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Jerod Evans leads a strong Virginia Tech offense into South Bend

| Friday, November 18, 2016

At the beginning of this season, very few teams were in the position Notre Dame and Virginia Tech were.

Both teams had a big question mark at the quarterback spot, but they also had several potential answers on their roster. For the Irish (4-6), the battle was between two in-house options, as junior DeShone Kizer ultimately beat out senior Malik Zaire for the gig.

For the Hokies (7-3, 5-2 ACC), the choice was a three-way race between a redshirt senior — Brenden Motley — and two new entries to the program: junior-college transfer Jerod Evans and freshman Josh Jackson. After a battle that lasted throughout fall camp, Evans eventually laid claim to the job.

He and the Hokies haven’t looked back since.

Through 10 games, Evans is both the top aerial and ground threat for Virginia Tech. Through the air, the junior has thrown for 2,525 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions. As a runner, he has accounted for another 608 yards and six touchdowns, both team-best marks.

While his ability as a dual-threat quarterback has spurred much of his success, throwing to the program’s best receiver hasn’t hurt either. Junior Isaiah Ford has already worked his way to the top of the program’s marks in receptions (189) and touchdowns (24), and he finds himself just 216 yards short of the notching the third and final top spot on the Virginia Tech career leaderboard for receivers.

Simply put, Evans and Ford are, on paper, the top quarterback-receiver duo the Irish will face this season.

But Notre Dame might not be catching them quite at their best.

Through its first eight games, Virginia Tech scored just over 36 points per game while accumulating 450 yards of offense. But in their last two contests, the Hokies have found themselves scoring just 24 and 20 points, leading to a close win over an underwhelming Duke team Nov. 5 and a loss to Georgia Tech this past Saturday.

“Well, I think there are probably several things you could point to,” Hokies head coach Justin Fuente said of his team’s recent offensive struggles. “ … There’ve been some things that we’ve had to do a little bit differently, and our overall execution in those things hasn’t been real clean. The thing that, just talking to the offensive staff, [we] may be most disappointed in is — and I’m not taking away from what other people are doing, I think they’re doing a good job and making adjustments — some of our execution on some very fundamental things that don’t show up in the stat line … just hasn’t been as sharp as it needs to be.”

While execution has been part of the problem, another contributing factor could very well be the different looks the Hokies offense has seen in recent weeks. Both Fuente and Ford have noticed defenses making a concerted effort to keep the ball in front of them against the Hokies, taking away explosive plays that opened things up for the offense early on in the season.

“That’s something that we expected early in the season as the season went on,” Ford said. “We knew that teams would try to not let us take the roof off of the defense and things like that, but we’re just going to have to get more plays with yards after the catch. And that starts in our [receiver] room. … We have to accept that challenge and start to make more plays when we get the ball in our hands.”

While the recent problems have not hampered Virginia Tech thus far, as it still controls its own destiny in the ACC’s Coastal division, the Hokies are still hoping to find the solutions sooner rather than later. Ultimately, Evans said he thinks it just comes down to spreading the wealth and not locking into one read or one player, even if that player is Ford.

“I say get everybody more involved … not just a couple people,” Evans said. “I think once that happens, you’ll see more execution.”

And a nonconference matchup with Notre Dame before they put an ACC championship-game berth on the line against Virginia might just be the type of challenge the Hokies need to step up and rediscover their earlier form on offense.

“This is a great opportunity,” Fuente said. “I think that it comes at a good time for us to go on the road and play a very talented team in what I’m sure will be a hostile environment as we continue to grow as a team and try to improve.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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