By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Over the last week, there’s been considerable talk about field goals among those who follow University of Virginia football. The young man who takes those kicks for the Cavaliers, Ian Frye, does not take the chatter personally.
“I love field goals,” Frye, a graduate student, said after practice Thursday. “But at the same time I love extra points. Seeing the team do well and going out and hitting that last point through, it’s a great feeling.
“I’d trade every field goal that I had for an extra point every time.”
Virginia opened the season last weekend with a 34-16 loss to No. 13 UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. At halftime, the Wahoos had nine points Ã¢â‚¬” to 17 for the Bruins Ã¢â‚¬” after seeing three drives stall and settling for Frye field goals of 42, 32 and 19 yards.
Frye understands the frustration. For him, the perfect game might be one in which he kicked five extra points, he said, as well as several field goals.
“The more points we score, the better,” said Frye, who was ably assisted in the opener by sophomore holder Andrew Mackay and sophomore long-snapper Tyler Shirley. “I like the opportunities that I’ve been given with field goals, but extra points are great, and I love winning.”
For the UVa offense, the next opportunity to turn drives into touchdowns comes Saturday. At 3:30 p.m., in a game to be nationally televised on ABC, Virginia hosts ninth-ranked Notre Dame (1-0). A capacity crowd is expected at Scott Stadium for the Fighting Irish’s first-ever game in this state.
“I think it’ll be a great atmosphere,” said senior offensive guard Ross Burbank, one of Virginia’s four captains. “Scott Stadium’s going to be rocking on Saturday, so I’m really excited for it.”
Not only have the Irish never played in Charlottesville, their coach, Brian Kelly, has never visited the city.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Kelly said Wednesday on a teleconference. “I hear it’s a great town, great restaurants, great music, great culture.”
By the time the calendar flips to October, Virginia will have faced three opponents ranked in the latest Associated Press poll Ã¢â‚¬” UCLA, Notre Dame and No. 20 Boise State, which plays at Scott Stadium on Sept. 25.
“We embrace the challenge,” UVa head coach Mike London said. “There’s nowhere else to go. You can’t go around it. You can’t go under it. You have to approach this with the type of mindset that the next team we’re playing is a team that we’re going to have to play at a high level [against] and execute.”
London called UCLA “one of the better teams I’ve seen in a long, long while.” If the polls are to be believed, the Irish may be better than the Bruins. That Notre Dame has a more storied tradition than UCLA is indisputable.
“They’re a marquee team,” Virginia junior safety Wilfred Wahee said of the Irish, who throttled Texas 38-3 last weekend in South Bend, Ind.
Still, Wahee said, it’s important for the ‘Hoos to keep an even keel Saturday. “Can’t get too caught up in the opponent, the helmet, all that,” he said. “Don’t get too lost in the hype.”
Johns said: “You have to just treat it like another game, because on our [schedule], that’s what it is. They’re the next challenge ahead of us, and that’s how we’re going to face it.”
Burbank agreed. “We’re more concerned with their players than their past accomplishments,” he said.
Of particular concern to the ‘Hoos when Notre Dame has the ball will be quarterback Malik Zaire. He passed for 313 yards and three touchdowns against Texas, completing 19 of 22 attempts, but he’s far from one-dimensional.
Zaire rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown in Notre Dame’s win over LSU in last season’s Music City Bowl.
“We’re expecting a lot of run,” Virginia linebacker Zach Bradshaw said. “Rush lanes are huge, especially when there’s a mobile quarterback back there.”
Against Texas, Notre Dame totaled 527 yards: 313 passing and 214 rushing. The Irish lost their leading rusher from 2014, Tarean Folston, to a season-ending knee injury Saturday, but C.J. Prosise filled in admirably. A Petersburg resident who graduated from Woodberry Forest School, Prosise carried 20 times for 98 yards against the Longhorns.
“He’s a big back with great speed,” Kelly said of the 220-pound Prosise, a former UVa recruiting target.
Notre Dame’s other weapons include wide receiver Will Fuller, who had seven catches for 142 yards and two TDs in the opener. Slowing the Irish is “going to be a challenge,” UVa safety Kelvin Rainey said, “but we just have to play our defense.”
Under coordinator Jon Tenuta, that defense has become known for applying intense pressure to quarterbacks. Against UCLA, however, the ‘Hoos sacked Josh Rosen only once and rarely bothered the heralded true freshman.
“You try to affect the throwing lanes, the passing lanes, with pressure,” London said, “but I thought he did an outstanding job of being able to handle the pressure. Obviously you want to get to the quarterback and you want to find ways to put hands in the throwing lane, knock passes down.”
When the ‘Hoos have the ball, they’ll face a formidable Notre Dame front seven led by 6-2, 240-pound linebacker Jaylon Smith. Against UCLA, Johns passed for 238 yards and one TD, and Mizzell had eight receptions for 100 yards, both career highs. But Virginia rushed for only 98 yards (on 34 carries).
For a team that throughout the spring and summer emphasized establishing the run, the opener was a frustrating and humbling experience.
UVa’s tailbacks, Mizzell and Albert Reid, had few holes through which to run. Virginia’s longest run was a 13-yard scramble by Johns.
“Obviously we didn’t get it done,” Burbank said, “but thankfully the season’s more than one game.”
In 2013-14, Notre Dame joined the ACC as a full member in every sport the league offers Ã¢â‚¬” except one. In football, the Irish play five games each regular season against ACC opponents.
Virginia doesn’t play in South Bend until 2019, and by then most of London’s current players will have moved on. The Cavaliers want to make the most of this opportunity, for a variety of reasons.
“As far as this game holding significance for me personally, it does, because it’s the next game,” said senior fullback Vincent Croce, one of the team’s captains. “It’s our first home game. It’s my last first home game of my collegiate career, and we definitely want to give the fans something special. We definitely want to get even in our record book.”
Bradshaw said: “We couldn’t ask for a better opponent.”