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Five Things to Watch For: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

Okay, look, are we on the expectation wagon or not? Get beaten up by ODU, then come out and beat- and fairly soundly- a decent team in Duke. I’m still utterly confused by this team. But well, time to go back to the grindstone and this weekend features the golden domers of Notre Dame, aka the Fighting Leprechauns, aka the Fighting Irish. The last non-conference game for the Hokies (barring an addition of a 12th game back to the schedule), this will be a big test for what the Hokies actually are– a decent team that had a TERRIBLE game? Or an inconsistent to not great young team destined to seesaw all year?

#6 (#7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-0 Independent) vs. #24 (#23) Virginia Tech Hokies (3-1, 2-0 ACC)

Gametime: 8:00PM

Location: Worsham Field at Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia

Broadcast: ABC

Radio: WBRW 105.3 FM (Blacksburg Local) | Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network

Back to the big stage- Tech is again being broadcast as a flagship game, this time as the home team. Right now the Fighting Irish have beaten #15 Michigan (4-1), Ball State (2-3), Vanderbilt (3-2), Wake Forest (3-2), and #14 Stanford (4-1), which is easily the strongest schedule that any Tech opponent has faced so far (granted, you can argue the merits of Michigan’s ranking and maybe a LITTLE Stanford’s, but it still isn’t close). But let’s get down to brass tacks.

Their Leading Stat Getters:

Passing: Ian Book 52/70, 616 yards, 7TDs, 0INTs, 8.8YPA. Brandon Wimbush 42/76, 589 yards, 1TD, 4INTs, 7.75YPA.

Rushing: Tony Jones, Jr. 56 attempts, 303 yards, 5.4 avg, 3TDs. Jafar Armstrong 47 attempts, 245 yards, 5.2 avg, 5TDs. Dexter Williams 21 attempts, 161 carries, 7.7 avg, 1TD.

Receiving: Miles Boykin 20 receptions, 311 yards, 15.6YPC, 1TD. Chris Finke 16 receptions, 172 yards, 10.8 avg, 1TD. Chase Claypool 14 receptions, 174 yards, 2TDs. Alize Mack 113 receptions, 170 yards, 12.4 avg, 1TD.

Notre Dame’s stats definitely look intimidating, and it’s partly because they’ve played an additional game than Virginia Tech has. But the obvious important changes to note are that they’ve replaced Brandon Wimbush as the starter with Ian Book, a high-three star quarterback from El Dorado Hills, CA. Book is part of the class of 2016, which is that of Josh Jackson. Book has so far proven to be a much more impressive passer than Brandon Wimbush, though he has enough mobility to be dangerous. Williams is I suppose now their lead running back after putting up a really good game on Stanford. They however have lost their best offensive lineman in Alex Bars, a guard and a fifth year senior captain, which won’t be easy to replace. Jafar Armstrong is likely out with a bursa sac infection, while Jones is likely to be back after an ankle injury.

Defensive/Special Teams statistics:

+70 Point differential, opponents score 18.8ppg. Average 5.7ypa, 3.3ypc, and average 340.6 total yards per game. Kickers are 6-9 for field goals, while opponents are 8-12. They have 13 sacks for -91 yards, while their opponents have 9 sacks for -57 yards.

Leading defenders: Te’von Coney 39 total tackles, 4.0TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovered. Drue Tranquill 35 total tackles, 4TFL, 1 sack. Alohi Gilman 32 total tackles, 2TFL, 1 forced fumble. Jalen Elliott 30 total tackles, 1TFL, .5 sacks, 2INTs. Troy Pride Jr. 26 total tackles, 1.5TFL, 2INTs. Jerry Tillery 14 total tackles, 7.5tfl, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles.

Hey, look, two defensive backs we recruited hard in Jalen Elliott and Troy Pride, Jr. (the latter was even committed to us for a time). Beyond that the obvious worry is that Tillery will rip through our offensive line. He was rated as a four star offensive tackle coming out of high school, but has transformed himself into an excellent pass rusher. Tillery is probably one of the best defensive tackles in this class for the draft this year. I can see a lot of max protect in the future to deal with him; he’s basically more than half their sack total (4 of which just came against Stanford). Their defense isn’t something to be sniffed at, and Tillery is a big problem.

