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:
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.
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.
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.