BLACKSBURG — No. 24 Virginia Tech set out to stop No. 6 Notre Dame’s surging rushing attack in their Saturday night prime time matchup at Lane Stadium, a plan that worked splendidly for two quarters.
The Irish actually lost three yards on the ground in the first half, a surprising total for a team that had averaged 252 yards on the ground in its previous three games. Notre Dame was only temporarily grounded, however.
One explosive run, and a handful of other chunk yardage plays, unlocked the Irish offense as the golden-domed visitors rolled to a 45-23 victory over Virginia Tech.
“It kind of got out of hand in the second half. We just shot ourselves in the foot,” Hokies rover Reggie Floyd said.
Irish senior running back Dexter Williams broke off a 97-yard touchdown run in the third quarter — the longest run in Lane Stadium history — to push the Irish lead to 24-16. It was one of four plays of 30 or more yards on the night for Notre Dame and the first of three backbreaking explosive gains in the second half.
Irish wide receiver Mikes Boykin caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ian Book in the third quarter, and Williams added a 31-yard touchdown run for insurance in the fourth quarter.
“When the lights are on, we have to be better in those situations,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “We played solid football early, but in the second half, we didn’t execute like we needed to do, and they did. That was the difference in the football game.”
Those three big plays, along with a 20-yard Boykin catch in the fourth quarter and a 56-yard completion from Book to receiver Chris Finke in the first quarter, continue a concerning trend for Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies have yielded 29 plays of 20 or more yards this season, including 14 plays of 30-plus yards and eight plays of 40 or more.
Williams finished with 178 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Boykin caught eight passes for 117 yards and two scores. Book passed for 271 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Virginia Tech’s defense kept the game close in the first half, while the team’s offense committed costly mistakes to stifle prime scoring opportunities. The Hokies settled for three Brian Johnson field goals before quarterback Ryan Willis led a one-minute drill to get Tech into the end zone right before halftime.
That score cut the Irish lead to 17-16, giving the Hokies false hope. Reality set in early in the third quarter.
On second-and-12 from the Notre Dame 3, Williams took a handoff and ran to his left. Tech defenders pursued, but Williams made a quick cut to his right to avoid a diving Floyd near the 5-yard line. He ran through a giant hole and had a clear path to the end zone.
Hokies linebacker Khalil Ladler tried to chase down Williams. He attempted a diving tackle at the 25-yard line, catching only a piece of Williams’ foot as he ran the rest of the way to the end zone.
“That was certainly a big play. They were trying to get the edge and Dexter Williams turned back inside and hit air,” Tech head coach Justin Fuente said. “Williams can scoot. That was one of several plays. That was certainly a big one in the game.”
The Hokies were without starting safety Divine Deablo, who suffered a hamstring injury in practice Wednesday according to Foster. Deablo dressed for the game but was not medically cleared to play. Sophomore safety Tyree Rodgers made his first career start in Deablo’s place and was targeted early in the game by Book.
That wasn’t the only injury for Tech’s defense. Cornerback Caleb Farley battled through an ankle injury he suffered during the game.
He was out of place on Notre Dame’s second big touchdown of the third quarter.
Book was flushed to his left by Tech’s pass rush. Farley hesitated, presumably to cut off a possible quarterback run, and Book tossed a pass to Boykin, who had slipped behind Farley. Boykin caught the pass at the 27 and rumbled the rest of the way for a 40-yard touchdown and a 31-16 lead with 4:59 left in the third.
“Those things make you pull your hair out,” Foster said.
The floodgates opened. Boykin caught a 5-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, and Williams tacked on a 31-yard touchdown run in the waning minutes.
“After [Williams’ run], we kind of self-destructed a little bit,” Foster said.