After The Open Week, Hokies Turn Their Attention To The Irish

Virginia Tech turns its attention to Notre Dame this week. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech’s open week came at a great time. The Hokies had a chance to get younger players reps last week at practice, while the starters had more time to look at film with their coaches. Injured players had an extra week to rest and get healthy, too.

The attention now turns to No. 14 Notre Dame. The Irish (4-1) venture to Blacksburg looking to bounce back from a 24-13 loss to No. 5 Cincinnati on Saturday.

Here are some takeaways from Monday’s press conference with head coach Justin Fuente, including what young players stood out and what kind of threat Notre Dame poses:

Younger Players Got Reps

As Fuente hit on last week, having an open week can be a real benefit to everyone on the team. Experienced players rest and figure out what they need to adjust moving forward, while those with less mileage on their legs can push themselves a bit harder than they would on a normal game week.

Fuente mentioned a few players that stood out to him throughout last week, including Jaylen Jones, Jalen Stroman and Wilfried Pene.

Jalen Stroman hasn’t been a huge factor yet, but he’ll get more experience with more time. Also, how did he not block this punt? (Ivan Morozov)

“It’s more long-term investment [than it is instant growth],” Fuente said. “Sometimes that long-term ends up being short-term, you just never know how the season is going to play out. The first guy that comes to mind is Jaylen Jones. A guy who was dealing a little bit with an injury, but when he’s been healthy, he’s been working with the ones and rotating in. It was good to get him in there.

“Jalen Stroman’s another one, kind of in that freshman class, that’s on the verge of playing a lot but has been slowed for one reason or another. It was great to get those guys in there. Pene is another one that just moved to the defensive line and working inside and needed all of that work and took full advantage of it, in terms of showing up to really work.”

Pene’s taken 19 total snaps this season, per PFF, while Stroman has played 55 and Jones has played 18. Getting those guys firsthand opportunities in-season will go a long way to their development.

Containing Notre Dame’s Three QBs

Through five games, Notre Dame has used three different quarterbacks. Jack Coan has started all five games and head coach Brian Kelly said Coan was the starter going forward after the Wisconsin win. Tyler Buchner, who is more of a run-first quarterback, has seen time in three games.

But it was Drew Pyne who really kickstarted the Irish offense against the Bearcats. Trailing 17-0, Kelly made the move to Pyne, who led Notre Dame on two scoring drives to bring the Irish within 17-13. ND lost, but Pyne seemed to spark the offense, something Fuente pointed to on Monday.

“I think 12 [Buchner] is obviously an athletic kid,” Fuente said. “I see the offense changing the most when he’s in there. 17 [Coan] and 10 [Pyne] seem to be the more proficient passers and I would say the offense is similar with those two guys in there. It still adds a challenge – you have to be ready for everything that you’re going to see without chasing ghosts. … We have to be ready for whatever guy they choose to roll with.

“Watching the game, when Pyne was in there, I thought they were going to come back and win, that’s what I thought. They had a little momentum there and they were making some plays offensively.”

Coan leads the Irish in passing with 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. Pyne was the difference against Cincinnati, though, like previously mentioned. He only completed 9 of 22 pass attempts but threw for 143 yards and a touchdown. 

Below is a breakdown of Notre Dame’s season passing stats:

The Threat The Irish Defense Poses

Notre Dame has changed defensive coordinators in recent years, which sometimes means the scheme will change as well.

After Clark Lea left to become the Vanderbilt head coach in the offseason, the defense is now under the command of Marcus Freeman. Fuente said the unit is “quite a bit different” than previous groups.

The Hokies have had success against Notre Dame’s defense in recent years, like Tre Turner (above). (Ivan Morozov)

“I think Marcus Freeman is a fantastic coach with a bright future,” Fuente said. “They gave up a couple big plays, missed a tackle or two in the first game and then have played really solid defense ever since. They mix up their looks. The foundation is man coverage, but they mix up their looks and move their fronts and do quite a bit.

“They provide a tremendous challenge for everyone when you start to think about the diversity of looks you’re going to get and the talent of the people you’re going to try and play against.”

Virginia Tech and Notre Dame have played three times over the past few years: 2016, 2018 and 2019. The Hokies out-gained the Irish in the first two games, and in the third, with Quincy Patterson under in South Bend, didn’t have an excellent day offensively but played well enough to keep the team in it.

Every team that has faced Notre Dame this season has put up at least 300 yards of offense, and the Irish were out-gained in every game except Toledo. There seems to be potential to expose this defense, and as Fuente said, it’s going to be a battle.

“Every inch, every piece of turf is going to be hard fought for. Four yards is a big deal, and we’ve got to be emotionally prepared for that kind of game.”

Note On Silas Dzansi‘s Injury:

Fuente said they’ll find out more about Dzansi’s status as they go through the week. He said Dzansi’s injury status hasn’t changed, as of Monday. He injured his foot in the West Virginia game, and Fuente said he didn’t think it would be a long-term deal after the Richmond win.

13 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. We struggle with Richmond, but hammer ND? I don’t see it.

    With regard to ND in the ACC, ND would give a big trump card to the ACC while the SEC continues to spread its tentacles.

  2. Need to amp up the WR and TE routes, use more slants and pick plays against the ND D. (Yes I know picks are illegal but every team runs them – except us). Quick hitters and long throws mix it up, and then hit em with some runs but LIMIT the jet and QB runs. We will need BB down the stretch. This aint rocket science, coaches.

  3. Too bad this is not an ACC Conference game. ND needs to be in the ACC for football, like they are in all other conference sports.

    1. I don’t get why people care about this so much. If ND is in our conference that’s one other huge hurdle we have to get over yearly in attempt to win the Coastal or conference. With them not in conference it gives us a big national spotlight game with really nothing to lose.

      1. There are so many more positives for Notre Dame to be in the ACC with all their sports, than it is now. This is absolutely a no-brainer for full ACC membership, and especially competing with the SEC in the future. I’m surprised you don’t see that the future is what is important to the ACC.

  4. I read the post-UC ND game comments on The Athletic and they make some of you guys seem like optimists – Captain Obvious thinks if we control the LoS we will win easily, if not it will be a long night.

  5. Pyne? I don’t see it. 30 attempts for only 220 yards? Cincy exposed their OL, we’re gonna beat these guys, like a drum.

  6. “There seems to be potential to expose this defense.”

    It will be interesting to see if this offense is able to do any “exposing” on Saturday evening.

    1. only “exposing” so far is a weak armed QB and zero wide receivers who have the strength to break man coverage consistently.

      ND by 13

      1. I disagree with TallyHokie on the comments but don’t disagree on the score predict. Until the Hokies O shows it can expose someone – anyone – the D can only do so much. Takes me back to those Stiney years where Bud Foster basically carried the load 75,80% every Saturday. If the O-line can push ND around, we got a shot but I’ll believe when I see it. If I’m Marcus Freeman, stack the box, shutdown the run and make BB hurl it to receivers who’ve been – meh – to say the least. Ain’t complicated. See? You can make reasoned comments w/out the endless buffoonery for Fu’s head or relegating Corny to play calling at Scottsdale Community College. Let’s keep our wits, folks, no matter what the scoreboard looks like Saturday.

    2. Yeah, it’s time for a VT breakout game offensively. They had two weeks to review the first four and correct the BS. Let’s see if these coaches can get it done and put our guys in position to win a big one. ACC is up for grabs.

    3. It would be if we had a consistent offense. Pretty pathetic when we struggle with Richmond when they made Elon look like a P5 team.

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