clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Notre Dame Football: Virginia Tech Hokies Preview

New, 2 comments

Pat Rick previews this Virginia Tech team and how they match up with the sliiiightly downtrodden Irish

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend was an utter disaster. A debacle. A tragedy.

We could probably dwell on it and discuss it and sadly opine for Holtz and Parseghian and Leahy and Rockne for many more weeks, but our Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team instead has turned their attention to the 5-2 Virginia Tech Hokies, who will be visitors in South Bend this Saturday afternoon.

The Hokies have been very mediocre all season — don’t let their identical record to the Irish’s fool you. Their losses have come to the Boston College Eagles and Duke Blue Devils, and they’re ranked 57th overall in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Boston College Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The #16 Irish, of course, are also 5-2, and although they’ve beaten the Virginia Cavaliers and played the Georgie Bulldogs close on the road (earning them #25 in the SP+ rankings), they suffered that embarrassing beatdown at the hands of Michigan last weekend and come into Saturday with way more questions than answers — but hopefully also a lot of motivation to destroy the rest of the schedule.

With all that said, let’s take a quick look at how ND and VT match up on both sides of the ball, briefly chat special teams, and get out of here as painlessly as possible.

Virginia Tech Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

The Virginia Tech offense comes into this game 64th in SP+, 81st in total offense (53rd rushing, 79th passing), and 59th in scoring. By just about all basic measures, they are a pedestrian, middle-of-the-road offense.

With that said, the Michigan offense last weekend wasn’t exactly lighting up the stat sheet heading into the game — the Irish defense still managed to collapse and get steamrolled. That unit is now 38th in the country in SP+, 47th in total defense (81st rushing, 24th passing), and 29th in scoring defense.

So, considering the Hokies definitely have some talented skill guys — as well as a young offensive line that looks to be jelling a bit more than earlier in the season — a strong bounce-back game from both Clark Lea with his game plan and from the players’ efforts is a MUST.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Most important may be the Irish’s ability to bottle up the Hokies on the ground. Rushing is definitely more of their strength, and especially considering QB Ryan Willis will likely not see much time (he has struggled this year — 906 yds, 61.5% completion, 7.7 ypa, 9 TD, 6 INT), the next two quarterbacks in line to get time would be Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson, who are both dangerous with their legs as dual-threat guys.

Hooker should get the start and play much of the game, considering his edge in experience over Patterson. Having battled some injuries recently, Hooker has still managed to throw for 580 yards (57.4% completion), 9.5 yards per attempt, 7 touchdowns, and no interceptions. On top of that, he’s run for 156 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown, and could make some plays scrambling for first downs similar to how Jawon Pass and Bryce Perkins made some plays earlier this season.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The key there will likely be two-fold, as linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (43 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF), Asmar Bilal (44 tackles, 6 TFL), and Drew White (40 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack) will need to do a much better job in filling the right gaps and running down ball carriers like Hooker, and the defensive front needs to get a push and contain Hooker to the pocket long enough for rushers like Julian Okwara (5 sacks, 6 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR, 5 QBH) and Khalid Kareem (3.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 7 QBH) and Jamir Jones (4 sacks, 2 FF, 5 TFL) and Adetokunbo Ogundeji (17 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR TD, 3 QBH) to get to him. Bo Bauer might also be a guy to see a little more time at linebacker to help that starting trio compete, as he looked like one of the only linebackers who was ready to play against Michigan last weekend.

Just about across the board, that front seven was horrible against the Wolverines. Defensive tackles Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (15 tackles, 1 FR, 4 QBH, 2 TFL), Kurt Hinish (11 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 3.5 TFL), and Jayson Ademilola (15 tackles, 2.5 TFL) couldn’t get much of a push in the middle, the defensive ends made almost no big plays (especially because Michigan was running so effectively and thus rarely dropping back to pass), and the linebackers were constantly out of position, caught in traffic, and unable to fight off blockers to wrap up runners as they scampered into space.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Notre Dame at Georgia Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A reversal of that performance will be especially key due to Virginia Tech’s talented running back two-deep, as starter Deshawn McClease is a a very productive starter (475 yds, 4.9 ypc, 3 TD) and freshman Keshawn King (240 yds, 4.6 ypc, 1 TD) is a burner who has the potential to break loose for a home run play at just about any time.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Furthermore, if Hooker goes down again (he injured his knee against North Carolina), look for redshirt frosh Quincy Patterson to step in and pick up right where Hooker left off in terms of rushing ability. In limited time this season, Patterson has run for 124 yards and a touchdown on 5.6 yards per carry.

