SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Virginia isn’t an elite college football team just yet, not that the Cavaliers said they would be.
The Cavaliers came into the weekend with a 4-0 record and a No. 18 ranking, but they were still a 13-point underdog Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
In the end, UVa was a 35-20 loser and dropped to 0-28 in its history in games played against a top-10 opponent on the road.
Could the Cavaliers have won? It certainly looked that way at the half, when Virginia had a 17-14 lead that included touchdown passes to Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois.
That was before a pair of blind-sided — but legal — hits on multi-dimensional UVa quarterback Bryce Perkins.
On the second series of the second half, after Virginia had stopped the Irish on downs, Perkins fumbled after being sacked by Irish defensive lineman Jamir Jones. The ball was recovered by Notre Dame’s Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who took it all the way to the UVa 7. The Irish scored two plays later on a 2-yard run by Tony Jones Jr.
It was still a ballgame until Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara sacked Perkins, and teammate Adetokunbo Ogundeji returned the resulting fumble 23 yards for a touchdown.
Perkins was sacked eight times Saturday. The Cavaliers had given up a total of seven sacks in their first four games, when Perkins had not faced nearly the pounding that he absorbed Saturday.
This is a guy who missed his first two seasons of college ball after suffering a neck injury. He has been relatively injury-free this season and has not showed any trepidation.
But, consider this: Virginia had 72 offensive plays and Perkins was involved in 59 of them — 43 pass attempts and 16 rushes.
The eight sacks counted as rushing attempts for Perkins, whose long run of the day went for 15 yards. Predictably, that was the Cavaliers’ longest run of the day.
“Perkins played flawlessly in the first half,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
However, on more than a few occasions, it seemed that Perkins ran when he should have passed or passed when he should have run. He was intercepted twice, giving him six picks for the season.
It’s clear that he has built up a connection with Dubois and Reed. Dubois had nine receptions for 143 yards and Reed had nine catches for 107 yards.
Wayne Taulapapa had 10 carries for 31 yards, but Perkins had the Cavaliers’ longest gain of the day, 15 yards. It wasn’t the Cavaliers offensive line at its best, but that’s not a unit of returning All-ACC players.
“We took over the game in the second half,” Notre Dame’s Kelly said.
And not unexpectedly. The Irish had taken a third-ranked Georgia team to the wire one week earlier on the Bulldogs’ home turf before losing 23-17.
In the end, it’s likely that the Irish will benefit from a tough test Saturday.
As for the Cavaliers, they can’t be too upset with a 4-1 start. They’ll have an open date before returning to action Oct. 11 for a Friday night game at Miami.
The loss at Notre Dame marked the start of the killer part of UVa’s schedule, kicking off a stretch in which the Cavaliers play four of five games on the road. The only home game in this span is against a Duke team that went on the road Friday night and walloped Virginia Tech 45-10.
The Cavaliers have won three games in which they trailed at the half and now have suffered their first loss in a game they led at the half.
Who knows what happens next?