Five Things to Watch For:

1. Can the offensive line hold up?

In getting to this game, so far Tech has been okay in pass protection, giving up 8 total sacks only- four of which were in that terrible ODU game in which future NFL draft pick Oshane Ximenes nabbed two of his own 6 on the year. But this defensive front is overall even more stout, obviously, so can the line keep Ryan Willis mostly intact? This is also against the fact that Notre dame doesn’t give up much on the ground and coming off a game where the Hokies ground game looked like it was quite frequently banging its head against a wall as Duke keyed on the run heavily. Will Notre Dame do the same and trust their corners and safeties? Or will they key on some other strategy?

2. Can Bud rip through a Book?

This will be Ian Book’s third start and while he’s obviously been successful so far, Foster has a nasty habit of running circles around rookie quarterbacks. I’m not sure of how the defense is really going to go, considering the overall tempo of this season. Do I think they’re better than they showed against ODU? Sure. I think they can be. Does that mean ODU was a total outlier? No. Because a lot of those same players are going ot be playing again and can go right back to not being able to get right. The same coaches that couldn’t make the adjustments to stop ODU are the same ones that held Duke to 14 points- and Duke isn’t a trivial team or offense. But we’ll see how things shake out in that regard. Going to be an interesting battle that might have been a different tenor with Wimbush back there behind center.

3. This is a huge game for both teams. Who will take it more seriously?

Virginia Tech is likely the last real challenge for Notre Dame’s run to the playoff. No kidding. The majority of the strength of their schedule dissolves after the Hokies, as their last opponent away at USC might be the one last real stumbling block they have (though I wouldn’t exactly toss out Syracuse or Navy- weird factor only on that one- but both of those games are in South Bend). For the Hokies, this is definitely a big referendum on their season up to this point if they can pull off the upset. There really isn’t ANYTHING to lose but for pride and a shot at being ranked for a bit. Right now for the Hokies it’s about proving that ODU was a weird college football fluke and that they’re actually a competent team on the rise a year ahead of schedule. It would be a gigantic feather in the cap of the coaching staff and in the hat of this young team to knock off a top 10 AP ranked team. So it’s hunting for the last real threat versus making the biggest ‘take that’ statement of the season so far.

4. Turnovers? Where’d they go? And can they nab one?

Virginia Tech started off the season really well, racking up an impressive +5 turnover margin right out the gates against Florida State. They added two against William and Mary but lost one, and ODU, well, luckily that was only one lost turnover, and Duke was one gained. But it seems like the team has come up a bit empty in that department, especially because the interceptions have of course tailed off greatly. Reggie Floyd provided an INT last game on a tip-drill pick and Divine Deablo came pretty close to snagging one, but in order to unsettle Notre Dame, this team will have to get Book guessing and turn him over- something he has been loathe to do in his first two starts. That’s not going to make this game simple.

5. ALL THE RECRUITING.

This is a HUGE recruiting weekend for the Hokies. There are current commitments, future recruiting prospects, class of 2019 uncommitted recruits, everything and the kitchen sink headed to Blacksburg for a huge game. The Hokies REALLY can’t blow it in front of all that talent. Just to show off some of the talent incoming…

2020 ATH LaMareon James

2020 WR Jalin Hyatt

2021 CB Aidan Ryan

2020 RB Blake Corum

2021 DT KaTron Evans

2020 S Nehki Meredith

2020 RB Chris Tyree

2020 WR KeAndre Lambert

2021 LB/TE Jack Hollifield

2019 WR Commit Jaden Payoute

2020 S Cameron Roseman-Sinclair

2021 CB Tony Grimes

2020 DE Coziah Izzard

2020 ATH Jaheim Bell

2019 G Commit William Pritchard

2019 TE Commit Nick Gallo

2020 DE Antwuan Powell

2021 RB Evan Pryor

2019 DT Commit Norell Pollard

2019 WR/ATH Commit Elijah Bowick

2019 G Commit Jesse Hanson

2021 ATH Myles Alston

2021 DT Payton Page

And likely many more I didn’t catch. It’s not trivial. The Hokies have to put up or shut up in this game. The coaches have to make a good impression, win or lose and preferably win.

Big game this weekend. Let’s go Hokies.

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