Hello friends — believe it or not, it’s nearly time for yet another Notre Dame Fighting Irish football game. I know — crazy, right?
Your #14 Fighting Irish are finally getting out of the Midwest for the first time since opening weekend, as Brian Kelly and the boys travel to Blacksburg, Virginia to face the 3-1 Virginia Tech Hokies, looking to bounce back after a rough 24-13 loss to Cincinnati at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Hokies are one of those teams that always has enough talent to be dangerous, but also isn’t considered the toughest opponent on the schedule by any means. Still, a 6-point loss on the road in Morgantown separates this Hokies squad from a top-25 ranking, considering they opened the season with a win over then-10th-ranked UNC and have looked solid against mediocre/bad opponents like Middle Tennessee State and Richmond.
So, to get a better handle on the Hokies and how they match up with our Irish, I reached out to Bryan D. Manning, Managing Editor of Gobbler Country — the resident Virginia Tech site here at SB Nation.
Bryan gave us some fantastic insight into this year’s VaTech squad, Justin Fuente, key names and matchups, and a number of other topics that include spooky player comparisons and an explanation of just what exactly a “Hokie” really is.
Let’s not waste anymore time — dive on in, friends!
1. The Hokies had an ideal start to the season with an upset of #10 UNC, but got tripped up two weeks later in Morgantown. Still, at 3-1 and considering Clemson being down this year, do you think this Hokies team can come away with the ACC title? What is this team’s ceiling?
Bryan D. Manning: This team should have beaten WVU. The offensive play-calling and execution inside the 10-yard line were horrendous. The Hokies had every chance to win that game, yet fell short.
Can this team compete for a Coastal title? Sure. I mean, we’ve all managed to lower our expectations in recent years. When you expect a good team, the Hokies lose to Syracuse. So, while I think the ceiling could be the ACC championship this year, I don’t think it happens. This team will trip up and lose to teams it should beat. We all expect it. It’s sad what we are conditioned to expect these days.
2. How do you and the Hokies faithful feel about Justin Fuente? Obviously following a legend is always tough, and he started his tenure strong, but he’s 22-19 since 2018. Do you still think he’s the right guy for this job? Is this a critical season for him to prove himself?
Bryan D. Manning: Justin Fuente is a nice guy. A good family man. But Virginia Tech fans have been ready for a new regime for two years — at least. He came here as a “QB guru,” but yet QBs get worse under his watch and leave.
The offensive scheme is boring and unimaginative. Be ready for 20 jet sweeps on Saturday. Fuente has never endeared himself to the fans, the community, or to former players, so he isn’t a popular guy. If he won more games, people could overlook that. He doesn’t. Some big streaks have ended under Fuente’s watch.
No one knows what AD Whit Babcock will do after the season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Hokies are looking for a new coach.
3. Braxton Burmeister is having a pretty darn good season — what does he bring to the table as QB, and what weaknesses or shortcomings exist in his game that the Notre Dame defense may be able to exploit?
Bryan D. Manning: Hokie fans realize Burmeister’s limitations. He doesn’t have a strong arm, he’s hesitant to fire the ball down the field, but he’s tough and athletic. It doesn’t help that offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen doesn’t call games to suit Burmeister’s strengths. Cornelsen is bad, but we’ve written plenty on him.
Burmeister is a tough competitor, but he’s almost the starter by default. He needs a strong running game, which includes himself. He is a fantastic athlete.
4. Who are the other key names to know on the VaTech offense (skill positions or even linemen if you’ve got any standouts there)? And how do you see them matching up with an Irish defense that’s become pretty stingy (albeit over-worked because of the Notre Dame offense’s limitations)?
Bryan D. Manning: The Hokies have a solid offensive line when Silas Dzansi is in the lineup. At the skill positions, Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson are really good receivers. They would get more attention from the media if they had better QB play. And that isn’t just a shot at Burmeister, it’s been that way throughout their careers. And the offensive coordinator is bad. Have we covered that?
Losing James Mitchell (tight end)* was a major blow to the offense. At running back, you’ll see three guys: Raheem Blackshear, Jalen Holston and Keshawn King. King is electric but it’s hard to tell which week he sees the field. He seems to always be held back for some reason. Blackshear can do a lot of things. He can also line up at slot receiver.
*Pat Rick Note: James Mitchell’s nickname is “The Governor” and that’s just an awesome nickname
5. Speaking of the ND offense’s limitations, do you think the Hokies defense can perform similarly to Wisconsin and Cincinnati and really limit ND’s offensive production?
