Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Barely Overcomes Mistakes to Beat Hokies

Needing to go down to the wire to get back in the win column, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish began the month of November by narrowly defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies, 21-20, in action on Saturday afternoon. The winning score came on a seven-yard run by Ian Book with 29 seconds remaining. The victory wiped away the nasty taste of last week’s rout in Ann Arbor, though it likely aged the Irish fan base a few years in the process.

The win improves Notre Dame’s season record to 6-2 and keeps them in position for a high-level bowl appearance if they can win their final four contests. Had they fallen to the Hokies, the prospect of a season suddenly spiraling out of control might have entered the mindset of those Irish fans.

Below are some of the key aspects from the game:

Clutch Catches

With 3:19 left in the game, Notre Dame was trailing 20-14 and began their final scoring drive at their own 13-yard line. Eventually reaching the end zone had plenty of drama attached because moving the chains required a series of clutch catches, the first being Jafar Armstrong’s five-yard, fourth-down grab at the Irish 25.

Avery Davis then converted a third down toss from Book with 1:39 left, with Chase Claypool displaying amazing sideline footwork two plays later to put the ball at the Tech 33 with 1:10 to go. Facing another fourth down situation with just under a minute remaining, Claypool snagged a 26-yard toss to put the ball at the Hokies’ seven-yard-line. Two incomplete passes led Book to then call his own number with the game-winning dash.

Momentum Shift

Those late heroics became a necessity because Virginia Tech had appeared to have taken control of the game after Notre Dame had held the upper hand during much of the first half. In the latter case, one simple stat showed that Tech was unable to muster much offense during the first two quarters, with six three-and-outs among their first seven possessions, including the first three times they handled the ball.

Yet Notre Dame was jolted in the final minute of that first half with a stunning reversal of fortune that changed what could have been a 21-7 halftime lead into a 14-14 deadlock. Armstrong was hit near the goal line, with the ball caught in mid-air by the Hokies’ Divine Deablo and returned 98 yards for the tying score. Tech managed to tack on a pair of field goals to hold a lead that evaporated at the end.

Getting In Their Own Way

In addition to that disastrous end to the first half, the Irish held a 132-45 advantage in total yardage during the opening quarter, yet found themselves tied at 7-7 after the first 15 minutes of action. The chief reason was blunders of their own making, with the first coming on the sixth play of their second drive when Book threw an interception at the Tech nine-yard-line.

Later on in the opening quarter, the Hokies picked up an additional 15 yards on a face mask call on Kurt Hinish, They then tied the game seven plays later on an eight-yard touchdown grab by Damon Hazelton, one of his five grabs on the day. Tech later collected a field goal on their first series of the second half, aided by a personal foul call on the Irish’s Khalid Kareem.

Running to Nowhere

The fact that the winning score came on a Notre Dame run was an ironic twist to a game in which the Irish ground game was largely non-existent. The absence of Tony Jones Jr. due to a rib injury led to hopes that the remaining runners would step up their game. The fact that Book’s 50 rushing yards led the team is clear enough testimony that those hopes were dashed.

Jafar Armstrong managed only 37 yards on 19 carries and was actually more effective as a receiving option, catching four passes for 49 yards. The duo of Davis and Jahmir Smith offered minimal assistance in that category by managing just 21 yards on their four collective carries. As a team, the Irish gained a meager 2.8 yards per carry.

Next Up

The Irish head to Durham next Saturday night for another game under the lights, where they’ll face the Duke Blue Devils. David Cutcliffe’s team is 4-4 on the year and coming off their bye week. After opening the season with three wins in their first four outings, they’ve shifted gears and have dropped three of four, including each of their last two outings. Notre Dame’s last meeting with Duke came three years ago, when what looked early on like an Irish rout turned into a 38-35 loss at home.

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  1. Is it not obvious by now that ND needs SPEED at the skill positions!! There o-line has been crap since HH left, outside of the Virginia game the pass rush is just average, STILL in need of a big time QB and finally KELLY needs to find an OFF COORDINATOR with some imagination!! It just seems the game plan from week to week never changes, not a lot for the other teams to prepare for! KELLY ” WILL ” finish the last 2 years of his contract, so the great speed coming in this next class better be enough to wake up the echo’s and the fan base!! Regardless think KELLY will be done in 2 years and it will be a mutual decision.

