Way-Too-Early Preview: Virginia Tech
Observer Sports Staff | Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Next in our way-too-early Notre Dame Football Predictions? Enter Sandman.
Opponent: Virginia Tech
Date: October 9, 2021
Location: Lane Stadium; Blacksburg, VA
History of the Matchup
The series between Notre Dame and Virginia Tech is a fairly recent one, beginning in 2016 amid the worst Irish season in the Brian Kelly era. The Hokies posted a 34-31 statement win in South Bend that season, roaring back from a 17-point deficit and notching a field goal with 4:16 left in the fourth to knock Notre Dame down to 4-7. The Irish would go on to end the year 4-8.
Notre Dame captured victory in the two subsequent matchups.
In 2018, the No. 6 Irish travelled to Blacksburg amid their CFP run to hand the Hokies a 45-23 thrashing. In 2019, No. 16 Notre Dame won a nail-biter in South Bend when Ian Book took control and pranced into the end zone with less than 3 minutes left in the fourth to bring his team the win after being down 20-14 with 3:40 left in the game.
After starting the year 4-2, the Hokies went on a four-game skid, ending with a losing record for the second time in three seasons. Virginia Tech had a series of COVID-19 issues, including a game against NC State that had 23 virus-related absences. But the Hokies likely would have struggled even if it wasn’t a pandemic year.
Offensively, four different quarterbacks saw snaps. Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister began the year as the starting quarterback as Hendon Hooker was sidelined with COVID-19, but Hooker took the job back once he returned to full health. He retained his spot under center for the majority of the season, passing for nine touchdowns and rushing for nine more as he sought to keep his team above .500. However, Burmeister took over again in the final two games of the season, with Hooker announcing his intent to transfer shortly thereafter. Quincy Patterson II also saw time and threw for a pair of touchdowns, and Knox Kadum took six snaps as play-caller as well.
The bright spot on the offense was the run game, headlined by back Khalil Herbert, who posted six 100-yard rushing games in 2020. Hooker also lifted a heavy load on the ground, aided by a strong offensive line. But the defense was fragmented, making it difficult for a productive offense to translate into a winning one.
The Hokies lose their top two men on the ground: running back Khalil Herbert and Hooker. The two accounted for 68% of the teams rushing yards and 63% of its rushing scores. Virginia Tech will likely look to air the ball out as two of their top three aerial threats return — wide receiver Tayvion Robinson (592 yards for three touchdowns) and tight end James Mitchell (435 yards for four touchdowns). But Tre Turner (529 yards for three touchdowns) has declared for the draft, an absence that will undoubtedly be felt.
Offensively, they’ll also lose tackle Christian Darrisaw, one of the critical players in Virginia Tech’s strong run game. But other members of the so-called “Vice Squad” — Lecitus Smith, Brock Hoffman, Doug Nester and Silas Dzansi — will all return to protect the backfield. Defensively, cornerback Caleb Farley will be absent from the secondary, as well as DB Chamarri Conner and safety Divine Deablo. On the line, Rayshard Ashby will also be missing.
Their schedule isn’t a particularly grueling one, and the week before they host Notre Dame they have a bye. They’ll be rested and likely game plan for the Irish, but it will be an uphill battle for the Hokies on the road to victory. This looks to be a rebuilding year as Virginia Tech attempts to resolve quarterback controversy and fill gaps across the board.
(Way Too Early) Predictions
Ellen Geyer — Senior Sports Writer
Though the Hokies are coming off a bye-week, they look to be a fairly disjointed program in 2021. They lose their top passer, their top two rushers, their best tight end, their leading tackler, two of their best backs, a strong linebacker and a projected first-round offensive tackle. It’s gonna be a tough year, and it will probably be too much for Justin Fuente to overcome with good coaching alone. By mid-October, Notre Dame should be firing on all cylinders, but this game could easily become a trap (as it almost did in 2019). With no Ian Book to bail them out this time, the Irish will have to hop out to an early lead and take care of business on the road.
Notre Dame 42, Virginia Tech 24
Emily DeFazio — Associate Sports Editor
Not to speak too soon, but the Irish seem to be heavily favored in this matchup. The loss of talent on Virginia’s side alone could be cause for concern for our opponent, and that’s before factoring in all of the talent added to Notre Dame’s roster in this year’s recruiting cycle. As mentioned in Purdue’s WTE Preview, however, the Irish need to be careful not to let up so much that they run into the familiar position of easy matchups becoming hard victories. But I see this game being a victory nonetheless.
Notre Dame 31, Virginia Tech 10