Beyond the Boxscore: Boykin, Williams Shine Again for Notre Dame

The sixth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish managed to withstand a raucous crowd under the lights at Blacksburg on Saturday night by defeating the 24th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies by a score of 45-23. The victory did have some bumps along the way, but given the chaotic atmosphere that surrounded them, Notre Dame accomplished their mission by avoiding the upset and raising their season record to 6-0.

Below are some of the most pertinent aspects of the game:

The Dexter Williams Effect

When Dexter Williams was suspended for the first four games of the season, there was some concern about its effect on the Irish running game. That was largely mitigated with the performances of Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones, Jr., but it’s clear that having Williams back carrying the ball is a boon to the Notre Dame ground attack.

Finishing with 178 yards on just 17 carries and scoring three touchdowns, Williams was a presence throughout the game. Even taking away his dramatic 97-yard scoring run in the third quarter would still give him an average of five yards on every carry. Those are the type of numbers that will be needed when the weather gets dicier, with the return of Armstrong and Jones from injury supplementing that work even more.

Offensive Depletion

Notre Dame managed to put up 10 points the first two times that had the ball, putting together a 12-play, 75-yard drive to score their first touchdown. However, after their next push added three more points to the scoreboard, the team’s offense quickly stagnated for the remainder of the half. At the same time, the Virginia Tech offense that had been largely held in check to that point began to find its groove.

On the Irish side, their next five drives garnered just 37 yards worth of offense, while the second quarter output of the Hokies saw them rack up 141 yards on the ground and through the air. Indicative of just how weak Notre Dame’s offense was after those early fireworks was the fact that their lone score for the remainder of the half came on a fumble return by Julian Love.

Love That Consistency

Love may not be the most exciting cornerback in college football, but Irish fans are glad that he remains among the most consistent. He’s already become the school leader in pass deflections and once again showed his value when it counted against the Hokies, with a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception.

That fumble return was more the byproduct of being in the right place at the right time, with defensive end Khalid Kareem forcing the miscue. Late in the fourth quarter, Love put an official cap on the victory by hauling in an interception with 3:59 left and the Irish leading by that final score.

The Book on Boykin

In looking at the past two games, it’s clear that Ian Book has found his favorite target among the receiving corps and it’s Miles Boykin. Last week against Stanford, the two hooked up 11 times for 144 yards and one touchdown, then followed that up with eight connections for 117 yards and two scores against a young Virginia Tech secondary.

Book hasn’t exclusively focused on Boykin during this period, managing to also find Alize Mack six times and Chris Finke on three occasions Saturday night. However, Boykin entered this year as the team’s chief big-play threat and has wiped away the slow start that saw him snag a total of just nine passes in the first four games.

A Needed Second Half Jolt

Leading by a single point at the half and with the Hokies getting the second-half kickoff, the Irish needed to get the momentum back. They succeeded by forcing Tech to punt after a five-play drive stalled out in Notre Dame territory, though the ensuing punt had them starting from their own five.

After Williams got stopped two yards behind the line to begin the series, the Irish got back on track when Williams exploded on his 97-yard scoring run. Then after the Hokies missed a field goal attempt, Book showed his earlier precision by hitting on five of his six pass attempts, the last coming on the first of two scores to Boykin, a 40-yard toss that boosted the lead to 31-16.

Next Up

The Irish return home to face the Pitt Panthers who enter the game with a 3-3 record, having evened that record by emerging on the right side of a 44-37 overtime shootout over Syracuse. This game will mark the 71st time that Notre Dame and Pitt have met, though this will be the first time in three years. In 2015, the Irish won 42-30 at Pittsburgh, while the Panthers’ last visit to South Bend in 2012 was a wild one, with the Irish winning in triple overtime, 29-26.

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  1. Enjoyed all the commentary about which upcoming games might be surprisingly difficult. For me, I’m just looking forward to scoring 56 against Pitt. Then I can really enjoy the second half.

  2. Did Kelly give Dexter the game ball he deserved? I suspect not. His praise for him is always left-handed. Dexter should have transferred after his freshman year, but I’m glad he stayed. He’s just a bigger man than Kelly. I always wonder why certain players always end up in Kelly’s doghouse–I suspect it’s because they don’t kiss the hem of his garment. Sorry for the rant but just tired of the way Kelly treats some of the players.