  2. Biggest bunch of horseshit I’ve heard. They can thank their
    win to the offical that pulled that flag out of his pocket for
    roughing the QB. It’s hard to beat a team and the ref too.

    1. ACC refs are the worst. I could list all their mistakes and bad calls in this one (they cut both ways, as usual) but why should I bother? Everyone knows they stink a full magnitude worse than any of the others. The NCAA should ban them from post season games.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Turnovers in redzone made this game closer than it should’ve been. 550 total yds but only 21 pts to show for it. Running the ball continues to be an issue and questionable play calling at times. Notre Dame had been good at converting in redzone but 3 turnovers and missed fg. OUCH! Hainsey and Kraemer injured makes running to the left or middle predictable. Claypool had an outstanding game.

  4. Don’t make it seem like our last drive was anything special…the Hokies coach is more trash than Brian Kelly which says a lot. They rushed 3 that entire last drive minus the first 4th down play where Book actually did a good job hitting Armstrong right past the blitz. But they played prevent defense with 3 plus minutes to go in the game. How stupid! In college first down stops the clock so three minutes is a lifetime in college. And then any decent QB with 8 to 10 seconds to throw will find someone open eventually and Book still almost blew it.

    Book should have had three INTs in the game because that roughing the passer call was absolute garbage. Kelly is blind if he doesn’t see the regression. It’s time to play Phil and see what he has over the last three games. These next opponents suck so why not!? I would be kidding myself if I said I’m glad we won because I was actually hoping if Book played bad enough (which he did) and we lost, Kelly may have actually started Phil this next game. Instead, Book “led the game winning drive” so he will be playing because coach is going to think he just overcame some adversity today and did well finishing the game. We all know he will probably play well these next three games and will continue to be the guy and we all know he isn’t transferring or going pro so will be the QB again next season. Knowing this just doesn’t get me excited for games anymore because we all know what the outcomes are going to be. Light it up against garbage and get owned against legit defenses.

    1. These next opponents suck so why not!? ND thought that Duke sucked the last time they played them, they thought Tulsa sucked and I can go on and on just to say that those teams came to play and ND didn’t. These last four games can go either way and the way the Irish have played lately I would be willing to predict that they lose two of them. I will say the season will end 8-4 and a win in the Independence/Alamo bowl.

    2. Sadly, Chris, first downs no longer stop the clock in college football (except long enough to place the ball). This rule change was part of college football’s relentless drive to become a pro farm team system.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  5. I just got home from South Bend. The crowd was comatose during most of the game, even on VT third down plays. Most of the first half was played with IRISH having good field position, but the offense looked weak, so we scored too few points. Jafar can’t run inside, we badly need Tony Jones back. IAN needs his eyes tested.
    Good news – Dante Vaughn had a great day, as did Khalid. On offense, Finke looked like his old self and of course Claypool was a money player. The defense looked pretty good all game long. The last drive looked great, as did a few others that crashed and burned in the redzone. So much for our wondrous redzone scoring numbers!

    The season almost went down in flames as well, but if we can beat Cutcliffe, an excellent coach, NAVY, who looks to be back, and a weakened Stanford team at the Farm, where we have not won in eons, we probably get a well deserved Cotton Bowl bid. I hope it’s against Cincinnati…what a great bunch of background stories there would be for BK in that one, if it happens.

    Of course, as a writer on another site put it, if we win the Cotton Bowl, our critics will again move the goal, like they did after the Citrus Bowl. You see, after we won the Citrus against LSU, our critics revealed that it doesn’t count as a New Year’s Bowl because the payout is lower than a New Year’s Six Bowl! And of course, if we beat our Cotton Bowl opponent, that won’t count as a “real” New Year’s Six Bowl because it will be a win against a non-power five team. You can hear them already!

    Of course none of this will ever matter if we don’t start playing winning football. This game looked a LOT like Pitt last year. We can do better.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Those critics! What must Brian Kelly’s vaunted teams DO to get the respect they deserve?!
      Can they not SEE ? Argghhh…..

      1. The play calling is terrible you are at the goal line and give it to Armstrong ? An up right tall running back, when you have a strong penetrating running back in Jamir Smith, bad coaching

      2. David, “What must Kelly’s teams do to get respect they deserve?”: ANSWER: the same as Dan Devine – win a NC. Except that didn’t stop the criticism of Devine. His critics continued running off at the mouth until they got what they’d asked for in 1981 – for Dan’s program to be “turned around”…boy was it ever turned around, and at warp speed.

