Notre Dame escaped Blacksburg this weekend with an improbable win over the Hokies. At one point in the 4th quarter, Virginia Tech’s win probability reached 96.1%, but the Irish prevailed when Jack Coan came off the bench to lead the Irish to 11 points in under four minutes, and Jonathan Doerer split the uprights on a game-winner. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win that got the Irish to 5-1, heading into a much-needed bye.
Clarity at Quarterback and Offensive Line
I wrote about this on Sunday, but perhaps the most significant development for Notre Dame in their win over Virginia Tech is that Notre Dame might finally have some direction at quarterback and offensive line for the rest of the season. Greg and I dug deep into this in the latest podcast as well, but it sure looks like this offense could do some damage with Tyler Buchner at quarterback and Jack Coan playing the role of fixer ala Tommy Rees in 2012 for Everett Golson.
It remains to be seen if Buchner will be healthy enough even to start if the staff goes with him, but if they do, we could see a revitalized Notre Dame rushing attack. The offensive line found stability with Joe Alt and Andrew Kristofic on the left side of the line in place of Michael Carmody and Zeke Correll. That stability, combined with Buchner’s legs at quarterback, led to the highest rushing output of the season for Notre Dame.
What is getting overlooked somewhat is that the staff might also have found out how to deploy Jack Coan best. When the Irish spread out Virginia Tech and ran the two-minute with Coan, he was the sharpest we’ve seen all season long.
Running the two-minute drill with five wide is not necessarily sustainable for a team with six healthy wide receivers and an offensive line not built to play tempo all game long. Still, we could be looking at a two system that’s a reverse of what we saw earlier in the season. Buchner could start with Coan coming off the bench to run tempo.
The ice water in Jonathan Doerer’s veins
How about Jonathan Doerer hitting his second game-winner of the year, this time from 48 yards out while someone in the stands had a laser aimed at the Irish sidelines leading up to kick. Doerer had already won one game for the Irish earlier this year against Florida State with a 41-yard kick in OT.
Doerer’s streak of 127 straight PATs was snapped last week, so it only fitted that he nailed the 48-yard kick to push the Irish ahead for good. Doerer remains to be inconsistent at times, but he is also becoming very clutch.
Brian Kelly joked after the game that he nearly iced his own kicker because he was upset about the laser in the stands, but it didn’t impact Doerer from knocking it through the uprights. You just love to see it.
Kyren Williams touchdown run
Notre Dame’s rushing game has been brutal this year, given the struggles of the offensive line. As a result, we’ve been robbed of opportunities to see Kyren Williams do Kyren Williams things with the ball in his hands. However, with the rushing attack looking at least a little like its old self, we got to see Williams work some of his magic.
That run was vintage Kyren Williams. He made three guys missed and turned what should have been a small gain into a touchdown. He did that so often last year that we took it for granted. Hopefully, the Irish can build on their success running the ball in this one for the rest of the season because Williams can do this stuff every week if he’s got just a little bit of room.
Tariq Bracy’s interception
Notre Dame needed a momentum changer in the third quarter after the Hokies had taken the lead and had the ball. Tyler Buchner hit a rough patch, and the Irish offense stalled. Tariq Bracy, who had a bit of a rough game otherwise, came up with one of the biggest plays of the day, though with his interception of Braxton Burmeister. Four plays later, Williams was in the endzone, and the Irish were back out in front.
Bracy’s pick might have been one of his best plays in a Notre Dame uniform because it was far from easy. Nevertheless, Bracy read the play, jumped the route, and secured the ball while heading out of bounds with the Tech receiver trying to wrestle it loose.
Kevin Austin‘s ridiculous catch on the two-point conversion
A week after a brutal drop made him the target of many fans’ criticism on social media, Kevin Austin made one of the best catches in the last few years for Notre Dame on the game-tying two-point conversion from Jack Coan. For one of the first times this season, Jack Coan was able to roll out of a pocket and improvise a bit before heaving the ball up to the endzone. Was it to Austin? Was it to George Tackas? I don’t know. All I know is Austin made a hell of a catch.
Austin is getting absolutely mauled by the Virginia Tech defender here. His hand is inside Austin’s helmet and pulling at it while Austin is able to make the catch. Given the circumstances, it’s easily the best play of Austin’s career at Notre Dame and a glimpse of the receiver that he can be.
Fans were down on Austin for the drop against Cincinnati, and Brian Kelly said that no one was harder on Austin than Austin himself last week. However, people tend to forget that this is the first year of football Austin’s really played since his senior year of high school. He’s had some ups and downs so far, but the ups are starting to outnumber the downs, and with six games left this season, Austin has a chance to build on his performance in the second half of the season.