Mistakes Doom Hokies Against Good Notre Dame Team

The crowd was great on Saturday night, but the Hokies couldn’t overcome their own mistakes. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

This roller coaster of a season is having an impact on Hokie fans, if the forums at various Hokie-centric outlets are a good indicator. From worried about keeping the bowl streak alive in spring, to talking playoffs (“Playoffs??!!” – Jim Mora) after FSU, fan reactions have run the gamut. It’s been tough on the players, too, as you can tell from their uneven play. Coach Fuente and Coach Foster are both working on it; one telling moment in post-game had Foster discussing how he had to give his defense a pep talk after Notre Dame returned Ryan Willis’ fumble for a TD.

Looking back, Notre Dame matched my expectations pretty well. I think if I had a surprise from the game, it was Tech not being able to pick more on the safeties with deep routes (especially when the running game was working.) I charted about 30 snaps for the offense looking for some broad down/distance/”aggression” tendencies, and I stopped when I realized just how consistent the offensive play-calling was all game. Out of all of those snaps, I had a grand total of five primary read passes that were either streak routes (which weren’t necessarily caught deep, but I counted them anyway) or breaking routes that terminated around ten yards or deeper. Two of those calls were the reverse pass and a fake bubble screen. Even late in the game, Tech moved down the field with swings, screens and sticks. Part of that plan was Notre Dame playing good defense, part of it was Tech having so much success with the sideline game, and part of that was Willis throwing into tight and even double-coverage on a few deep shots. If the latter is Willis’ problem during practices, I can see where his good play/bad play rep comes from.

Tech’s running game seemed to really help in the first half of the game, though it was throttled in the second half (partly due to ND, but also to a few self-inflicted wounds.) In the first half, Peoples and McClease were critical in keeping the Hokies out of third-down situations, much less third-and-long. Later in the game, the Hokies had more third downs, and while they converted a good share, it was evident the tide was turning. Eventually Notre Dame clamped down on the short routes, e.g., the interception where they jumped the route almost like they heard the call in the huddle.

The big play potential of Notre Dame’s intermediate passing and running game had me worried (the deep ball game looked even worse than it had earlier), though Tech gave them a lot of help there, including mistakes by vets. It would have been one thing if it was all a case of the Hokies getting manhandled or out-athleted, but there were just some foul ups with the basics.