Cotton Bowl Football

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book runs the ball against Clemson during the Cotton Bowl last season.

The Virginia football team almost pulled off an upset for the ages the last time it faced Notre Dame.

In 2015, the Cavaliers scored to go up, 27-26, with less than two minutes to play in a game in Scott Stadium. But with 12 seconds left in regulation, then Notre Dame quarterback Deshone Kizer responded with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller. After a successful two-point conversion, the Fighting Irish escaped with a 34-27 victory.

Our 2019 UVa opponent preview series continues with a week-five matchup at Notre Dame. A bye week follows before the Cavaliers hit the road again for a game at Miami.

New offensive weapons

Brandon Wimbush is off to UCF, so Ian Book comes into the season as the unquestioned leader at quarterback after completing 68 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,268 yards and 19 touchdowns a year ago. But Notre Dame has to replace its leading receiver and rusher.

After hauling in eight touchdown passes a year ago, Miles Boykin was a third-round pick of the Ravens. His downfield ability will be missed, but Chase Claypool steps in as Book’s most likely No. 1 target after hauling in 50 passes for 638 yards last fall. Slot receiver Chris Finke also is back after catching 49 passes last season.

Dexter Williams got off to a slow start last season, but he put it together late in the year, finished with 995 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and was a sixth-round pick of the Packers. After scoring seven touchdowns a year ago, junior Jafar Armstrong will get the first shot at replacing him. Former wide receiver Tony Jones adds a burst to the backfield and will also see some snaps.

Loaded secondary

Notre Dame returns six of its top 10 tacklers from last season, and three of them reside in the secondary. Senior safety Alohi Gilman is a likely 2020 NFL Draft pick who led the Irish last season with 94 tackles. Fellow safety Jalen Elliott also returns after leading the team with four interceptions.

Last season’s top cornerback, Julian Love, was a fourth-round pick of the Giants, but junior Troy Pride has NFL size and has a reputation as a big hitter. Six-foot-3 senior Donte Vaughn and 6-foot sophomore Houston Griffith are competing to replace Love.

Game-deciding matchup

Virginia’s defensive front will face what may be the best offensive line it sees all season. The Fighting Irish return four starters up front, led by 6-foot-6, 319-pound guard Tommy Kraemer and 6-6, 305-pound left tackle Liam Eichenberg. Both will likely be high-end picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. The only position the Irish have to replace is center. Virginia’s defensive line rotation is sure to be put to the test, and if the Cavaliers have a hope of leaving South Bend with an upset, they’re going to have to find a way to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and put pressure on Book.

Series

Virginia is 0-2 all-time against Notre Dame. The teams last played in 2015 – former UVa head coach Mike London’s final season.

Relevance

Notre Dame isn’t officially in the ACC, but it may as well be. Virginia is one of five teams from the conference the Fighting Irish play this season. The Cavaliers head to South Bend the week after Notre Dame has to travel to Georgia. That could work out in UVa’s favor if the Irish come out of that one beat up and despondent. Or the Irish could pull off an offset and welcome the Wahoos with a near immeasurable level of confidence. Either way, the Cavaliers will have to contend with the best quarterback and offensive line it will have seen to that point in the season, but Notre Dame is very much considered one of college football’s big boys and a win would go down as one of the biggest in program history.

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