        BGC ’77 ’81

      3. BGC dopey davey has picked 3 coaches whose teams have underachieved immensely, he lies and says he tapes the games. His knowledge of football you could put on a the head of a moron!! Why does he keep posting on this site with so much hate and anger if he doesn’t watch the games? HES a loser

      4. NDCRAZYMIKE and DAVID: The great coach Willie Taggert is available to turn BK’s program around! David will salivate at this and NDCRAZYMIKE will definitely LOL! As for myself, I’m quite confident that Willie can effect a great turnaround at ND in the fine tradition of Kuharich and Faust. Let’s get his “motion” offense going under the Dome…it is, no doubt, the solution to all our current offensive problems, as Ding-Dong David noted several years ago.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      5. Normally, I don;’t care what anyone posts…free country. And I never read “crazy’s’ stuff..because he’;s just plain stupid.

        But wrt Willie Taggert….I know nothing about him. But I posted a comment after he had told reporters that he was happy with the progrees he had made in installing a fast, west coast style offense at FSU.
        Why? Because Brian Kelly at that time was into about year 5 or 6 trying to do it at ND…and still had not.
        It was a criticism of Kelly, not an endorsement of Taggert. I mistakenly thought that was dogballs obvious.

        (Fun story: he never did, and just quietly gave up….I guess. Because now the ND offense is…well, whatever this is.)

        So, vaya con dios Willie Taggert. All the best.
        But it sure doesn’t absolve ND from not doing what it needs to do with Kelly…..and won’t.

      6. GOOD one BGC, dopey daveys coach of the year lasted less than 2 seasons!! He was fired by FSU with the same SIMPLISTIC VELOCITY he failed with at OREGON and FSU!! dopey davey knows nothing, nothing about football!! But he wants to tell us about who to hire and to fire, looks like KELLYS a better coach than WILLIE BOY, FROSTY, and the Coach at WISCONSIN!! Keep us posted DOPE on your next great coach so we know not to hire him DOPEY ASS DAVEY!!!! YOU WILL ALWAYS BE THE ” HERO OF THE STUPID ” !! Be proud DOPE!

    2. Suddenly here’s the Minnesota Gophers undefeated, go figure. But, you got to hand it to PJ Fleck who works out with his team: pushing the sleds, tires. I can already see Fleck leading the Fighting Irish out of the tunnel.

      1. Or Rhule, or Satterfield, or Coach Lea…: All are worth watching closely for a couple of years. Two others who could probably get the job done are Stoops and Meyers…if either would come here for a substantial pay cut.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. Take a look at who MINNESOTA’S beaten this year, not 1 good or legit team!! LETS see if they can beat PSU this week then we can talk PJ, Alotta teams including ND would be undefeated with that schedule!!

  6. I want to be happy with the win. I really do. But this should not have come down to the wire. When you look at talent vs. talent Franks prediction in his earlier thread should have been a foregone conclusion.

    But under BK this where we are at. The offense finally got it together and it only took until about 3 minutes left in the game.

    But this is where ND football is at….and it is where it will stay. I’ve given up on ever seeing a national championship coming to ND. It’s not going to happen. Even if they were to fire BK at the end of the season all the administration would do is hire BK Jr., or possibly worse. I have no faith that the current PTB at ND are going to hire an elite level coach. They’ll hire someone that will get them 9-10 wins and gets ND in the conversation, but that is all.

    But it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else things. BK is at ND to stay.

    But I’m honestly at a point I’m not even all that excited about game day anymore. Hell, I’m more optimistic about the mens BB team at this point. I honestly think we’ve reached a ceiling under BK. Last year was as good as it will ever get. Every few years they’ll do just enough to get into the playoffs and then get spanked.

      1. If you were at the game, David, you’d have noticed that the crowd WAS having a lot of fun…they were too laid back IMO, but they were having a ball!

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. I’ve been to ND stadium for a game. Unless the Mezmetron 3000 makes the elderly dance, don’t even bother with that BS.

      3. “I just got home from South Bend. The crowd was comatose during most of the game, even on VT third down plays.”

        Umm….was this your post? Or are you bleeding out and zoning in and out of consciousness?

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