Notre Dame vs. Virginia score, takeaways: No. 10 Fighting Irish stifle Cavaliers with defense for win

Saturday's game in South Bend was a bit of a Dickensian affair, as it was a tale of two halves. No. 10 Notre Dame averted disaster and its second loss, beating No. 18 Virginia 35-20. Early in the game, however, an upset seemed well within the cards.

Virginia opened the game with a touchdown drive, and finished the first half with another, scoring just before the break to take a 17-14 lead. The Cavaliers then opened the second half with a surprise onside kick, which they recovered. Then the tide turned. The Irish defense held, and it was an omen of things to come.

Notre Dame's offense didn't manage a single first down in the third quarter, yet still scored two touchdowns thanks to its defense. Virginia QB Bryce Perkins fumbled twice in the quarter when pressured by the Notre Dame defense. One fumble was returned to the Notre Dame 7-yard line and resulted in a touchdown a few plays later. Notre Dame's defense did all the work on the second fumble, returning it for the touchdown itself. The second score gave the Irish a 28-17 lead, and they never looked back.

Here are three big takeaways from Notre Dame's win.

1. Notre Dame's defense is its strength. Plenty of people have talked about how impressive Notre Dame looked in its loss against No. 3 Georgia last week, and it's true. The Irish played well, even in defeat. What stood out to me the most from that game, however, was Notre Dame's defense. The front seven was able to be disruptive against one of the best offensive lines in the country, while the secondary held its own against some fantastic Georgia athletes.

All of that was still true against Virginia. Now, the Cavaliers don't have an offensive line nearly as good as Georgia's. In fact, it's considerably worse, and Notre Dame took advantage of that on Saturday. Notre Dame finished the day with 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Two of those sacks resulted in fumbles, and those two fumbles were part of five turnovers the Irish forced in the game. Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem were a tag team from hell, as they combined for 5.5 sacks. The secondary also picked off a couple of passes, including one by stud freshman Kyle Hamilton in the fourth quarter to ice the game. This is the unit that will keep Notre Dame in every game it plays and gives the team a high floor. The ceiling will be determined by the offense, and that's the subject of our next takeaway.

2. The Irish might have found the key to their offense, and it's not Ian Book. Overall, this was not the most impressive performance by the Irish offense. They finished with 343 yards, but a lot of those yards -- 148 to be exact -- came in the fourth quarter when this game had been decided for the most part. On the whole, it wasn't the most inspiring performance. Ian Book completed 17 of his 25 passes for only 165 yards, and he didn't do much with his legs statistically, rushing for 10 yards.

I add that statistical qualifier because one could argue Book also did too much with his legs. He's had some happy feet in the pocket this year and has shown a tendency to bail from the pocket before he needs to and is missing open receivers because of it. That's something Brian Kelly could be seen talking to him about on the sideline and will most certainly be an area of focus going forward.

The good news is the Irish may have finally found their run game. After a slow start, the Irish averaged 5.1 yards per carry on Saturday, thanks in large part to Tony Jones. He finished with 131 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. He also had two carries that went over 25 yards, which are the big plays the Irish offense has lacked at times this season. If Jones can play like this every week, it makes the Irish offense more dangerous, and in turn, makes this team a much larger threat than it already is.

3. As Bryce Perkins goes, so will Virginia. Perkins is in a rough spot, as he's been forced to play behind an offensive line that has struggled, and he's been put in tough situations. He needs to be better than he was on Saturday no matter how his line is playing. Perkins fumbled twice and threw two interceptions. When he wasn't turning the ball over, he was connecting with Hasise DuBois and Joe Reed in the passing game, and the Virginia offense was effective. When he was turning the ball over, well, you can figure that out on your own.

It would be nice if the Cavaliers could get more from their run game than they did on Saturday, too. As a team, the Cavaliers averaged an anemic 0.1 yards per carry. Now, that yardage includes the eight sacks it allowed, but even when you remove the sack yardage the Wahoos only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Perkins is a talented player who can lead this Virginia team to a lot of wins and already has. That doesn't change the fact he needs help. Whether it's from his offensive line or running backs, this team can only go so far without helping him.

CBS Sports was with you the entire way updating this story with the latest scores, highlights and analysis from Notre Dame vs. Virginia, which you can also watch on NBC or streaming live on fuboTV (Try for free). If you are unable to view the live updates below, please click here.

Thanks for stopping by.

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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