Key Matchups in Notre Dame Football’s Trip to Blacksburg

Will Kyren Williams finally be able to get going? Will Irish defense contain Burmeister?

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempts to pick up the pieces after watching their perfect 4-0 start crumble in a 24-13 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday. Their opponents this week will be the Virginia Tech Hokies, with the Irish looking to win their third consecutive game in this short series that began five years ago.

Virginia Tech has won three of their four games this season, with all three at home. The Hokies’ one blemish came in a road clash against West Virginia, with Tech so far showing an ability to offer a balanced offensive attack. One area to watch will be their rushing defense.

Below are some of the prominent matchups to look for:

Notre Dame QB vs. Virginia Tech Defense

Exactly who lines up behind center against the Hokies is something of a mystery. Jack Coan is healthy, though he had issues moving the ball for most of his Cincinnati appearance. Tyler Buchner’s been used to inject some momentum in his appearances, while Drew Pyne’s efforts so far seem to point the starting nod in his direction.

In the Hokies’ three wins this season, the team’s defense has only allowed 11.3 points per game. That averaged is somewhat skewed since it was compiled against teams with less available firepower than Notre Dame. As noted, they have been vulnerable to the run, though their pass rush has helped notch 13 sacks in their first four games. This unit has collected six turnovers, with all but one of them coming via the interception.

QB Braxton Burmeister vs. Notre Dame Defense

The Irish defense struggled to contain Cincinnati, which gained 386 yards, second-most this year against Marcus Freeman’s unit. In some instances, Notre Dame turnovers put them in a hole, but defenders failed to stop the Bearcats from driving toward the clinching touchdown. Cincinnati also missed a pair of field goals and had a touchdown called back that became a three-pointer.

While Burmeister isn’t at the level of Cincinnati’s Desmond Ritter, he still represents a dual-threat who has to be kept in check. He’s thrown for 746 yards and five touchdowns and serves as one of the three main running options for the Hokies. That passing yardage has already surpassed his output from last year when he saw action in six games. He originally began his collegiate career at Oregon, playing two seasons before transferring to Tech.

RB Kyren Williams vs. MLB Dax Hollifield

Williams is still looking for his first game with more than 100 yards on the ground, a threshold he crossed six times last season. His struggles over the past two weeks have mirrored those of the entire Notre Dame running attack, with Williams collecting only 78 yards on 31 carries. He gained 16 yards on his first effort against Cincinnati but was then held to just 29 yards on 12 carries.

Hollifield is a veteran who doesn’t put up eye-popping numbers but knows how to bring runners down and also get into enemy backfields. In the latter category, he’s tied for the team lead in tackles-for-loss with 4.5, while he also shares the team lead in sacks with three. Coming up with a huge game against the Irish would certainly help his name recognition in NFL circles.

CB Cam Hart vs. WR Tre Turner

Hart has great size, though he hasn’t had much activity when it comes to tackles in the past two contests. He did pick off a pair of passes against Wisconsin, but struggled against Cincinnati and is undoubtedly looking for some redemption in this contest. He’s an aggressive player who has another challenge coming this week.

Turner is just one of Burmeister’s receiving options and has the ability to go deep. He’s averaged four catches per game this season and only has one touchdown to his credit. However, he’s a consistent target who’s also a threat as a running option, which heightens the scrutiny needed on him.

WR Kevin Austin vs. CB Jermaine Waller

In Austin’s three appearances prior to the Cincinnati game, he caught 14 passes and scored three touchdowns, but was then limited to a single grab for 17 yards against the Bearcats. He’s become a key part of the Notre Dame passing attack this season and needs to shake off that frustrating performance with a strong effort on Saturday night.

Virginia Tech has developed more than a few cornerbacks that went on to play in the NFL and Waller could be the next. He missed most of last year due to injury but has shown off his talent in the Hokies’ first four games. He’s made 22 stops, including one behind the line and has three interceptions and a pair of pass deflections. He’s got good size and can be aggressive.

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