The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are on fire right now.
Having outscored their past three opponents 101-61 (this may or may not be a misleading stat) and riding a season-high and very-impressive-for-this-year one-game win streak, ND hosts the Virginia Tech Hokies on Senior Day this Saturday.
The Hokies enter the game with a 7-3 record but without a ranking, as they fell to Georgia Tech last weekend 30-20. Now, Virginia Tech will look to take down the slightly-favored Irish in South Bend and get some momentum heading into a must-win season finale against Virginia as they fight North Carolina for the top spot in the Coastal Division as well as an invite to the ACC title game.
So, with a lot more at stake for Virginia Tech than for ND (although ND does need one more win to become bowl-eligible, so that’s something to play for, right?), how do the Hokies match up with a Notre Dame team that finally fired on all cylinders, albeit against Army, last weekend?
We interviewed Roy Hatfield, the managing editor at Gobbler Country, and got the scoop on the Hokies’ top players, what fans think of first year coach Justin Fuente, the best name on the team, Roy’s thoughts on my favorite Ocean’s Eleven-themed question, and much more.
Read it and weep (because it’s such a great, thorough, entertaining interview that you’ll be moved to tears).
1. The Hokies were looking good heading into last weekend ranked 14th and sitting at 7-2. What was Georgia Tech able to do to knock off Virginia Tech, and do you think Notre Dame will be able to do something similar?
Both teams are doing the Jekyll and Hyde routine this year. Virginia Tech has looked like a playoff team some Saturdays, and a Belk Bowl team the rest of the time.
The Syracuse game was very similar to the Georgia Tech game. Tech looked completely flat in both of these contests. If Virginia Tech "doesn't get off the bus" this weekend, it could make for a long day against the Irish.
Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech on the ground, and Syracuse did it through the air. If Notre Dame can run the ball effectively, and keep Jerod Evans and company on the sideline, the Irish have a good chance. Georgia Tech had an 11-minute T.O.P. advantage, and the defense looked gassed in the second half.
2. Jerod Evans' numbers this season are fantastic: 2,525 yards, 22 TD, just 4 INT passing to go with a team-leading 608 yards rushing and 6 TD on the ground...what makes him so special and how can a young defense like ND's hope to contain him?
If I'm game planning against Evans, I try my absolute best to keep him in the pocket. His deep ball is consistently overthrown, and he sometimes tries to force throws from the pocket.
He is a very dangerous runner, and for a big man has some sweet moves.
The Notre Dame defense would be well served putting the Hokies in 3rd and longs. Down and distance dictates what Coach Fuente feels comfortable calling. Virginia Tech was just 6-14 on 3rd down last week, because we saw a lot of 3rd-and-8's and 3rd-and-9’s. This was key for the Jackets, and should be the model for the Irish.
Jerod Evans was a 4* dual threat that Coach Fuente recruited at Memphis. Word on the street is that was his first call when accepting the Hokies' job. Paxton Lynch was a Fuente student, so the man obviously has an eye for QB talent. On some recruiting services, Jerod Evans was the number one JUCO QB recruit in the nation.
3. Aside from Evans, the Hokies have a number of other weapons on offense - Travon McMillian, Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, Bucky Hodges - who should the Irish be most afraid of heading into Saturday's game?
Bucky Hodges is an absolute matchup nightmare.
When the first depth charts started leaking out of fall camp, there was a good deal of head scratching. Bucky was listed at WR. In 2015, Hodges was a TE, and with his size, it was the natural fit.
Moving him outside has made some NFL scouts take notice, and Hodges might be a late first/early second round grab. He's a "poor man's Gronk” with good hands.
4. Tech's defense is 15th in the country in total defense and 24th in scoring defense. How do you see that unit matching up against DeShone Kizer and the Notre Dame offense?
Virginia Tech is very vulnerable to mobile QBs, and that scares me. Georgia Tech ran a clinic on the option, but they play better against pro style offenses. Our D-line is a bit banged up with nagging injuries, and we aren't as deep there as years past.
The biggest concern this season has been our linebacking crew. If the Irish runners can routinely get to the second level, it would be problematic for the Hokies. Outside of the Texas game, Notre Dame hasn't exactly been putting up huge numbers offensively, but it wouldn't surprise me if the game were high scoring.
5. Who is (are) the X-factor(s) on the Virginia Tech defense? Who do the Irish need to be aware of at all times?
Watch out for DE Ken Ekanem. He is usually good for at least a sack per game. MLB Andrew Motuapuaka is a head hunter, and has improved greatly over the past two seasons.
The Virginia Tech secondary is also pretty legit. Mook Reynolds needs to have a big game for the Hokies to win on Saturday.
6. It's always difficult to step into the shoes of a legend, and Justin Fuente has done a solid job in his first year following Frank Beamer. What are your thoughts on the new coach, and what do you think his ceiling is with the Hokies?
Fuente, and more importantly Virginia Tech A.D. Whit Babcock, have done a masterful job transitioning the new regime.
Quite honestly, I'm reading SBNation's LSU site make a case for pursuing Fuente, so obviously he is valued. It’s too soon to tell as far as ceilings are concerned. We really need to clean up the "bad losses.” I consider a bad loss as a double digit favorite.
7. How do you see the rest of the season playing out for Virginia Tech? Will the Hokies be Coastal Division champs and give Louisville or Clemson a run for their money in the title game?
If Virginia Tech wins the Coastal, we have totally exceeded expectations. I had us at 8-5 (with a bowl win) at the beginning of the season. I had Miami winning the Coastal, and if Virginia Tech goes to Orlando, that's huge.
8. Notre Dame's best receiver is named Equanimeous St. Brown. Who has the best name on Virginia Tech's roster, and how does it measure up to ESB?
Without question, it's WR Divine Deablo.
That's an all-name guy right there. That's a Hotel California name.
"This could be heaven, or this could be hell...."
When we were recruiting him, I did a double take. He's seen limited action as a true frosh, but expect to hear more from him in the next few seasons.
9. You're putting together an Ocean's Eleven-esque crew to pull off the heist of the century. Who from these two teams do you add to that squad, and why?
I can't speak to the Irish squad, but from the Hokies, I will take Sam Rogers. He recently was selected to the Senior Bowl, and is a big fan favorite. He would be the guy that does all the dirty work in the heist.
Isaiah Ford would be on my team because he produces results. This guy is re-writing the Virginia Tech WR record book every Saturday. He could totally be the guy walking out of the casino with the bags of cash, cool as a cucumber.
10. Justin Fuente vs. Brian Kelly in a dance-off. Who wins and what songs do each them dance to?
Both coaches think that music is a distraction.
But if if I had to guess, Kelly looks like a wedding dancer. 9:30 at the reception, and Brian Kelly's tie is gone. Fuente is a bit more reserved.
Fuente dances with his wife to Willy Nelson's "Always on My Mind.” Kelly dances to "Celebration.”
11. Give me your prediction for the game, complete with a score and your reasoning why.
Not real sure which version of the Hokies show up. That being said, I like the Irish 29-24 so they can get bowl eligible, only to decline said bowl offer.
12. Anything else ND fans should know about Virginia Tech's team, coaches, fans, program, traditions, etc.?
I hope I can speak to all the Irish faithful by saying this: please come to Blacksburg next year. You won't regret it. It is one of the more special scenes in all of college football, and a full Lane Stadium is a spectacle to behold.
With all of that being said, I want to give a big-time shout out to Roy for answering all of my questions and would like to encourage you all to check out Gobbler Country and follow Roy and the site for any and all Hokies updates heading into Saturday’s game.