Grading Brian Kelly, Notre Dame football in win over Virginia

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Make it 40 in a row.

Notre Dame has beaten 40-straight unranked opponents, the longest streak in the nation. The latest victim was Virginia(6-4) in a 28-3 rout of the Cavaliers on the home field.

Here is how the No. 9 Fighting Irish (9-1) graded out in the victory.

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Notre Dame Passing Offense: A-

At this point, we have to accept the Notre Dame passing offense for what it is. It’s never going to be a consistent 300-to-400-yard gainer. Heck, it only accumulated 174 passing yards against Virginia. But it’s effective. And it scores. Graduate senior quarterback Jack Coan threw three touchdown passes. He had a passer rating of 169.9. Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner was 3-of-4 for 42 yards. He had a passer rating of 163.2. The only mistake Notre Dame made in the passing game was Coan’s interception on an overthrow in the third quarter. It didn’t connect on many big plays; the longest through the air was a 22-yard pass to sophomore tight end Michael Mayer. But Mayer, senior Kevin Austin Jr. and senior Braden Lenzy did enough in the receiving grade for this unit to warrant another A.

Notre Dame Rushing Offense: A+

How do you want to frame it? Let’s try a few ways. Notre Dame had 249 rushing yards, and its leading rusher (junior running back Kyren Williams) only had 70. Notre Dame had 249 rushing yards and Williams, the lead back, only had 14 carries. Notre Dame had 249 rushing yards, and Buchner, a born-to-run rushing attack specialist, only had 10. Whatever way you choose, it was impressive. The final total was aided by two end-around plays, one to Lenzy for 31 yards and another to freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles for 37 yards. That one would have been a touchdown if not for a holding penalty. Freshman running back Logan Diggs are turned into a true No. 2 option. He had nine carries for 64 yards. Sophomore Chris Tyree had six carries for 32 yards. Notre Dame could do no wrong in the ground game.

Notre Dame football

Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams ran for a game-high 70 yards in the win over Virginia. (Keith Lucas/BGI)

Notre Dame Passing Defense: A-

The task got significantly easier when it became official Notre Dame would face true freshman Jay Woolfolk and not junior Brennan Armstrong. The former had only previously attempted seven passes. The latter ranked second in the country in passing yards per game through Week 10 with 395.2. Woolfolk wasn’t great. He looked like a true freshman largely because the Notre Dame offensive line flustered him often. But he still completed six passes of 15 yards or more, twice as many as Notre Dame. The Irish held him to 18-of-33 (54.5%) through the air. He didn’t throw any touchdowns and was picked off twice. Senior receiver Keytaon Thompson caught nine passes for 110 yards. Had Notre Dame done a better job on him, maybe the Irish would have warranted an A+. Instead we’ll leave it at an A-. Marginal room for improvement.

Notre Dame Rushing Defense: A-

Virginia’s final rushing numbers line looks a little misleading. The box score will tell you the Cavaliers ran 30 times for 82 yards. Factor in sack yards for Woolfolk, though, and it’s a little bit of a different story. Notre Dame sacked Woolfolk seven times for a loss of 34 yards. The official scoresheet says Woolfolk ran 16 times for 15 yards, but he really ran for 49 yards. Again, not super impressive from Virginia’s standpoint. Especially considering the other three players credited with rushing attempts tallied 14 carries for 67 yards (4.8 yards per carry). Those are decent numbers, but not good enough to carry a team. The Irish were their usual stingy selves in stopping the run. Like with the passing defense, though, this unit left just a little to be desired. The Cavaliers gained 10 or more yards on the ground five times. Woolfolk had two of those gains. Cut those out, and this is another A+.

Notre Dame Special Teams: A

As is often the case with Notre Dame’s special teams if we could assign an incomplete grade we would. Senior kicker Jonathan Doerer didn’t attempt a field goal. Junior punter Jay Bramblett was used once. It was an OK kick of 42 yards. Tyree returned one kick for 14 yards. Williams didn’t return any punts. The Irish didn’t let Virginia get any big wins on special teams, which is a major part of the “A” grade. The Cavaliers had kick returns of 23 and 22 yards. They were 1-of-2 on field goal attempts. Nothing major. Not much to see here. Take the A and run with it.

Notre Dame Coaching: A

Twenty-five-point road wins are always nice. Coaching generally has much to do with them. Head coach Brian Kelly said it himself after the game. Notre Dame is getting better every week. This isn’t the same Irish team that barely beat Toledo in Week Two and lost to Cincinnati a few weeks later. The offense is consistently getting A grades in these report cards. So is the defense. And, thus, so is the coaching staff. This is a Notre Dame team that has won five games in a row and is poised to finish the season on a seven-game winning streak. Twenty-five-point road wins are nice. And so are seven-game winning streaks. Notre Dame just for the former. The latter is within reach. And that is a major credit to Kelly and this coaching staff.

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1 Comment
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