If the Irish are able to contain the VaTech rushing attack similar to Georgia, it will go a long way toward Notre Dame winning this game. However, Hooker/Patterson have thrown precisely ZERO interceptions this year and have some talented weapons at the receiver spots to throw to, so don’t expect the Hokies passing attack to be horrible my any means.

Leading that group is wide receiver Tayvion Robinson, a 5’10” freshman who’s reeled in 24 catches for 267 yards and a touchdown this season.

NCAA Football: Duke at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

6’2” Tre Turner has added 17 receptions for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns, and slot receiver Hezekiah Grimsley has turned in 7 catches for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns, displaying plenty of big play potential.

WR Damon Hazelton may just be the best of the bunch, though, and his eye-popping numbers on very few catches speak volumes about that. The 6’2” junior has only caught 10 balls, but he has 237 yards and 5 touchdowns already this year — he will certainly be a key guy for the ND secondary to always be aware of, considering his knack for huge chunk plays.

Tight ends James Mitchell and Dalton Keene have good size and athleticism and hands for the position, and have combined for 27 catches, 348 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Keene especially appears to be a favorite red zone target in this Hokies offense. 6’2” freshman Kaleb Smith also could contribute a bit this weekend, as he’s snagged 9 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in 2019.

So, there are plenty of weapons on the Virginia Tech side to worry about for the Irish secondary. Alohi Gilman (43 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF), Jalen Elliott (28 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT), and Kyle Hamilton (24 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT, 1 TD) will need to be very focused on keeping Hokies receivers in front of them, and Troy Pride Jr. (22 tackles, 4 PD), Shaun Crawford (12 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT), TaRiq Bracy (21 tackles, 5 PD, 1 FF), and Donte Vaughn will need to bring their A-games in sticking to some speedy receivers like glue — especially considering field conditions could be slick due to potential cold, rainy/snowy weather.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the likely South Bend weather (it’s been snowing all day here in Chicago, so I’m guessing South Bend has been similar, and the weekend forecast currently doesn’t show a ton of precipitation during the game, but who knows if that will hold up?), I think we can expect the Hokies to really go after that 81st-best ND run defense, especially after seeing what Michigan did last weekend. Add in Hooker’s (and Patterson’s) legs, and the Irish will have to improve their run-stopping ways in order to ensure they can get off the field and get the ball back for the offense.

Offensive Hokies to Watch

RBs Deshawn McClease and Keshawn King

If the Virginia Tech offensive line is able to open up occasional running lanes, these guys could do some serious damage against a defense that looks super vulnerable against the run once again. The ability of these two to get into the second level and keep the chains moving will be critical to the Hokies’ upset chances.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Boston College Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Irish to Watch

DTs Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, and Jayson Ademilola

If the Irish are going to bottle up the run and contain Hendon Hooker in the pocket, they need the middle of the defensive line to hold the point of attack, block up any and all running lanes, and wreak some havoc up the middle on passing downs to drive the QB into the arms of those Irish defensive ends. It’s time for this trio to step up in a BIG way.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Halftime Funtime

Best Names in the Game

  1. Virginia Tech DB Divine Deablo
  2. Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
  3. Notre Dame LS Axel Raarup
  4. Notre Dame S Litchfield Ajavon
  5. Virginia Tech WR Hezekiah Grimsley
  6. Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
  7. Virginia Tech WR Tink Boyd
  8. Virginia Tech DB Ny’Quee Hawkins
  9. Virginia Tech DL TyJuan Garbutt
  10. Notre Dame DL Hunter Spears
  11. Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
  12. Virginia Tech WR John Ransom
  13. Notre Dame DE Nana Osafo-Mensah
  14. Notre Dame CB Temitope Agoro
  15. Virginia Tech RB J’Wan Evans
  16. Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji
  17. Virginia Tech WR Jacob Van Landingham
  18. Notre Dame RB Jafar Armstrong
  19. Virginia Tech QB Braxton Burmeister
  20. Virginia Tech DB Chamarri Conner

Hokies Are Turkeys.

Turkeys Are Birds.

It’s Time to Rank Pat’s Favorite Birds!!!

Many of my friends and family members can attest to the fact that I like to power rank things, and that I’ve specifically brought up various times wanting to create a personal Bird Power Rankings.

So, I’m going to give you my Top 10 Birds with no context or explanation, and I want to hear in the comments what your own Top 10 Birds would be. There’s a 100% chance I missed great birds in the 5 minutes I took to make this list.

