by Mike Coffey
Our guest author this week is seanfl
This Saturday marks the final home game of the year for Notre Dame. For most fans, the season can’t end soon enough. However, the Irish still have bowl opportunities if they can win their next two games. Before next weekend, and their annual match up with USC, the Irish will face off against Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech, for the first time since 1987, has a head coach on their sideline that is not named Frank Beamer. Yes, Frank Beamer was the coach for Virginia Tech when Tim Brown was winning the Heisman Trophy for Notre Dame. Their program has been a model of consistency. They have been to a bowl game every year since 1993. Bud Foster has been a member of the defensive coaching staff since 1987. And they constantly produce NFL talent. While not the juggernaut they were in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, they certainly have the talent to not only win this Saturday, but make things ugly if Notre Dame doesn’t show up for all four quarters.
Virginia Tech’s Offense vs Notre Dame’s Defense
Justin Fuente has brought his high octane offense to Blacksburg and the results have been pretty solid for his first year. It’s never easy to overhaul an offensive philosophy in just one year, but the early returns are fairly good. Jerod Evans is the driving force behind this offense. Not only has he been very efficient ( 22 tds to just 4 ints), he is also their leading rusher. He has been very solid on the short, intermediate passes but has struggled when stretching the ball down field. That should help Notre Dame’s young defensive backfield. Since the Texas game, Notre Dame’s defensive backs have done a solid job of keeping the ball in front of them, and limiting long gains. However, Notre Dame has yet to face a more talented receiving unit than the one they will face this weekend. Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips are the best wideouts the Irish will face outside of USC. While not speed merchants, they are consistent and have the size to win a lot of one on one battles. If you are looking at a serious mismatch, look no further than tight end Bucky Hodges. Listed at 6-7 and around 250 pounds, he is a red zone nightmare. Notre Dame would be wise to have Donte Vaughn shadow Hodges inside the 20 yard line. Vaughn’s size would help negate some of the advantage that Hodges has over most defensive backs. The running game though, hasn’t been a high point for the Hokies. Travon McMillian has twice gone over the 100 yard mark this season, but much like Josh Adams (who has two 100 yard efforts this season as well), that is the extent of 100 yards games by a back in this match up. Evans is an effective runner, but the lack of running game has begun to hurt the Hokie’s as the season has wore on. The offensive line, while solid in pass protection, has not been able to get the sort of push needed in the running game to sustain drives. Boy, doesn’t that sound familiar?!?! The Hokies have been turnover prone as of late. A few turnovers would go a long way for this young, but improving Irish defense.
Notre Dame’s Offense vs Virginia Tech’s Defense
If he would actually listen to reason, Brian Kelly would line up and run 50 times this weekend. Virginia Tech has given up an average of 232 yards per game on the ground over the past 3 weeks. Part of that is due to nagging injuries on the Hokie front four. That is a weakness that should be exploited. Wearing down the defense, and limiting the pass rush, would be exactly what the doctor ordered in this game. While DeShone Kizer will have opportunities to make plays with his arm, throwing 40 times will play right into Virginia Tech’s strength. Equanimeous St. Brown and KJ Stepherson have exceed expectations this year, but they will find it tougher sledding against a defense that is currently 12th in the nation in pass defense. Kizer must show more poise and pocket awareness. The Hokies average around 2.5 sacks a game. Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds are very active linebackers and are the leading tacklers. Edmunds is not only tied for the team lead in sacks but interceptions as well. The Notre Dame offensive line needs to sustain their blocks, and should be able to open holes for Josh Adams and Tarean Folston, if given the chance. I am not expecting much of an opportunity though.
“Beamer Ball” is not what it once was in Blacksburg. The Hokie kicking game is 17-23 on field goal attempts, and only 1-5 beyond 39 yards. The punting game is averaging under 40 yards per kick. While the Hokies do have a punt return for a touchdown this year, overall, the return game has been average. Notre Dame’s special teams can make a big play at any moment. They also are one play away from losing a game. It’s anyone’s guess which one will show up.
If you just went by talent, Notre Dame should win this game going away. Unfortunately, Notre Dame is the team that is 4-6 and Virgina Tech is the team sitting at 7-3. Justin Fuente has done an admirable job in his first year taking over for a program legend. Brian Kelly has looked like a first year coach this season. Coaching will be the deciding factor this week. Notre Dame should have the advantage there as well. I said “should”, not “will”.
Here are a few questions for this game:
Will Brian Kelly run the ball more than he throws?
Will the Notre Dame pass defense be able to hang with this elite receiving corp?
Will Virginia Tech avoid costly turnovers?
Which special teams unit will avoid the big mistake?
Does Jarron Jones emerge from his 2 week coma?
Will this be Brian Kelly’s final game in South Bend?
A lot of fans are hoping that this will be Brian Kelly’s final game at Notre Dame Stadium. If the Irish come out flat on Senior Day, Virginia Tech has the talent to absolutely handle the Irish and put another ugly wart on this season. Notre Dame needs a win to keep their meager bowl hopes alive. Virginia Tech needs a win next week against rival Virginia in order to secure a spot in the ACC Championship. I’m unsure how motivated the Hokies are for this game. Shockingly, this is also the type of game that Brian Kelly’s teams usually get up for. That combination makes me think that the Irish send their senior’s out with a victory.
Notre Dame 34 Virginia Tech 24