Trying to pick up the pieces after watching their hopes of a college football playoff berth disappear for good in 2019, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish now enter the month of November for the first of their final five regular-season games. The first of these will be at home against the Virginia Tech Hokies, who like the Irish, enter the game with a 5-2 record.
Like Notre Dame the week before, the Hokies had the luxury of a bye week, something they likely needed after an exhausting six-overtime victory over North Carolina. Tech certainly knows how to put points on the board, but they also have a knack for giving up points, something the Irish need to exploit.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Virginia Tech QB
Allowing 72 points over the past two games, all but three of them in the past six quarters is an immediate concern that needs to be addressed by the Irish. That’s especially true given the fact that the Hokies have averaged just under 40 points per game over their last three contests. While Tech has no game-breaking runnners, the fact that Notre Dame allowed 303 yards on the ground to Michigan is a clear red flag that reinforces the current woes.
Ordinarily, the starting quarterback the Irish will be facing in clear, but in this case, three different players could conceivably line up under center. Hendon Hooker had been the Hokie starter in recent week, but he was knocked out of their last game with a knee injury. That led to former starter Ryan Willis being inserted, but he was replaced by Quincy Patterson. With Hooker likely to sit out the game, the choice boils down to either using the passer Willis versus the runner Patterson.
RB Tony Jones Jr. vs. MLB Rayshard Ashby
The impact of Jones on the Notre Dame offense this season once again showed up in the loss to Michigan after he as held to a season-low 14 yards on eight carries. In the only other loss for the Irish this season managed just 21 yards on nine carries. Despite the fact that Jafar Armstrong has returned to action, he’s yet to have an impact, something that would help give Jones some rest during the coming stretch drive.
At just 5-feet-10, Ashby doesn’t present an imposing wall for the Hokies’ defense, yet he’s still managed to rack a team-high 71 tackles after making 105 stops in his first season at Tech last year, He also has a knack for stopping ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage and has already surpassed his 2018 tackles-for-loss output with 10.5 in the first seven games. He may be short, but the Irish would be ill-advised to sell him short.
DE Khalid Kareem vs. OT Christian Darrsaw
Kareem had a quiet night against Michigan, largely because they only put the ball up 14 times all game. That took away his main weapon and exposed some concerns about the Irish’s ability to stop the run. He’s managed to collect 3.5 sacks on the year and also made another two stops behind the line. Even when he hasn’t actually gotten to the quarterback, he’s made them sweat as one of the team leaders in hurries.
Darrisaw has been the most consistent member of the Hokies’ injury-plagued offensive line though he’s recently had to deal with his own injury concerns. At 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, he’s definitely a load to handle, though the entire Tech line has had trouble with strong pass rushes all season. While he’s been the leader of this unit, the group as a whole has had issues protecting the quarterback.
WR Chase Claypool vs. CB Caleb Farley
Claypool was likely one of the few bright spots in Saturday night’s loss, making two outstanding grabs that both picked up first downs. Another catch would have also gained a first down, but it was wiped out by offsetting penalties. The senior has a team-high 29 receptions on the year and is starting to use his size and athletic ability to afford Ian Book an important target.
Farley’s status remains in question after left the North Carolina game in the first half with an apparent concussion. Prior to that setback, he was a player who was seemingly always around the ball. He’s tied for the team lead in interceptions with three and has knocked away a team-high ten passes.