- Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame: 7:30, ACC Network
- Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame Betting Line: VT +1
- Virginia Tech-Notre Dame roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click Here
No. 14 Notre Dame heads to Blacksburg for a nighttime matchup with Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium on The ACC Network. The Irish (4-1) are looking to get back in the win column after a high-profile loss to Cincinnati, while the Hokies will hope to pick up their second big home win of the season in front of what should be a loud and rowdy crowd.
On paper, this is an evenly matched game, though it’s not expected to be a pretty contest. Both offenses have struggled this year, while both defenses have played well. There’s also a 64% chance of rain on Saturday night according to ACCUWeather (though that number drops to 49% on Weather.com), which could potentially make things even uglier.
This doesn’t look like a high-scoring affair. Before we get into Notre Dame’s personnel, let’s get into some intangibles.
Intangibles Favor Notre Dame?
The Irish suffered their first loss of the season 24-13 at the hands of No. 5 Cincinnati last week in South Bend. How will they respond? The Notre Dame program under Brian Kelly has peaked since 2017, a year after they went 4-8. Since that 4-8 season, they went a combined 43-8 from 2017 through 2020. They rarely lose, so let’s take a look at what they’ve done immediately following regular season losses since 2017…
2017: 49-20 W vs. BC following a heartbreaking 20-19 loss to No. 15 Georgia
2017: 24-17 W vs. Navy following a surprising 41-8 loss to No. 7 Miami
2017: 21-17 W vs. No. 17 LSU in the Camping World Bowl following a 38-20 loss to No. 21 Stanford
2019: 35-20 W vs. No. 18 UVA following a 23-17 L to No. 3 Georgia
2019: 21-20 W vs. Virginia Tech following a 45-14 loss to No. 19 Michigan
That’s a perfect record. Their other three losses came either in the College Football Playoffs (to Alabama), or in last year’s ACC Championship Game against Clemson. Kelly’s recent teams have responded very well to adversity during the course of the regular season, and two of those wins came against ranked opponents.
That 41-8 loss to Miami in 2017 happens to be the last time Notre Dame has lost a regular season game against an ACC opponent. The Fighting Irish will come to Lane Stadium on Saturday night having defeated 16 consecutive ACC opponents during the regular season by an average of 17.4 points per game. Their closest game during that stretch, however, was their 21-20 home victory against Virginia Tech in 2019, in which the Hokies were without their starting quarterback.
Overall, Notre Dame is 24-1 in their last 25 regular season games against ACC opponents. Thanks to Katie Adams for digging up that interesting stat on the TSL Podcast last week.
From the Virginia Tech side of things, the Hokies are coming off a bye week, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Here are Tech’s results coming off a bye week under Justin Fuente…
2016: 34-3 W over No. 17 UNC
2017: 59-7 W over UNC
2018: 49-35 L to ODU*
2018: 49-28 L to GT
2019: 45-10 L to Duke
2019: 22-21 L to No. 16 Notre Dame
2020: 45-10 L to No. 3 Clemson
*This wasn’t a true bye week, as the ECU game originally scheduled for the week before was canceled just a few days before the game.
To be fair, Tech was well-prepared for Clemson and played the Tigers tough for three quarters, nearly beat the Irish with a backup quarterback, and simply didn’t have the personnel to beat Georgia Tech in 2018. That 2019 Duke game is the one time where the Hokies played a terrible football game following a true bye week.
Fortunately, I don’t think Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame is a similar scenario to most of those past games. The Irish aren’t as good as 2020 Clemson, or the 2019 version of Notre Dame, and there’s no triple option vs. freshman-laden defense such as Georgia Tech in 2018. This one seems like more of an even matchup.
The Notre Dame Quarterback Carousel
Three different quarterbacks have thrown a pass for the Irish this season, and David Cunningham broke it down in his article on Monday…
Jack Coan (6-3, 223, r-Sr.) is a transfer from Wisconsin, and he has struggled against the best defenses he has faced. Here are his stats against those three defenses, each of which he’s faced in the last three weeks…
Purdue: 15-of-30, 223 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
Wisconsin: 15-of-29, 158 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs
Cincinnati: 14-of-22, 114 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
Total: 44-of-81 (54.3%), 495 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
That’s a very low completion percentage, and 6.1 yards per attempt would rank dead last of all quarterbacks if it extended across the entire season. Coan piled up some bigger numbers against Florida State and Toledo, but struggled as the competition increased. Barring a barrage of Virginia Tech turnovers, I think it would be very difficult for the Irish to win on the road in Blacksburg against a solid Hokie defense with Coan at quarterback.
