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.
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.
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.