Notre Dame went on the road into a hostile environment last night and walked out with a 22 point victory and an unbeaten record to their name. The Irish made it halfway through the season undefeated for the first time since 2012 last night thanks to a 45-23 beating of the #24 ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. Just like last week, there was a lot t like so let’ jump in.
1. Another Dominant 2nd Half
Notre Dame entered the second half of each of the last two games in close, one possession contests. They ended up winning both games by 43 points over two ranked opponents. This is a stark contrast to the team that we saw hang on to victories against Michigan, Ball State, and Vanderbilt earlier this year. It’s a stark contrast to most of the recent Notre Dame teams we’ve seen actually.
Notre Dame didn’t panic at half time when their 10 point lead was nearly erased. They lost one of their best pass rushers right before half time as well when Julian Okwara was ejected for targeting. They didn’t flinch.
Chip Long got Dexter Williams back into the mix early in the second half and it paid off big time for the Irish with a game changing 97 yard touchdown run. From that point on the game was essentially over. Virginia Tech never seriously challenged again. Notre Dame scored the first 21 points of the second half and never looked back.
2. Notre Dame winning on the road at night against a ranked opponent
Have you heard Notre Dame struggles on the road or that Enter Sandman at Lane Stadium is intimidating? Of course you have. Notre Dame’s road game woes have been well documented and they would have continued to be if the Irish were not able to take care of business last night. Instead of laying another egg like they did last year in Miami, the Irish delivered an emphatic 22 point win and are now deservedly very much in the playoff discussion.
It was Notre Dame’s first such win since the 2015 Temple game and just the second such win for Brian Kelly and the Irish since 2012 when the Irish stormed Norman, Oklahoma and took out the Sooners.
Notre Dame needed a big win on the road not just for their resume but for their confidence. Notre Dame now knows they can walk into a hostile environment and silence a raucous crowd. We can’t quite call them road warriors just yet, but considering the Notre Dame plays just two more games inside Notre Dame Stadium this season, winning a big game on the road should give the Irish confidence they can win all those road games later this month and next.
3. How Notre Dame’s defensive stars rose to the occasion
Notre Dame lined up last night without starting DROP end Daelin Hayes so when Okwara got ejected, the Irish were down to their 3rd string DROP. Clark Lea and Mike Elston got creative and ended up playing a lot of defensive linemen – not just additional DROPs. Justin Ademilola and Jayson Ademilola were both on the field more than we’ve seen in the past. Ade Ogundeji played a ton as well. And of course, Jamir Jones who technically filled in for Okwara, played a lot too.
While Notre Dame got some really solid production from all of those players, it was Notre Dame’s defensive stars that rose to the occasion and made the difference. Tevon Coney, Drue Tranquil, Khalid Kareem, and Julian Love specifically all had huge games last night for the Irish.
Tranquill, playing with a broken hand, was simply all over the field. The stat sheet shows only five tackles, but his presence was felt much more than that. Coney led the Irish with 9 tackles with 1.5 TFL. Kareem had 2.5 TFL including 1.5 sacks. Love had 7 tackles, a pass breakup, an interception, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Others contributed to the defensive effort as well, but Notre Dame without Notre Dame’s stars playing like stars, the second half could have been a different ball game. They delivered though.
4. Another huge game from Dexter Williams
In his second game back from suspension, Notre Dame relied heavily on the senior running back once again. Tony Jones Jr played last night but was very limited. Jafar Armstrong was out again. Avery Davis didn’t get his first carry until the 4th quarter. It was another night for Dexter Williams to shine and he did just that. Another 178 yards on just 17 carries and three touchdowns. That is a week after ripping off 160 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown.
In just two games, Williams is already only 21 yards shy of tying his rushing output from a season ago. He could pass that on his first carry next weekend the way he is running right now.
Williams wasn’t just good last night, he was good and clutch. That 97 yard run turned the tide of the game, but he had another touchdown late in the game from 31 yards out after Virginia Tech scored to give them just the slightest bit of life to deliver the final knockout.
That 97 yard run, by the way, was the second longest in Notre Dame history behind Josh Adams’s 98 yarder against Wake Forest in 2015 and was the longest run ever in Lane Stadium.
5. The early offensive game plan
Based on the number of texts I got and the tweets I saw screaming for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame to run the ball in the first half, I’m sure this will go over great here, but I actually liked the early offensive game plan. The Irish offense stalled after their second drive and were in near meltdown mode before the half, but it wasn’t because of the game plan. It was because of execution.
Ian Book had multiple opportunities for long touchdown passes in the first half that he was unable to connect on. That early game plan gave the Irish a chance to jump all over Virginia Tech, but the Irish failed to capitalize. It happens and it’ll probably happen again at some point as Book continues to develop.
If you go back and rewatch that first half though, Book had receivers running wild throughout the first half but couldn’t connect with them outside of the 56 yarder to Finke on the second drive of the game. Had he made those throws, Notre Dame could have been up 14 or more at half time pretty easily.
The good news/bad news about this is that Book wasn’t misfiring because he didn’t have the arm strength – which is one of the knocks on his game – he was just inaccurate in the throws. In most of these misfires, Book overshot them. With more reps and more chemistry with his receivers, those plays will start to come. And that is when this offense becomes scary good.