That’s why I think we’ll probably see Drew Pyne (5-11, 200, r-Fr.) as Notre Dame’s starter on Saturday night. He did well when Coan was injured against Wisconsin, and he came on last week after Coan was ineffective and the Irish offense finally got on the scoreboard against the Bearcats.
Pyne is short for a former 4-star quarterback, but he has given Notre Dame a spark, and he’s also a better runner than Coan. However, he’s also a very inexperienced player, and Justin Hamilton’s defensive staff will have more film on Pyne than any other defense he’s faced thus far. He’s probably the best option for the Irish, but he’s certainly not a perfect one.
We could also see a bit of Tyler Buchner (6-1, 215, Fr.), but most likely only as a wildcat quarterback. He was allowed to throw two passes against Cincinnati last week, and both were incomplete, with one being picked off.
The Notre Dame Offensive Line: An Even Bigger Issue
Brandon Patterson went over the Notre Dame offensive line – and the entire offense actually – in more detail in his scouting report on Tuesday. Suffice to say that the Irish have been very ineffective up front this year, and that ineffectiveness extends not only to the running game, but to the passing game as well.
Yards per carry: 2.40 (No. 127 out of 130)
Sacks allowed: 4.40 (No. 126 out of 130)
TFL allowed: 9.20 (No. 129 out of 130)
The Irish rank No. 102 nationally in PFF’s run blocking grade.
Center Jarrett Patterson (6-4, 307, r-Jr.) has been good, and right tackle Josh Lugg (6-7, 305, r-Sr.) has been solid, but the guards have struggled, and Tosh Baker (6-8, 308, r-Fr.) has been terrible at left tackle. Michael Carmody (6-5, 290, r-Fr.) would probably start there, but he’s been injured and he’s only a redshirt freshman. In fact, Baker is in concussion protocol this week, so it’s possible that Notre Dame could be down to its third option at left tackle this weekend.
The Hokies have a great opportunity to put either a young quarterback (Pyne) or a quarterback who doesn’t handle pressure well (Coan) in a lot of long-yardage situations. They need to take advantage of that and turn it into field position, and a couple of turnovers would be nice as well.
Kyren Williams: Very Good, But Somewhat Useless This Season
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams (5-9, 199, r-So.) had an excellent year in 2020, but the production hasn’t been there in 2021. Look at the year-by-year comparisons…
2020: 211 carries, 1,125, 5.3 ypc, 13 TDs
2021: 77 carries, 289 yards, 3.8 ypc, 3 TDs
Williams hasn’t had a chance to show how good he is because of the line in front of him. However, he can also be a dynamic receiver out of the backfield, and the Hokies will have to beware of that.
Notre Dame’s receivers are generally good enough across the board, and the best is tight end Michael Mayer (6-4, 251, So.). He’s a versatile player who can also be split out as a wide receiver or lined up in a more traditional tight end role.
For the season, Mayer has 32 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns. No other player has more than 15 receptions. However, Mayer left in the late stages of the Cincinnati game with an injury, though he’s expected to play this week.
“Michael Mayer has an adductor strain, which was good news,” Brian Kelly said. “It wasn’t something that we felt like we couldn’t manage, so we’ll be managing him during the week and he’ll be able to play this weekend, but we’ll be smart with him.”
It sounds as if Mayer will be on the field for the Irish on Saturday night, though he may or may not be 100%.
Avery Davis (5-11, 202, r-Sr.), Kevin Austin Jr. (6-2, 215, r-Jr.) and Braden Lenzy (5-11, 182, r-Jr.) are the top three receivers. Overall, that group lacks size, but Mayer makes up for that when he lines up on the outside. Kyren Williams will also be a big factor in the passing game, and Chris Tyree (5-9, 190, So.) will also catch passes out of the backfield as well.
