Irish earn road win, carve up Hokies in second half
Joe Everett | Sunday, October 7, 2018
BLACKSBURG, Va. — After a tightly fought first 30 minutes, No. 6 Notre Dame pulled away from No. 24 Virginia Tech in the second half to defeat the Hokies 45-23 Saturday night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
Despite a raucous opening atmosphere, junior quarterback Ian Book and the Irish (6-0) calmly marched down the field on their first drive. Book first found senior wide receiver Miles Boykin for 18 yards. A facemask penalty on the Hokies (3-2, 2-0 ACC) then moved the ball into Virginia Tech territory. Two-straight passes from Book to senior tight end Alize Mack and junior Chase Claypool landed the Irish on the 11-yard line. While Notre Dame was eventually stopped just short of the line on third down, a Book sneak gave the Irish a fresh set of downs, and senior running back Dexter Williams punched it in on the next play to put the Irish up 7-0.
After a three-and-out by the Hokies, the Irish got right back to work from their 27-yard line, as Book completed a deep pass to senior slot receiver Chris Finke on first down for 56 yards to the Virginia Tech 17. However, the drive stalled from there, and senior Justin Yoon knocked a 31-yard field goal through the uprights to extend the lead to 10-0.
Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis responded on the Hokies’ second drive, completing a pass to Damon Hazelton for 12 yards to open up the offense. Virginia Tech thought it had a touchdown after a trick-play pass on a reverse worked, but an ineligible man downfield penalty wiped it out, and the Hokies settled for a 39-yard field goal.
Notre Dame’s ensuing drive stalled at the Virginia Tech 41 as Book was unable to convert with his feet on third down. Catastrophe struck for the Irish on the next play, as graduate student captain and punter Tyler Newsome couldn’t handle a bouncing snap and was tackled for a 16-yard loss. The Hokies took over at the Notre Dame 43, but the Irish defense held firm and forced another field goal.
After both teams traded drives, Notre Dame took over on its own 37. But on first down, Book was intercepted by defensive back Reggie Floyd, setting up the Hokies in Irish territory. Running back Steven Peoples then ripped off a 41-yard run and was tripped up right before the goal line. Virginia Tech appeared poised to take the lead, but the Irish defense stonewalled the Hokies on three-straight plays to force a 22-yard field goal and maintain a 10-9 lead.
“I think that was huge for our defense,” junior cornerback Julian Love said. “I think we’re extremely tough … stuff like that is just the little things you see in a special defense like ours that really make a difference.”
Bud Foster’s defense next confused Book again and forced another three-and-out, but the Irish returned the favor with a big play of their own, as junior defensive end Khalid Kareem forced a Willis fumble that Love recovered and returned 42 yards for an Irish touchdown that briefly swung momentum and extended the Irish lead to 17-9.
Willis shook off the mistake, however, and drove Virginia Tech down the field in a minute before halftime, capping off the drive — which saw Irish junior defensive end Julian Okwara ejected for targeting — with a three-yard touchdown pass to Hazelton to make it a 17-16 game at halftime.
“‘Do your job, focus in on what you’re supposed to do, trust your teaching, trust your coaching and we’re going to be fine, we’re going to win the game, but don’t get outside those lines,’” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly on what he told his team at halftime. “So, it was really much more of it’s going to take four quarters if you just hang in there and do what you’re supposed to do, we’re going to win the game.”
The Irish came out and answered the call, as Virginia Tech’s opening drive of the half stalled after crossing into Notre Dame territory, but a well-executed punt pinned the Irish at the 5-yard line.
While Virginia Tech looked to force another three-and-out, Williams and the Irish offensive line had other ideas. The Hokies stacked the box on second down, but a hole opened up on the left side and a quick cut by Williams gave him nothing but green grass ahead, and the senior outran the Virginia Tech defense 97 yards for his second touchdown of the game — the longest run in Lane Stadium history.
After a missed 48-yard field goal by Virginia Tech, Book engineered a nine-play, 70-yards drive that he completed by scrambling out of the pocket, faking a run and drawing three defenders to him. The junior then lofted a pass to Boykin, who had slipped behind the defense and took the pass to the house, pushing the lead to 31-16.
The teams traded punts after Book was unable to hit a wide-open Claypool downfield, and a short punt by Newsome set the Hokies up at midfield as the third quarter drew to a close.
The Hokies were unable to turn the great field position into points, however, as kicker Brian Johnson missed a 52-yard field goal again wide left.
The Irish made them pay on the following drive, as Book to Boykin took over the game. The duo connected twice on the fade route to keep the drive alive, and capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown connection — their second of the night — to make it 38-16 Irish with 9:08 left in the fourth. Boykin finished the night with 8 catches for 117 yards.
Virginia Tech would drive down the field the following possession and eventually score a touchdown on Willis’ 15-yard pass to wide receiver Eric Kumah, but any hope for a comeback stopped there. Notre Dame recovered the onside kick, and Williams took a handoff 31 yards for his third touchdown of the night — finishing the night with 178 yards on 17 carries. Love sealed the deal by intercepting a Willis pass, and the Irish won their first road game against a ranked team since 2015. Kelly explained how Notre Dame’s sixth win of the year was a complete team effort.
“I don’t know if we walk around talking about killer instinct as much as we want to complement each other well,” Kelly said. “And what I mean by that is our offense wants to complement our defense and our special teams. We’ve struggled with that during my time here, complementing each side of the ball. We are beginning to do that much better. Our offense is complementing our defense, which we saw that today. Julian Love’s pick and score, when he picks it up and scores, got us back into that complement piece. We were kind of wobbly offensively at the time, so we needed that momentum. It gave us a great shot in the arm in the second half and really played pretty good offense.”
Book, who finished 25/35 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, encapsulated how the team felt postgame.
“It feels good to get such a big win, so we’re all happy, the team’s happy, it’s a huge win for us and we’ve gotta move on and play a good Pitt team, so there’s no better feeling.”