Who are the key defensive names to know on the Virginia Tech defense, and are there any big weaknesses to know about within Justin Hamilton’s squad?
Bryan D. Manning: If there is one coach Virginia Tech fans believe in on this staff it’s Hamilton. Sure, he probably wasn’t ready when he was promoted to replace Bud Foster, but he has “IT.”
His defense shows fight and gets better throughout the game. Even when things appear to be a struggle, Hamilton and the defense find a way. This group isn’t going to remind anyone of those great Foster defenses, but it’s a solid group and Hamilton is a coach on the rise.
Key guys to know are cornerbacks Jermaine Waller and Dorian Strong, defensive tackle Jordan Williams and defensive end Amare Barno. Barno is an athletic freak and Waller is a future NFL starter.
6. Quick Hitters from the Fans:
Any players out for the ND game?— Cheryl Russo (@CherylR01091480) October 3, 2021
Bryan D. Manning: Justin Fuente is pretty mum on injuries. He’s pretty mum regardless, but especially tight-lipped with injuries.
Of course, you know the Hokies are without tight end James Mitchell for the season. The other concern is right tackle Silas Dzansi. Virginia Tech really struggled without Dzansi last time out.
"Michael Vick was pretty good, huh?"— Ryan Kennedy (@RyanKWrites) October 3, 2021
Bryan D. Manning: Yes, we miss him every day.
Whom would you start at QB if you were Tommy Rees?— Tinfoilery (@Tom_FooIery) October 4, 2021
Bryan D. Manning: In all honesty, there is no one this year. Virginia Tech has zero depth at quarterback with two players transferring out after last season. So, it’s essentially Burmeister or bust, for better or worse. Hokie fans realize this, too.*
*Pat Rick Note: Bryan may have misunderstood the question, but I don’t hate his answer. Any of y’all also think maybe Tommy Rees should give Burmeister a chance under center this weekend??? Not the worst idea.
So just what exactly is a “Hokie”?— Hayden Adams (@HaydenAdamsZ) October 3, 2021
Bryan D. Manning: We ask you to check out this link.
I think you’ll probably find different answers from different sources, but let’s go with this one.
7. Spooky Season Festive Question: pick one Hokie player on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams, and compare them to a famous monster/ghost/ghoul/spirit/villain/scary thing (e.g. Dracula, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Freddy Krueger, etc.). Please explain your reasoning why you chose those players and their spooky counterparts.
Bryan D. Manning: Knox Kadum: Casper the friendly ghost! Look at that friendly and smiling face! This dude would be awesome at gently haunting a house, in a fun way.
Armani Chapman: Dracula. Throw on a high collared cape and add some flying bats around him, for effect, and you have an obvious Transylvanian vampire.
Luke Tenuta: Frankenstein. Because he is huge. 6’ 9” and 322 pounds! Dude is a monster.
8. Are there any stadium traditions across the country that you think are better than the Virginia Tech “Enter Sandman” entrance, and how much of an impact do you think the Lane Stadium atmosphere will have on the game Saturday evening (considering ND blew out the Hokies the last time they played in Blacksburg, but also considering this Irish team is significantly worse/less experienced this time around)?
Bryan D. Manning: We are biased here. I am sure you guys are pretty partial to your amazing traditions in South Bend. For us Hokies, there’s just nothing better than “Enter Sandman.”
You should’ve felt the energy on Sept. 3 when the Hokies hosted UNC. I expect something similar on Saturday. I’ve heard so many people over the years say how much they wanted to see a game in Blacksburg. Then, once they’ve been, they say it has been one of the most amazing sports events they’ve attended.
9. Alright, let’s get down to it — who do you think is going to win, what will the score be, and why?
Bryan D. Manning: I think the game is close. I think the week off will help Virginia Tech, just not enough to pick up what would be a huge win for head coach Justin Fuente.
Notre Dame 27, Virginia Tech 20
I wanna give a huge shout-out to Bryan for his time and all his responses to even our most inane questions, not to mention some very refreshing candor on how Hokies fans feel about the program and its coach.
Make sure you head over to Gobbler Country before Saturday to ingest all the insights and analysis you’ll ever need about the Virginia Tech Hokies, including a Q&A with some moron named Pat Rick they recently published.
Additionally, I highly encourage you all to give both Gobbler Country and Bryan some follows on Twitter for all the best tweets about VaTech sports you could ever hope to consume, both heading into this weekend and also going forward. They’re great follows, without a doubt.
That’s all for this week, folks — as always, Go Irish!