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Poor offensive line play exposed UVA in loss at Notre Dame

uva footballUVA’s 35-20 loss at Notre Dame on Saturday basically came down to two plays, both in the third quarter.

After the ‘Hoos defense held following a punt downed at the 2, Virginia got the ball back on the plus side of the field, at the Notre Dame 38.

Bryce Perkins was incomplete on the first two plays of the next series, failing to connect on passes to Terrell Jana and Joe Reed.

On third down, Perkins dropped back to pass, and was sacked at the 44, and fumbled, and Myron Tagovailoa picked the fumble up and ran it inside the UVA 10.

Two plays later, the Irish scored, and took a 21-17 lead.

Later in the third, on a first down at the UVA 32, Perkins, back to pass, was strip-sacked again, and this time Ade Ogundeji took the ball to the house, scoring from 23 yards, and just like that, it was 28-17 Notre Dame.

Through three quarters, UVA was outgaining Notre Dame 255-195. Perkins was 23-of-30 passing for 264 yards and two touchdowns.

Virginia was dominating time of possession: 27:32 to 17:28.

But the Irish had sacked Perkins eight times already, and forced four UVA turnovers, which they had converted into three scores.

A Perkins INT in the fourth quarter would set up another Notre Dame touchdown.

It was moot by that point.

“Turnovers changes games. Certainly with five on the day, I think we would say, go Notre Dame, you turn it over five times, you’ll win. That would be uncommon if that happens,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Our ball security is tied directly to pass rush in four-man rush situations, which is what the defense would love. If you can pressure the quarterback and still play coverage, there’s relatively no risk.”

And that was the point of frustration on the Virginia sideline. It wasn’t exotic blitz packages or elaborate schemes that did the UVA offense in.

The Notre Dame defense came in having registered a total of four sacks all season long, and had looked vulnerable against the rush, giving up a very noticeable 258 yards on the ground in a 35-17 season-opening win at Louisville on Labor Day.

The Irish finished with the eight sacks of Perkins, and adjusting the run-game totals for sack yardage, gave up just 59 yards rushing to Virginia on 21 attempts.

“We had to get a great pass rush, and we had to contain him with our front four,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We had to put our corners on an island quite a bit and force him to throw the football. Which he did, give him credit, first half he was great.

“In the second half we were able to get to him quickly, and he had to get the ball out of his hand quickly and that was really the difference in the game for us,” Kelly said. “They could not run the ball between the tackles when they wanted to run the football with a five-and-a-half-man box. If they could, that would have required us to do other things.”

This will make you cry reading it, if you’re a Virginia fan.

What Kelly is telling you there is, he was gambling giving up yards to the conventional run game in the second half to try to take away Perkins, who was 18-of-22 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, which ended with UVA up 17-14 going into the locker room.

A five-and-a-half-man box – defenders lined up between the tackles within five yards of the line of scrimmage – is an open invitation to run, run and run some more.

And Virginia couldn’t do it, not consistently, not at all.

Nor could the offensive line offer the barest protection for Perkins, who lost 55 yards on sack yardage, was only able to gain 26 yards on eight attempts on designed runs, and was just 12-of-21 passing for 99 yards and two interceptions in the second half.

“We have some weaknesses to expose. If we had executed better in those areas, we would have had a chance to win the game. I still think that,” Mendenhall said. “However, eight sacks, five turnovers, those numbers are substantial, and let’s say — four turnovers in the second half, too much to overcome. If we can sustain the play, the way we played the first half, against a really good team on the road — (we can be) at the top of our league and have national prominence.”

But, not without better play, much better play, from the offensive line.

That’s the bottom line.

Story by Chris Graham