidt and junior James Onwualu added 6 and 3 tackles, respectively, but did get lost in coverage a few times. Onwualu was on the receiving end of a bad burn courtesy of a 38-yard pass to Canaan Severin in the second quarter, but it’s unlikely that was his fault, as it made no sense for a linebacker to be covering Virginia’s best wide receiver in the first place, implying there was a blown assignment or miscommunication somewhere.
Overall, the linebackers played fairly well. Smith was his usual All-American self, and the rest of his crew generally did what was asked of them. However, they were not spectacular, especially when blitzing and in coverage, and they will absolutely need to play better as a unit against Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple option offense, which will not be something Smith can stop all on his own.
Next: Grade: Secondary