Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Virginia
A look at a few players to watch in Saturday’s game (3:30 EDT on NBC) between No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1) and No. 18 Virginia (4-0) at Notre Dame Stadium.
RB TONY JONES JR., Notre Dame
Running the football has been Notre Dame’s biggest challenge since starter Jafar Armstrong went down with an abdominal injury. Jones has been the workhorse back in Armstrong’s absence, though that isn’t saying much. All nine carries from the Irish running backs against Georgia came from Jones, who turned them into just 21 yards. ND’s offensive line wasn’t necessarily the issue either. To restore balance into the Irish offense, Jones must find a way to help establish the running game. That could prove to be challenging against a Virginia run defense that ranks No. 12 nationally.
DE JULIAN OKWARA, Notre Dame
A total of 21 quarterback hurries and eight sacks left Okwara unsatisfied after last season. He believed that had he finished plays better, a handful of those hurries would have resulted in sacks. Still sack-less for the 2019 season, Okwara has fallen victim to offenses scheming for him. Quarterbacks are releasing the ball quickly to avoid potential sacks from Okwara and fellow defensive end Khalid Kareem. Finishing will especially be the focus against UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins. His elusiveness in the pocket and rushing ability makes him difficult to bring down, but he has been sacked seven times this season. Okwara will have opportunities against a struggling UVA offensive line.
QB BRYCE PERKINS, Virginia
Former Oklahoma quarterback and No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft Kyler Murray was one of two quarterbacks to throw for more than 2,600 yards and rush for at least 900 yards last season. The other? Cavalier quarterback Bryce Perkins. He’s on pace to be close to those numbers again and looks to run often, carrying the ball at least 12 times in three of UVA’s four games. The Irish have yet to prove themselves against a running quarterback. ND’s linebackers will be key, needing to remain disciplined when plays break down or Perkins looks to run.
OLB CHARLES SNOWDEN, Virginia
Outside linebacker Charles Snowden heads UVA’s tenacious defense. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound junior plays a major role in the Cavaliers scheme tying for first in sacks and tying for fifth in tackles for a loss nationally. Snowden’s career-high 15 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against Old Dominion last Saturday earned him Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week recognition. Quarterback Ian Book will have to account for Snowden, who could create havoc as a pass-rusher and blitzer. Look for Snowden to also help make the Irish ground game a non-factor again.