Overall, this group is good enough…if the offensive line and quarterback play well enough. That generally hasn’t happened for Notre Dame this year, however.
The Notre Dame Defense
The Notre Dame defense ranks No. 22 nationally in available yards allowed, giving up just 36.8% of yards available to their opponents based on starting field position. This is not an easy defense to move the ball against, and it can also be a suffocating and opportunistic defense at times.
Notre Dame beat Wisconsin 41-13 in Soldier Field earlier this year…and the Badgers actually led that game 13-10 early in the fourth quarter. From there on out, the Irish outscored Wisconsin 31-0, though they finished the game with only 239 yards of total offense. They returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and they also returned two interceptions for touchdowns in that span. In fact, one of Notre Dame’s drives in the fourth quarter went backwards, with the Irish losing 15 yards. It was an old school BeamerBall type of performance.
The problem with that type of performance is that if you play a good team that doesn’t screw up, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to beat them. Notre Dame’s defense is certainly good enough, but thus far, its offense has not been. On Saturday night, it will again be the Irish defense that will be looking to carry the load against a Tech offense that has struggled, but which hopes to show signs of life after the bye week.
The Irish defense is solid across the board with 15 defenders combining for 32 tackles for loss, and eight defenders combining for 15 sacks. Perhaps the top playmaker is Vyper Defensive End Isaiah Foskey (6-5, 260, r-So.) with five sacks on the season. With the status of Virginia Tech offensive tackle Silas Dzansi unknown heading into this weekend, keep an eye on Foskey (No. 7) and see how the Hokies block him if Dzansi isn’t in the game at one of the offensive tackle positions.
Weakside linebacker JD Bertrand (6-1, 230, r-So.) is the team’s top tackler with 48, and nobody else has more than 28. He also leads the team with 4.5 tackles for loss. In the secondary, Kyle Hamilton (6-4, 220, Jr.) leads the team with three interceptions while cornerback Cam Hart (6-2, 205, r-So.) has two. Overall, this is a good defense with good size, particularly in the secondary with big players like Hamilton and Hart.
The new defensive coordinator for Notre Dame is former Cincinnati DC Marcus Freeman. Only 35, Freeman played at Ohio State and got into coaching just two years after graduating. He began at Kent State, moved on to Purdue, and eventually landed at Cincinnati (2017-2020), where he became regarded as one of the most rapidly rising young coordinators in the country.
“I think Marcus Freeman is a fantastic coach with a bright future,” Justin 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.”
Mixing up their coverages and moving their fronts has led to many forced turnovers. With 12 turnovers forced, the Irish defense ranks No. 8 nationally in that category. Nine have come via interceptions, so clearly opposing quarterbacks have had trouble recognizing what they are seeing from the Notre Dame defense.
Here are some other key defensive statistics…
21-of-75 (28%) on third downs, No. 10 nationally
3-of-25 (10.7%) on third down over the last two games
Their 15 sacks is the most through five games by a ND defense since 2003
No. 16 in FEI defensive efficiency
Opponents are averaging just 6.6 yards per passing attempt
This is a very difficult defense to attack, the Virginia Tech offense has had some issues, and the status of starting offensive tackle Silas Dzansi is an unknown. What will the Hokies do? Fortunately, they probably won’t have to score a ton to win the game, but they’ll need to do something, and they have to avoid the turnovers that have plagued other offenses when facing Notre Dame.
The game could be decided here. The Hokies have been very good returning both kicks and punts, but the Irish also have a kickoff return for a touchdown by Chris Tyree. This game seems like an even matchup offensively and defensively, and if you are looking for special teams numbers to break the tie, then you are going to be disappointed.
In the FEI special teams metrics, Virginia Tech ranks as the No. 30 special teams unit in the country. Notre Dame is just behind them at No. 36. These two units appear to cancel each other out, though big plays in special teams can be random, so you never know.
