Counting Down the 2021 Notre Dame Football Schedule: #7 Virginia Tech

The third road game on the Notre Dame football schedule will see the Fighting Irish hit the road for their game on October 9 in Blacksburg, Virginia. There, Brian Kelly’s squad will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in a contest that will mark only the second time ever that Notre Dame has faced Tech on their home field.

Hokies head coach Justin Fuente is poised to begin his sixth year, after compiling a 38-26 mark during his tenure at Tech. However, the numbers that the Hokies fan base is more likely to be focusing on are his 19-18 record the past three seasons, numbers which may mean his job is in jeopardy with another mediocre campaign.

Virginia Tech Offense: Major Adjustments

There was no problem with the Tech offense last year, with the team averaging 31.1 points per game. This year’s likely starter, Braxton Burmeister, managed to win three of his four starts last year likely to start. He’s a mobile signal-caller who can put the ball in the air, but if he can’t deliver over the long haul, Fuente may see what lightly-tested Knox Kadum can offer.

The running game has a gaping hole to fix after the departure of Khalil Herbert and his 1,183 rushing yards last season. The top candidate to replace him is Rutgers transfer Raheem Blackshear, who was an all-purpose back at his former school. Also in the mix will be Jalen Holston, who’s offered minimal contributions to the Hokies during his career, with others also angling for playing time.

The good news for Burmeister is that both Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner are back among the wide receivers. The two combined for 72 receptions and each scored three touchdowns, giving Tech a pair of deep threats. Still, expanding the receiving options is vital, with Kaleb Smith, Jaden Payoute and tight end James Mitchell the top candidates in that category.

On the offensive line, Christian Darrisaw is another huge loss, with guards Lecitus Smith and Brock Hoffman, along with tackle Luke Tenuta hoping to forge another strong area for Tech. The center position will be handled by Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan, while either Parker Clements or junior college transfer Bob Schick should be in the other tackle slot.

Virginia Tech Defense: Building on Momentum

Early struggles on this unit last year were largely due to personnel issues and offseason coaching changes. Things improved as the season wore on and Hoies fans are keeping their fingers crossed that the uptick continues.

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Upfront, Tech will be paced by potential NFL draft pick Amare Barno at defensive end, who led the Hokies with 16 stops behind the line and 6.5 sacks. On the other side, Emmanuel Belmar looks to pick up where he left off before being felled by a head injury. On the nose, Clemson transfer Jordan Williams is likely to start unless DaShawn Crawford supplants him.

Tech’s 4-2-5 defense has Dax Hollifield likely destined for the middle linebacking position after having bounced between the inside and outside in past years. Joining him will be Alan Tisdale, whose lean frame may not be able to hold up over the season. If that happens, Keshon Artis has the potential to step in.

Traditionally, the Hokies have done a good job of developing cornerbacks into candidates for the NFL, with this year’s edition consisting of Jermaine Walker and Dorian Strong. Walker should be fully recovered from the foot injury that hampered him in 2021 and Strong is making an effort to build on a solid first season. At safety, Chamarri Conner led the team in tackles last year, while Vanderbilt transfer Tae Daley hopes to make an immediate impact. Another contender among the deep backs is Devon Hunter, who was suspended last season after getting into off-the-field trouble.

Virginia Tech Special Teams: Uncertainties All Around

Two new faces at kicker and punter for Tech this season, with a training camp battle between kickers Zach Hoban, Will Ross and Kyle Lowe on tap. In contrast, punting will likely be handled by Peter Moore, mostly because he has minimal competition for the job. John Parker Romo will handle kickoffs and may insert himself into the aforementioned kicking competition. Punt returns have to be better this season for the Hokies, with Robinson under the microscope after his 2020 struggles in this area.

The Last Time Notre Dame Played Virginia Tech

Back in November 2019, the Irish took things down to the final minute before squeezing out a 21-20 victory at home against the Hokies. The winning score came on a seven-yard run by Ian Book with 29 seconds left on the 18th play of an 87-yard drive. Those dramatics wiped out a mistake-filled game that included Tech scoring on a 98-yard fumble return.

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