1. Pelicans

Pelicans at St James’s Park Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images

2. Penguins

New Penguin Facility at Frankfurt Zoo Photo by Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

3. Kiwis

Zoo Kiwi Nachwuchs Photo by Olaf Wagner/ullstein bild via Getty Images

4. Ostriches

SRI LANKA-NATURE-ANIMAL Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP via Getty Images

5. Owls (especially Northern Pygmy Owls and Western/Eastern Screech Owls)

Orange County Register Archive Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

6. Shoebill Storks

Schuhschnabel Photo by Dionys Moser/McPhoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images

7. Chickens

8. Geese Jogging Down the Road (all other geese are horrible creatures, but these guys get a spot in the list for one of the best YouTube videos of all-time)

9. Peregrine Falcons

Birds Of Prey Falconry Display photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images

10. Flamingos

American flamingo Photo by: Philippe Clement/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Those are birds I like!!!

Now let’s talk boring football again, I guess...

Notre Dame Offense vs. Virginia Tech Defense

On the other side of the ball, an iffy Virginia Tech defensive unit — the final iteration of Bud Foster’s system considering his announced retirement at the end of this season — will square off against an ND offense that statistically still rates decently well, but has ALL SORTS of problems against teams with any semblance of a good defense.

The Irish are 22nd in the country in SP+ offensive rankings and 30th in the country in scoring offense, but also sit 59th in total offense (63rd rushing, 54th passing) and looked positively HAPLESS in the rain against Michigan (while the Wolverines managed to put up 45 points offensively).

NCAA Football: Florida State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Hokies, meanwhile, have nothing about their defense that really jumps off the page, ranked 65th in defensive SP+, 66th in total defense (50th in rushing, 97th in passing), and 86th in scoring.

Looking at those two units, it seems like a given that the Irish offense will be able to move the ball at-will against VaTech tomorrow, and that could be correct. ND certainly has the talent advantage, and God knows their performance against UM was a vast under-performance relative to the weapons they have at receiver and the talented veterans they have on the offensive line and at running back.

However, how well this offense plays tomorrow will likely come down to whether QB Ian Book is able to turn things around from his 8-for-25, 32% completion, 1-touchdown showing a week ago.

Book has been inconsistent and flawed in his play all year, but he’s still thrown for 1,492 yards, 15 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions — and has even earned himself a nomination for a quarterback award?!?!?!

Despite his weird inclusion among Heisman candidates like Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, Book has also failed to complete 60% of his passes, is getting just 7.6 yards per attempt, and still shows an absolute refusal — whether by Chip Long design or not — to take shots downfield to try to stretch out the defense and take advantage of weapons like Chase Claypool (29 rec, 436 yds, 4 TD), Cole Kmet (23 rec, 290 yds, 4 TD), Tommy Tremble (10 rec, 141 yds, 2 TD), and Braden Lenzy (4 rec, 87 yds, 1 TD).

The Hokies DBs aren’t elite, but there’s some talent there, and if they won’t be challenged vertically, they might just be able to mimic the Michigan model of aggressively and physically sticking to receivers to shut down easy passes for Book.

The group is led by First Ballot College Football Name of the Year Hall of Famer Divine Deablo, whose 43 tackles are second on the team. He’s joined back there by guys like Chamarri Conner (39 tackles, 7 PD), Reggie Floyd (37 tackles, 5 PD), Jermaine Waller (28 tackles, 4 PD, 3 INT), and Caleb Farley (14 tackles, 10 PD, 3 INT), who all clearly have a penchant for making plays and capitalizing on bad QB decisions — classic Bud Foster defensive backs.

NCAA Football: Marshall at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Book will need to do more than throw horizontally to the aforementioned guys and Chris Finke (15 rec, 182 yds, 1 TD) and Javon McKinley (10 rec, 242 yds, 4 TD) in order to do some damage through the air tomorrow, so here’s to hoping the film of the Michigan game at least helped him, Long, and QB coach Tommy Rees figure out the most critical problems in his game and begin addressing them in practice.

Brian Kelly definitively said he wouldn’t be moving Phil Jurkovec (191 yds, 75% completion, 2 TD) ahead of Book on the depth chart, so it appears at least for now like it’s Book-improving-ASAP or bust for this offense.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If the Hokies can get pressure on Book like Michigan and Georgia have been able to do, expect him to struggle at least a bit, per usual. The Hokies certainly have guys who can bring the heat — Conner (4 sacks, 5 QBH), LB Rayshard Ashby (3 sacks), DL Norell Pollard (3), DL Emmanuel Belmar (3 sacks, 8 QBH), DL Jarrod Hewitt (3 sacks, 4 QBH), DL Jaylen Griffin (2.5), and DL Mario Kendricks (2) all have at least 2 sacks on the season, and LB Dax Hollifield has had 7 QB hurries to toss into the mix.