The Field Position Game
Here’s where the Hokies hold the advantage…
VT Off. Field Position: No. 5
VT Def. Field Position: No. 7
VT Net Field Position: No. 5
ND Off. Field Position: No. 30
ND Def. Field Position: No. 99
ND Net Field Position: No. 58
The Notre Dame offense hasn’t helped the Irish defense much this year. The Irish offense ranks No. 95 nationally in available yards (39.7%), which means they often go three-and-out, or sometimes even backwards considering their TFL and sacks allowed numbers. When you struggle to pick up first downs and are going backwards, you’ll be punting from deep in your own territory. The Irish also rank No. 89 in the nation in the traditional metric of turnovers lost (eight; Virginia Tech is No. 21 with four).
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is No. 51 nationally in available offensive yards (48.7%). The Hokies haven’t scored a lot, but they’ve done an above average job of not going three-and-out. They generally pick up a couple of first downs, which means the punt a lot from close to the middle of the field. That has helped Tech gain a huge field position advantage over their opponents this season, and that’s how the Hokies got a win over a high-powered offense like UNC.
Tech doesn’t have to score a lot to beat Notre Dame. However, they must make sure they pick up first downs, because if they do that, they’ll likely have a big advantage in field position.
76.1% of Virginia Tech’s opponents’ drives have ended in punts, turnovers or turnovers on down. That ranks No. 17 nationally (that metric is called “stop rate”). Meanwhile, Notre Dame is averaging 1.99 points per drive, a number that ranks No. 77 in the country. Tech allows 1.47 points per drive, which ranks No. 24.
In short, the Notre Dame offense doesn’t score much, and the Tech defense doesn’t give up much. You can make basically the same statements about the Hokie offense and the Notre Dame defense as well. The Irish defense can also be very explosive, as we saw during the fourth quarter of the Wisconsin game when they returned two interceptions for touchdowns, so Tech will have to make sure that they don’t make critical errors. One bad turnover would likely be the difference in a game like this.
This one just doesn’t seem to have the makings of a high-scoring affair. I think both coaches are comfortable coaching in a field position/protect the football type of game, and you can bet that both staffs are making sure their players know exactly what type of football game this will be.
“Every inch, every piece of turf is going to be hard fought for,” Justin Fuente said on Monday. “Four yards is a big deal, and we’ve got to be emotionally prepared for that kind of game.”
Opportunities will be limited. This one will probably come down to red zone offense, turnovers, field position, a big play on special teams, or some combination of those things. Those types of games can be tricky to call, but I’m going to pick Tech here for several reasons…
1: For as rough as Tech’s offense has looked at times, Notre Dame’s has looked worse.
2: Tech’s special teams have been good, particularly in the return game (though so has Notre Dame).
3: Notre Dame probably doesn’t have the offense to do much on the road with a loud crowd.
4: On paper, it looks like the Hokies have the advantage in field position.
I really like No. 4. Field position wins generally don’t come quickly. They are slow, meticulous, and boring as the offense punts its way down the field and eventually scores on a short field. However, one botched punt snap or one shank or one big return can throw off everything.
Strategic thinking in coaching is about throwing out your emotions and focusing fully on the rational – matchups and numbers. Emotionally, Tech could do what all the fans want and start “taking more chances down the field,” and by doing so, they would be throwing into the teeth of a defense that forces a ton of turnovers. The Hokies would be attacking the Notre Dame strength with their own weakness. Rationally, it seems like it’s best to attack the Irish weakness with the Virginia Tech strength, and to me, that clearly is the field position game.
When Virginia Tech hired Justin Fuente, I (and everybody) thought the Hokies were going to start scoring a ton of points. Instead, we basically got Frank Beamer 2.0 from the standpoint of a guy who understands little things like manipulating field position. Fuente did that brilliantly against UNC, and that’s why Tech won the football game. He’s well-suited to a game like this, in my opinion, and that’s why I’m going with the Hokies.
Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Notre Dame 17
David Cunningham’s Take: I think, in many cases, this game is going to be a stalemate. Like Chris said, both offenses have been poor while both defenses have been outstanding. I think Virginia Tech has a slight edge over Notre Dame because of playing at home and coming off a bye week, but it’s not enough to make me confident enough to pick the Hokies.
