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Backup QB leads Notre Dame to dramatic win over Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The Notre Dame playoff watch remains alive, but it wasn't easy.

The Irish arrived at Virginia fresh off a dominant Week 1 win, but the Cavaliers' defense thwarted them again and again in key situations, and UVa QB Matt Johns led a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback to take a late lead. But with starting QB Malik Zaire in the locker room nursing an ankle injury, backup DeShone Kizer engineered a dramatic final drive, capped by a 39-yard touchdown throw to Will Fuller with 12 seconds remaining to give Notre Dame a 34-27 victory.

What the win means for Notre Dame: The Irish remain alive for a playoff spot, and certainly Kizer's final drive offers some hope that Notre Dame can survive even if Zaire is lost for an extended period of time. The ground game was exceptional, with C.J. Prosise rushing for 155 yards on 17 carries, and the resiliency of the team to come back without its starting quarterback may well resonate more with pollsters and committee members than the shaky performance overall.

What the loss means for Virginia: This should've been a signature win for coach Mike London, who'd attempted to defend Virginia's grueling nonconference schedule. Instead, the Cavaliers are right where most had predicted after two weeks -- 0-2. This was certainly a better performance than what they showed a week ago against UCLA, with Johns throwing for 289 yards and two touchdowns, and the ground game finally coming to life late. Could this be an indication Virginia can compete in the ACC Coastal? If not, it'll be another year without a bowl berth thanks to a nonconference slate that is as tough as any in the country.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame was 0-for-10 on third down in the game, including six stops inside Virginia territory. But on a fourth-and-2 on the final drive, the Irish converted, setting up the game-winning touchdown. Still, Brian Kelly has to be concerned with how his team struggled in crucial situations throughout much of the game, despite the success of the ground game overall.

Play of the game: There were a ton of big plays throughout, but the one that will live in the memory of Notre Dame fans -- and the nightmares of Virginia -- for a while is Kizer's touchdown toss to Fuller in the final minute. It was just the 13th pass of his career, but it's likely one that Kizer will be hard pressed to top.