Look for that crew to come at him early and often, hoping to really throw him off his game after a week of second-guessing his abilities following the Michigan debacle.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully, the Hokies’ lesser defense won’t be able to completely shut down the ND running game like Michigan did, providing Book with some help. The Irish offensive line got absolutely nothing done last weekend, but should be able to get a much better push against VT’s much more average defensive front.

Guys in the rotation like Belmar (27 tackles, 4.5 TFL), Hewitt (18 tackles, 4 TFL), TyJuan Garbutt (16 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 QBH), Pollard (16 tackles, 3 TFL), Eli Adams (15 tackles, 1.5 TFL), and Griffin (13 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 FR) will be the ones that the Notre Dame front will be trying to move around to create running lanes for Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong.

Armstrong hasn’t been able to produce much since coming back against USC three weeks ago from injury, but Tony Jones Jr. has had a strong season as the lead back. He’s run for 571 yards and 4 touchdowns while picking up 6.5 yards per carry, and reserve back Jahmir Smith has shown flashes of strong production (108 yds, 4.5 ypc, 2 TD) in limited carries.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If the ND offensive line can actually open up some lanes for those guys (plus Book occasionally, considering his 201 yds, 3.7 ypc, and 3 rushing TDs this year), they can get to the second level to press their luck against a solid, but not super deep, group of VaTech linebackers, led by Rayshard Ashby.

Ashby leads the team with an astonishing 71 tackles and 10 TFL through 7 games, clearly the leader of this defense and the guy tasked with making sure TJJ, Armstrong, Smith, and Book don’t break loose for huge gains.

Dax Hollifield (38 tackles, 1 FF) and Alan Tisdale (27 tackles, 3 TFL) round out the crew and provide some youth and athleticism in following Ashby’s lead. Those three will be key in slowing down the ND running game, making sure TJJ and Armstrong don’t get many yards after contact, and forcing Ian Book to beat them himself.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Hokie to Watch

LB Rayshard Ashby

If Ashby can lead the front seven in containing TJJ and the ND running game, it will go a LONG way in forcing the ND offense to do what they don’t want to do right now, which is put the game in Ian Book’s shaky hands. Ashby is a tackling machine and will need to continue that kind of production tomorrow in closing on ND ball carriers.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Irish to Watch

QB Ian Book

He’s being questioned by everyone, and many people, crazy or not, are calling for him to be benched less than a year removed from leading the Irish to their only College Football Playoff appearance. It’s time for Ian Book to step up, fix his mistakes, and get this offense back on track against a defense that is just good enough to cause some issues but also just mediocre enough for him to get his groove back against. Tomorrow is HUGE for Ian Book’s status, confidence, and reputation moving forward.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams???

The Irish are rated WAY better than Virginia Tech in special teams in SP+, with the Hokies sitting at 73rd while ND stands at 19th. That’s a far cry from the days of Beamer Ball, when VaTech was consistently fantastic on special teams and the Irish were typically bad at it.

Virginia Tech’s kicker, Brian Johnson, is a perfect 27-for-27 on extra points this season, and he’s 7-for-11 on field goals. However, all 7 makes have come from 39 yards out and in, whereas his 4 misses are all from 40+ yards away — Johnson clearly struggles to make the non-gimmes out there.

North Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Jonathan Doerer, meanwhile, continues to be a pleasant surprise this season in his replacement of Justin Yoon. He’s knocked down all 29 of his extra point attempts, and is 6-for-7 on field goals, including a 52-yarder he drilled against USC just a few weeks back.

One thing to note — Virginia Tech’s punter is a very good one. Oscar Bradburn is 4th in the country in punting average with 48.3, meaning that even if the Irish consistently force punts, Bradburn could flip the field and really help the Hokies win the field position battle. ND’s Jay Bramblett has been solid — especially for a true freshman — but his 41.7 yard average pales in comparison to Bradburn’s.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech

Another thing to note — although he hasn’t brought one back for a touchdown yet and only averages 21.9 yards per kickoff return, VT’s Terius Wheatley DOES have a 71-yard return under his belt this season, so he’s fully capable of breaking one if given the opportunity.

Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One

Notre Dame 33, Virginia Tech 23

I think Virginia Tech has enough talent to give the Irish some trouble, but overall the Irish come in focused and motivated to turn things around a bit after such an embarrassing showing in Ann Arbor. The offense will look better, Book will look okay, and the defense will tighten the screws and look much more like a Clark Lea unit than what we saw unfold last weekend. Irish take it and continue on the path to a 10-2 season.