Head to head: Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 18, 2016
Virginia Tech boats a potent passing attack, led by junior quarterback Jerod Evans. Evans transferred to Blacksburg, Virginia, after two years at a junior college and is now a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award. Evans has thrown for 22 touchdowns — second-most in a single season for the Hokies — and over 2,500 yards this season and ranks in the top 10 in the country in passer rating. Evans is a dual-threat quarterback, and his ability to break out of the pocket should pose problems for Notre Dame’s defense. Evans also has one receiving touchdown on the year off of a trick play.
In the receiving department, the Hokies rely on junior Isaiah Ford. Ford has nearly 800 yards and 60 receptions so far this season, after being named to preseason watchlists for the Biletnikoff and Maxwell Awards. Beyond Ford, who has 24 career touchdown receptions, junior Cam Phillips enters Saturday’s matchup with over 600 yards on the season and 13.8 yards per catch.
Long story short, the Hokies have a lot of weapons the Irish need to shut down. That may be a tough task for the Irish who have not seen a legitimate passing offense in two weeks, after playing two service academies. The young Irish secondary has made strides, but Saturday’s contest will show how far the group has come.
EDGE: VIRGINIA TECH
Virginia Tech is certinaly a pass-first team, but when they do run, the Hokies can open up the ground game. The Hokies backfield does not have one dominant rusher, instead, quarterback Jerod Evans, sophomore Travon McMillian and senior Sam Rogers share carries. McMillian functions as the speed back, while Rogers is more of a downhill runner. Add in Evans with the reed-option and the Irish have a lot to be aware of.
On defense, the Irish performed adequately against the triple-option attacks of Army and Navy. The Irish allowed 320 yards to the Midshipmen, but held the Black Knights to fewer than 230. With graduate student defensive tackle Jarron Jones back in his element, the Irish front seven will have all the weapons they need to stop Virginia Tech’s run game.
HOKIES OFFENSIVE COACHING
After Frank Beamer’s long and storied tenure in Blacksburg, the Hokies new head coach — Justin Fuente — is a different animal. While Beamer was respected throughout the country for his focus on defense and special teams, Fuente was hired to bring high-powered offenses to Blacksburg.
And the results, thus far, are positive. Virginia Tech has put up 450 yards of offense on six occasions and 500 yards twice. This year is just the fourth in the last 30 in which the Hookies have managed to accomplish 450 yards on six occasions. A large amount of credit must be given to Fuente to transition from a hard-nosed ground attack to a more modern pro-style system. Fuente’s pickup of former junior college quarterback Jerod Evans is also paying dividends.
The Irish, meanwhile, are still getting used to defensive coordinator Greg Hudson after the midseason firing of Brian VanGorder. Notre Dame’s stat lines have imporved dramtically, although the game versus North Carolina State in a hurricane tends to skew the stats.
EDGE: VIRIGNIA TECH
HOKIES SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicking for the Hokies is junior Joey Slye. Slye needs to make just nine more field goals to break the Hokies record for most made field goals at 68. Slye’s 17 made field goals this season rank third in the Power 5 conferences and his 88 points lead all ACC kickers.
The Hokies also boast a strong reutrn game, led by junior cornerback Greg Stroman. Stroman has one punt return for a touchdown this season against East Carolina.
EDGE: VIRGINIA TECH
After taking a hit in the middle of the season, junior Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer’s draft stock is on the rise again. Kizer led the Irish to score points on five of their six possessions against Navy and put up three passing touchdowns in a 44-6 blowout one week later versus Army. Kizer has 2,470 yards to his name this season, including 22 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Kizer’s three touchdowns against Army also vaulted him into rarified air, as the junior now sits at third place in Notre Dame’s hsitory for passing touchdowns after less than two full seasons as the starter.
Even with senior Torii Hunter Jr. out against the Black Knights due to a knee injury, the young Irish receiving corp has come along nicely. Freshmen Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson have an impact on a weekly basis and sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown is a star in the making.
The Hokies have a tradition of being a strong defensive team going bck to “Beamer Ball” under Frank Beamer and have only allowed more than 30 points in three contests this year.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
In addition to his arm, DeShone Kizer’s legs have been Notre Dame’s most effective weapon on the ground as of late. He rushed for 70 yards against Army and the Irish as a team tallied their highest season total at 261. Sophomores Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and senior Tarean Folston form a three-headed monster that has been effective when Irish head coach Brian Kelly sticks with it.
The Hokies, on the other side of the ball, are coming off a game agaisnt Georgia Tech where they allowed the Yellow Jackets to gain 309 yards rushing — and two weeks ago, the Hokies gave up 227 yards on the ground to Duke. Virginia Tech’s safeties like to help out with the run, so to find success, the Irish will likely need to establish both a passing attack and a groud game.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
After a mid-season slump which saw questionable coaching form Brian Kelly, the Irish have entered a different gear offensively. Though the Irish only managed to get six offensive possession versus Navy, they scored on five of the them. Notre Dame put up 30 points on a very talented Miami defense and a 44-point display of firepower against Army speaks for itself.
As he’s done in the past two weeks, Kelly has a clear idea of what he wants to accomplish. The Irish run game has picked up and if Kelly makes a commitment to it, it has shown it can be effective. Kizer had a habit of holding the ball too long at the beginning of the season, but now is getting the ball out of his hands more quickly. Though his play calling may anger fans on accasoin, Kelly has shown he can coach up an NFL-caliber quarterback and future NFL receivers.
Though Beamer is gone, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is still making his aggressive brand of defense felt throughout the ACC. The Hokies are famed for passing off the Lunch Pail to a different player each work who earns it through their preparation. If the Hokies hope to escape South Bend with a win, the Virginia Tech defense will have to play near its best.
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
After a kickoff returned for a touchdown last week versus Army, sophomore C.J. Sanders will look to replicate that feat against the Hokies.