After reading through Chris’s preview before writing my prediction, I was actually thinking about taking Virginia Tech. I think it’s going to be a low-scoring, grind it out affair that comes down to who controls the clock and field position. The Hokies do that well… but when the time comes for Virginia Tech to make a game-winning field goal, what’s going to happen?
Through four games, the position we know the least about is kicking. Peter Moore’s been great at punter (readers are probably tired of me bringing it up, but I like talking special teams) and 11 of John Parker Romo’s 18 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. But the drawback is that he’s only made one of his three field goals. In my opinion, this is a type of game that is decided by a field goal or less.
I think the offense can do enough (especially not turning the ball over, which that unit has done well) to put the team in a good position to have a chance to win, and the defense is going to be huge. I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see the Hokies get a defensive score in this game.
But I’m taking Notre Dame by a hair. Jonathan Doerer, a 6-3 graduate student from Charlotte, has a game-winner this season already at Florida State from 41 yards. He’s 7-of-10 this season with a long of 51. He didn’t attempt a field goal vs. Cincinnati, but he missed one in each of the three games prior. Still, he’s a veteran, and he’s tested – unlike Romo.
I think it comes down to a field goal opportunity for the Irish. It’s going to be such a back-and-forth game with little offense and a lot of defense and special teams. It’ll be close, and I think Tech will lead and have momentum for the majority of the game, but I’m taking Notre Dame and Doerer, who I’ve got making three field goals, including the game-winner.
David’s Prediction: Notre Dame 16, Virginia Tech 14
Will Stewart’s Take: One of the funny things about writing game predictions is that we try to avoid stating the obvious points, which are that turnovers can completely alter the course of a game, and that most football games come down to a handful of plays.
Well, duh. In the case of this matchup, though, I think those two truisms will make the difference. If you look at Notre Dame’s game against Cincinnati, the following huge mistakes were made by Notre Dame in the first half, which ended with the Bearcats leading 17-0:
1.) Notre Dame drove down to the Cincinnati 6-yard line and Jack Coan threw an interception on the Cincinnati one-yard line.
2.) Tyler Buchner threw an interception that was returned to the Notre Dame eight-yard line. Cincinnati scored a TD three plays later to take a 7-0 lead.
3.) Chris Tyree fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and it was recovered by Cincinnati at the Notre Dame 17-yard line. Cincinnati kicked a field goal to go up 10-0.
Notre Dame missed out on three or seven points and gifted Cincinnati 10 points in a 24-13 loss. That’s a game-changing 13–17-point swing in an 11 point loss. Nuff said.
Other than that, both teams made a handful of plays, mostly in the passing game, that more or less canceled each other out.
(I’m going to ignore the fact that Notre Dame kicker Jonathan Doerer has 54 career field goal attempts with 40 makes, for 74.1 percent. Virginia Tech’s John Parker Romo has eight career attempts — including a year at Tulsa — with three makes, for 37.5 percent.)
So here it is: this game will be won by the team that avoids turnovers and makes one or two more big plays than the other team. The margin of error is razor-thin for both squads, because their offenses are so weak.
From that standpoint, picking the game is a crapshoot, because we don’t know who’s going to commit the killer turnovers or who’s going to make the big plays. But let’s assume that neither team turns it over and neither team makes (or allows) a game-changing play. Then who wins?
Virginia Tech, by a thin margin, in a game that’s likely to be a wet, rainy, ugly rock fight.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Notre Dame 17
What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Notre Dame game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (10%, 141 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (48%, 666 Votes)
- Notre Dame Wins by 1-10 (31%, 427 Votes)
- Notre Dame Wins by 11+ (11%, 159 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,393
Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Richmond Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: Virginia Tech 21, Richmond 10
What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Richmond game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (71%, 855 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (24%, 292 Votes)
- Richmond Wins by 1-10 (4%, 44 Votes)
- Richmond Wins by 11+ (1%, 17 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,208
|Hokies Win by 1-10||Hokies 17, UNC 10|
|Hokies Win by 11+||Hokies 35, MTSU 14|
|Hokies Win by 1-10||WVU 27, Hokies 21|
|Hokies Win by 11+||Hokies 21, Richmond 10|
|Hokies Win by 1-10||Notre Dame 32, Hokies 29|