    1. Les, unless you have access to information known only to the coaches, I don’t see how you can conclude that Dexter has been treated unfairly or differently. You will recall that Dexter was unfortunately one of six players arrested in the summer of 2016 for marijuana and gun possession. You and I have no way of knowing what has transpired since then, and whether other transgressions, aside from criminal issues, have warranted disciplinary action. All we know for sure is that when athletes violate student or team rules without immediate consequences, team discipline on and off the field suffer. Luckily, Dexter seems to have grasped the appropriateness of his suspension for whatever he did and has responded with maturity.

  3. The only thing that should be on the agenda is developing the game plan against Pitt. Forget projections and what ND May or may not finish at for the season. Getting ahead of oneself in this business of college football is a recipe to underachieve. The focus is knocking the shit out of Pitt at home.

    Go Irish!

  4. If Kelly hasn’t changed his stripes, he’s basking in the glowing press coverage today and starting to think about making a ‘how’s things’ call to his agent. Once the NFL starts to sort teams out.

    Please God. I don’t ask for much. Please keep this door open long enough for Kelly to walk through it.

    1. This is not aging well:


      They go into the 2nd half of the season with at least 2 losses…and from there it could get ugly.

      1. I’d quote your thoughts…but you have yet to post any.
        Just a quipping, cowardly lurker.

    2. WOW dopey dave still crying about KELLY!! #5 now dope 16-3 in the last 19 games, team recruiting and depth the best its been since the HOLTZ era!! You’ve called NOTRE DAME a money grubbing institute , you’ve ripped us CATHLICS and HOLY DAYS, referred to people on medication as crazy, and asked people on this site if there high? Then start a sentence with PLEASE GOD!! YOU NEED TO GET HELP dopey davey AND FAST!!!

  5. I’m ready to eat crow when it comes to Ian Book. I went on record last year with the position that he wasn’t the answer and Wimbush has too much talent to keep off the field. I was wrong. Book is the correctly shaped peg for the QB hole in our offense. I hope Wimbush transfers and winds up excelling somewhere that can effectively use a run-first QB.

    Dex is as good as we all knew. I’ll always feel like he was wasted by Kelly. He’s been the best runner at his position for 3 years now (yes, he’s a better runner than Adams). I’ll never understand why he has been so underused, but maybe that’s best for him in the long run. He’ll be playing on Sundays.

    Also, have to credit Kelly. Since going 4-8 in 2016, we’re 16-3 with victories over 7 ranked opponents (and all three losses were to ranked teams). We’re now a top 5 team and favored in all our remaining games. That’s a result of the coaching and recruiting that’s occurred under Kelly.

    1. Well said, Keith. I’m not really sure we thought Book wasn’t the answer. I think we all just thought that Wimbush had the highest ceiling when it comes to overall potential based on athleticism and arm strength. AND…Wimbush was winning lots of games. But Book really does seem like the real deal for this offense. He gets the ball out on time and accurate and makes the right reads. And he does just enough on the ground to keep the defense honest and pick up crucial 3rd downs. My dad told me he reminds him a lot of how Joe Montana was. Nothing flashy but got the job done.

      Dex is the man. You are right that he is a better back than Adams was. The difference that sets those two apart is Dex is a lot more shifty and has better vision. Adams was a beast north/south runner though I have to give him that and breakaway speed Adams probably has just a little more than Dex but overall Dex has been better. And you’re also right that Kelly has never utilized this talent until now which has been forced considering the injuries.

      Kelly is definitely turning the team around for the good. He is a good coach even though we get frustrated with him sometimes. I’m sure OSU fans feel this way about Meyer and Clemson with Dabo when their team struggles against an inferior opponent too. The difference is when it comes to the truly big games, these coaches have their teams prepared and ready. You typically don’t see these guys go into a huge game like we did with Miami last year and get crushed. However, the VT game might be a turning point for Kelly and the Irish. This was a huge win in a tough environment and we were ready!!!

  6. I’m going to say a few things about the playoffs, even though we ought to be just thinking about Pitt, as I hope the actual team members are. As a fan, I have the luxury of wild speculation.

