We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment sections and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in-depth.
Game 6-Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
When: October 9th
How to Watch: ACC Network
The Hokies enter year 6 under Justin Fuentes. Fuentes had the thankless task of replacing the legendary Frank Beamer following the 2015 season. After posting a 10-4 and 9-4 record during his first two years in Blacksburg, Fuentes has only managed a 19-18 record over the past 3 seasons.
In 2020, the Hokies finished 5-6. Three of their 6 losses came by one score or less. Arguably Virginia Tech’s most talented player, Caleb Farley, opted out of the season prior to the beginning of the season. The highlight of their season came during the season-opening contest as they thrashed #23 NC State 45-24. As a result of their inconsistent play during the year, the players voted to refrain from attending a bowl game, ending the fourth-longest consecutive bowl appearance streak in college football history at 27 games.
Last year, the Hokies were powered by an explosive ground game. Unfortunately for them, their starting running back, Khalil Herbet, and left tackle, Christian Darrisaw, both were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Starting quarterback Hendon Hooker also departed via transfer to Tennessee. First-year defensive coordinator, Justin Hamilton, struggled to find consistency on the defensive side. The Hokies had to make do without three-fifths of their starting secondary for most of 2020. Besides the Farley opt-out, safety Devon Hunter was suspended, and cornerback Jermaine Waller was plagued by injuries throughout the year. Not exactly a recipe for success as Hamilton sought to replicate the sterling performances of previous defensive coordinator, Bud Foster. Foster, retired following the 2019 season, concluding a 33 year run on the Virginia Tech coaching staff.
Notre Dame-Virginia Tech All-Time
After not having faced the Hokies prior to 2016, the teams will now have met 4 out of the last 6 seasons. Virginia Tech’s lone victory came during the dismal 2016 campaign for the Irish. Meanwhile, Notre Dame pounded Virginia Tech 45-23 during the 2018 season in what was hyped as the biggest game in the history of Lane Stadium. Also, who can forget the 2019 victory against Virginia Tech in which Ian Book scampered for a 7-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds remaining to pull out a 21-20 victory.
Hokie Hype (Note No 2021 Hype Video Exists for the 2021 Team)
The Top 3 Players
Braxton Burmeister- A former Oregon Duck, the offense will be Burmeister’s show in 2021 following the transfer of Hendon Hooker. Burmeister completed 48/84 passes for a total of 687 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception during an injury-marred 2020 campaign.
Amare Barno-Even with a healthy Jermaine Waller in 2021, Barno is the leader of the Hokie defense. Entering 2020, Barno transitioned from linebacker to defensive end. The move paid off as he finished the season with 6.5 sacks, 43 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, and forced 2 fumbles.
James Mitchell-Mitchell embodies what the prototypical tight end should look like in the modern era. He stands 6’3’’ and weighs 242 pounds. Unlike most tight ends in this day and age, Mitchell is a capable blocker, while also excelling as a receiving threat. During 2020, he recorded 26 catches, 435 receiving yards, and 4 receiving touchdowns.
There is an enormous amount of pressure on Justin Fuentes in 2021 to perform. Prior to playing Notre Dame, the Hokies will play North Carolina, Middle Tennessee State, West Virginia, and Richmond. In what is becoming customary, Virginia Tech will receive a bye prior to their contest against the Irish.
It is tough to gauge what exactly this Hokie team will be during the 2021 campaign. Last season, the offense scored 33 points or more in 7 games, while also allowing 31 points or more in 6 games. Justin Hamilton should find more success in his second year as defensive coordinator. He will have a disruptive force in Amare Barno along the line and a very capable cover corner in Jermaine Waller. Offensively, the Hokies will have to replace several key pieces. However, a healthy Braxton Burmeister should buoy the offense and should continue the trend of Fuentes fielding explosive offensive units.
From an Irish perspective, the issue with this game is that they will be coming off of back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. What kind of effort level will they be able to produce following two of their biggest games of the season? Despite the phenomenal Irish performance in 2018, there is still reason to be wary about what will almost assuredly be an evening kickoff in Lane Stadium. Atmosphere aside, Notre Dame is more talented than Virginia Tech and should prevail. Though more of a perception than a reality at this point, Notre Dame always seems to get off to slow starts in raucous road environments, which will only add to the difficulty of a game in which the Irish may be entering on emotional fumes.
Difficulty 1-10: 7
Early win or loss prediction: Win