Ahead of Virginia Tech’s primetime matchup at Lane Stadium against the No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, both teams come in with unproven quarterbacks looking to come away with a signature victory. Junior quarterbacks Ryan Willis and Ian Book will start under center for Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in Saturday’s top-25 matchup.
A promising Virginia Tech debut against Duke has the Tech faithful believing the season could still be alive after losing quarterback Josh Jackson to injury. Ryan Willis was nearly perfect in his first start, throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns. However, Willis has yet to start a game at Lane Stadium and will be thrown into the spotlight against one of the highest-ranked teams in college football.
The redshirt junior from Overland Park, Kansas, was thrust into first-team action after Jackson sustained a broken fibula against Old Dominion. Willis transferred to Virginia Tech after the 2016 season after playing his first two seasons at Kansas. Although Kansas went 2–22 in the two seasons Willis spent as a Jayhawk, he broke the school’s freshman passing record with 1,719 yards in the eight games he started. While Willis achieved personal accolades, he also threw an abysmal 17 interceptions in his time at Kansas and his team was never competitive in the Big 12.
Interceptions were a huge issue at Kansas, but Willis has yet to throw one in his brief time on the field for the Hokies. On the other end, Notre Dame has forced six interceptions so far this season, a team stat that is ranked in the top 25 of the NCAA.
Speaking of zero interceptions, former three-star prospect Ian Book has tossed 11 touchdowns and no interceptions since being handed the starting job in Notre Dame’s fourth game of the season against Wake Forest. The junior from El Dorado Hills, California, looked poised and elite in the Fighting Irish’s victory over No. 7 Stanford last week. Book tossed four touchdowns and tallied 278 yards through the air as Notre Dame cruised to a 38–17 victory.
Prior to Book starting for head coach Brian Kelly, senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush entered the season with plenty of question marks. Wimbush led Notre Dame to a 10–3 record last year while throwing for 1,870 yards and rushing for an impressive 803 yards. However, Kelly has elected to go with pro-style quarterback Book over scrambler Wimbush at this point in the season.
While Book may have the start, it is more than likely that Wimbush will be incorporated back into the Notre Dame offense for his rushing skills and athleticism. Kelly may look to mix in Wimbush for some plays in Saturday’s matchup to throw off Bud Foster’s defensive unit.
Both quarterbacks come into this key matchup with loads of pressure on their backs. For Willis, stepping in for Josh Jackson and getting Virginia Tech’s season back on the rails will be challenging for the transfer. Meanwhile, Book is stepping in for a proven quarterback with a history of winning; a few bad performances could cost him his starting job. The matchup of quarterbacks Saturday night could be the deciding factor during one of the biggest games of the season for the Hokies.
Willis and Book are set to face off on Oct. 6 at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia. Game time is set for 8 p.m. on ABC.