    (1) I think more really good, deserving teams will be left out this year than ever before. An eight game format, with automatic berths for Power 5 Champs would all but cure that problem.

    (2) Our schedule was front loaded…and we are still unbeaten. A lot of tough, skilled teams are just now getting to the meat of their schedules…good luck with that dudes.

    (3) To finish unbeaten, we have a lot of work to do against some teams that are not rated, but may be underrated a little. But I like the way our team is playing and I like the way our coaches are coaching. Therefore, it looks like our chances to finish unbeaten are pretty decent. Closing @USC while unbeaten (if we get there unbeaten) is a “special case.” But BK has been there before, and won. That’s a plus, in my mind. Since ARA was named head coach when I was ten years old, ND is 3-3 in that scenario…ARA 1-2, Devine 0-1, Holtz 1-0, and Kelly 1-0.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. I’m a little concerned with USC and FSU. Those are very talented teams having disappointing seasons. It’s very possible that they might see a top 5 ND as a chance for redemption and play up to their potential with the extra motivation.

      Our schedule appears frontloaded, but the back half has some crazy travel demands, and we’ve historically had rough Novembers under Kelly. I don’t think we’re out of the woods and 11-1 simply won’t get it done.

      1. Keith, I’m concerned with those two you mentioned, but also with Northwestern, who seems to specialize in ruining seasons this year (Purdue and MSU), Syracuse, who can play with anyone on a given day, and Pitt, who has suddenly started to score points, and is our next game. Lot’s of work to do! But the way we are playing, we will have the edge in all those games. We need to keep it up (meaning playing complete games), keep our grades up, and keep our injuries down. Can Do!

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. BGC,
      An 8 team playoff is overdue, and would be ideal. If not eight, at least six, with two byes to the top two rated teams. With 3 vs. 6, and 4 vs. 5, it would extend the season only one week, and add one game onto the schedule for teams rated 3-6, giving two more teams a chance at the NC at season’s end, when the teams playing the best most deserve their chance.
      Regarding ND having a good chance at going undefeated, they are the best team when facing each of their last 6 opponents, but does any team really have a good chance at going undefeated, especially ND, with the end of the season scheduling fiasco set up by Daddy Swarbucks? Jack was neither nimble nor quick when chasing that dollar to San Diego and Yankee Stadium, and that greedy leap over the proverbial candle stick might get ND burned.Thankfully Russian oligarchs didn’t put up any big money for a game, or the team would be headed to Moscow staying in that new Trump Tower TBD.
      It’s been a great run so far following a great team, undefeated or not when the season ends. They have played as if they belong among the elite, and even the congenital ND haters are beginning to admit it.

      1. MTA, Agree about Jack (What, me worry?) I question whether we even make more money @NY than we could in South Bend with a little creativity on our part, and a little effort by NBC. I also begrudge all the money South Bend and its people LOSE on these weekends. We could do better if we actually tried.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. I truly believe the reason were headed to SAN DIEGO is 1. NAVY ASKED FOR IT AND WE ALWAYS HONOR NAVYS REQUESTS ( which is ok ). and 2. WE NEED TO RECRUIT BETTER OUT WEST AND A SECOND TRIP CAN ONLY HELP THAT!! N.Y. is filled and flowing with LOYAL SUBWAY ALLUMNI FANS, but I agree I don’t get that one!

      3. Totally agree with the 8 team playoff if they reduce the schedule by one game. These kids cannot play some many games. But definitely like the 8 team playoff.
        I’d even accept ND in a conference if they mandated that 8 conferences each supplied a champion. But I’d want the conferences to be reduced to 8 teams each. 7 games in conference 4 games against the field. Conference record versus the field seeds the champs. Non champs with solid records get a bowl game.

        By the way, be careful on the Jack comment. He’s got some lovers or some staff responding aggressively on his greatness. Some pointing out Muffet’s success even though she’s been successful since the early 90’s. Folks may not understand but the athletic department has some awesome staff who have supported the entire portfolio over the years, regardless of who the AD was. And Muffet doesn’t get paid enough. Her loyalty is too the school and her student athletes. She puts up with the AD.

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