Dexter Williams burst off left tackle for a 97-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to break open a tight game and propel Notre Dame to a 45-23 victory over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Irish offense was stymied for most of the first half, but a scoop and score by Julian Love after a Khalid Kareem sack allowed them to hold a precarious 17-16 lead at intermission. After Williams’ score made it 24-16, Ian Book started to find top target Miles Boykin and the visitors won the second half by 28-7. Boykin caught two touchdown passes and Williams capped the scoring with a 31-yard run after Notre Dame recoved an onside kick late in the game. The victory moves the Irish to 6-0 and should get them into the top five in the upcoming polls.
Book started fast by engineering a 75-yard drive to get the evening started. He then connected with Chris Finke on a 56-yard strike, but the Irish settled for a field goal and a 10-0 lead just eight minutes in. The Hokies tightened up on defense and began to chip away at the lead with a trio of three pointers by Brian Johnson. They were driving again near midfield late in the second quarter when Kareem chased down quarterback Ryan Willis and knocked the ball to the ground. Love streaked by and ran it 42 yards to paydirt and a 17-9 lead with a minute remaining in the half. Virginia Tech refused to fold, however, as Willis brought his team right back down the field by picking apart Notre Dame’s prevent defense. A short scoring pass to Damon Hazelton with 12 seconds left tightened the gap to 17-16.
The Hokies were forced to punt on their initial third quarter possession, and downed it at the Notre Dame five yard line. The Irish, who had minus three yards rushing in the first half, lost two more on the first play before Williams blew past the defense for the momentum changing touchdown. After Johnson missed a long field goal on the next series, Book scrambled on a third down play and hit a wide open Boykin for a 40-yard score and a 31-16 advantage.
This scenario repeated itself moments later as a long Johnson field goal attempt went wide and Book responded by hitting Boykin again from five yards early in the fourth period. The teams traded meaningless touchdowns later to account for the final 45-23 margin, and Love picked off a pass by Willis to turn out the lights.
Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:
Can the Irish continue to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns? Notre Dame had two touchdowns and one field goal in three red zone tries. The other scores were long plays over land, through the air, and by the defense.
Will Notre Dame’s defensive line have enough energy for another dominating performance? The Irish were gashed a few times in the first half, but Kareem’s strip sack and a solid second half performance won the day. All of this was without injured end Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara, who was ejected for targeting before halftime.
Which receivers will have the most success downfield? It was nearly a draw, but Notre Dame had more productive pass plays. Hazelton riddled the Irish for 131 yards on 12 receptions, while Boykin led the Irish with 117 yards on eight catches.
Will the Irish lose their poise in the face of the frenzied Virginia Tech crowd? The Hokie scoring drive before halftime was disconcerting, but the Irish regrouped and dominated after intermission.
Which team will be able to run the ball and achieve offensive balance? Virginia Tech won this battle in the first half, but Williams took over in the second.
Can either special teams dominate or deliver a scoring play? The Hokies were clearly better, and Notre Dame hurt itself with a bad snap on a punt that essentially was a turnover. This led to a first half field goal by Johnson.
Which quarterback will avoid turnovers and execute best on third down? Both quarterbacks suffered one interception. Willis hit some clutch passes in the course of his 31 of 52 performance, but Book to Boykin was a magical third down formula for the Irish when it mattered most.
Will Brian Kelly finally become a Road Warrior? Certainly a step in the right direction, but he still scares the hell out of me.
The Irish will return home to face a historically problematic opponent in Pittsburgh next Saturday before getting a much needed bye. The injuries are mounting, although nothing serious was reported after this contest. Still, Tony Jones, Jr. was unable to run with authority and the defensive starters played a lot of snaps. The silver lining is this offense has put up 44 points per game with Book at the helm, and that is going to be enough on most nights.