SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall spent the offseason searching for a replacement for workhorse running back Jordan Ellis.
Five games into the season, the search continues.
On Saturday, Notre Dame limited Virginia to minus-two yards on the ground in the first half. Quarterback Bryce Perkins’ 15-yard scramble on a broken play highlighted the rushing attack early, but all the sacks and tackles for loss racked up by the Irish negated it.
“We have to generate a more consistent running game,” Mendenhall said. “It can’t only be quarterback driven. When we hand the ball off, we have to run it effectively and get yards.”
Going into Saturday’s game, Virginia’s 133.5 rushing yards a game ranked No. 13 in the ACC. Only Pittsburgh averaged fewer yards with 126, but after the Cavaliers managed just four on the ground at Notre Dame, they may take on the title of the conference’s worst rushing team this week.
On Saturday, Perkins gained 30 yards on 16 carries, but all the sacks and negative plays left him with minus-29 when all was said and done. Wayne Taulapapa put up 31 yards on 10 carries, PK Kier added two rushes for minus-one yard and Joe Reed’s only carry went for three yards.
The bye week will be all about figuring out the running game.
“I think this game really opened our eyes,” Perkins said. “I’m sure we’re going to get it right, and whatever the game calls for, that’s what it will be.”
Stealing a possession
Mendenhall said he felt like the Cavaliers needed to “steal a possession or two” on Saturday to beat Notre Dame, and coming out of the locker room for the second half, they did just that.
Virginia opened the third quarter with an onside kick, which was recovered by cornerback Bryce Hall.
“We saw it during the week in preparation and I was just trying to find the right time,” said Mendenhall, who said he was close to calling it in the first half. “With us kicking off the second half, I wanted to get the ball and score. The first part worked out well.”
Hall said he knew the Cavaliers had the look they wanted as soon as they lined up for the kick.
“We saw they tended to pull their end guys back and it was the perfect time to call it,” Hall said.
Virginia worked on the onside kick all week in practice, and it worked as well then as it did on Saturday. The Cavaliers just couldn’t capitalize with points.
“I’m not calling it in the game if it doesn’t look like that in practice,” Mendenhall said.
» Joe Reed’s 43-yard reception, which set up Virginia’s first touchdown, was his longest catch of the season.
» Reed tied his career high with receptions in first half and set a new mark with his only catch of the second half.
» Junior Matt Gahm started at outside linebacker on Saturday and made an impact right away. He pressured Notre Dame’s Ian Book on the Irish’s first play from scrimmage and came up with a big tackle later in the drive.
» After missing last week’s game with a hand injury that he suffered against Florida State, Olusegen Oluwatimi started at center on Saturday and played the entire game.
» Virginia had given up just seven sacks through its first four games. On Saturday, the Cavaliers gave up eight.
» Saturday’s attendance at Notre Dame Stadium was 77,622.