Notre Dame improved to 6-0 on the season Saturday night under the lights of Lane Stadium in Blacksburg with a 45-23 win over #24 Virginia Tech. The Irish dominated the Hokies in the second half after playing them nearly even in the first. Notre Dame now has three wins over teams that were ranked at the time at the half way point in the season.
It wasn’t easy from start to finish tonight, but the Irish will take a 22 point win over a ranked opponent home with them to South Bend as they prepare for one more game before their bye week. Let’s crack open the post game 6 pack and find out how.
Notre Dame finally wins a road game in a tough environment over a ranked opponent
Notre Dame came into this game with the opportunity to exorcise some more demons this week after their road game woes the last few years and they did just that. Notre Dame came out on fire before letting Virginia Tech right back in the game in the second quarter, but they weathered the storm and made this one look easy.
Past Notre Dame teams probably would not have responded the way this one did tonight. After their 10-0 lead turned into a 17-16 score at half time, Notre Dame outscored Virginia Tech 28-7 in the second half. For all the talk of practicing in chaos situations, the Irish showed that practice made perfect. They found themselves in a less than ideal position at half time but they responded the way good teams do.
We heard all week long about Enter Sandman and how electric the environment would be well. Well, the stage wasn’t too big for this team at the start and it wasn’t too big for them when they faced some adversity later on.
We’ll ultimately see how good this Virginia Tech team is later in the season, but it’s clear they aren’t as bad as they looked in losing to Old Dominion so this was a quality win in a tough environment.
Liam Eichenberg looks like a prophet
Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg made news earlier in the week for providing bulletin board material for Virginia Tech this week, but it turns out that Eichenberg was dead right. It was loud in the stadium but Notre Dame went in and kicked Virginia Tech’s a**” tonight. Eichenberg himself didn’t have a dominant game – and he did surrender a sack – but he still was not wrong in his statements. Whether or not he’s allowed to talk to the media again this year remains to be seen, but that still won’t change the fact that he was dead right.
Notre Dame’s 2nd team DL was huge
Notre Dame played this game without starting DROP End Daelin Hayes who suffered a stinger injury against Stanford and didn’t make the trip. Then the Irish lost Julian Okwara to a targeting penalty in at the end of the first half leaving them thin on defensive linemen. The second string responded with some quality reps.
At times Kurt Hinish, Justin Ademilola, and Ade Ogundeji were all on the field at the same time. Jayson Ademilola saw a lot of reps as well. Jamir Jones, a linebacker in the spring, saw the most increased action with Okwara and Hayes out and he more than held his own.
Notre Dame lost two of its best pass rushers tonight and they were still able to consistently get pressure on Virginia Tech QB Ryan Willis. Not only that, but Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler were constantly fawning over the Irish DL. Just let all of that sink in.
Oh yeah, and the second team DL holding its own isn’t just amazing for tonight and the rest of the year, but it’s huge for next year when Notre Dame will have to replace some serious talent.
By the way, speaking of the Okwara targeting. Not to say that it wasn’t targeting because it looked pretty clear, but remember when Virginia Tech took open season Deshone Kizer’s head in 2016 and not a single flag was thrown? We all should have known one of these was coming our way.
Dexter Williams turned this game around
Tonight’s game turned around completely on the legs of Dexter Williams. Backed up on their own three yard line and clinging to a one point lead, Williams took an Ian Book handoff, cut inside and took off. 97 yards later Williams gave Notre Dame an 8 point lead with the second longest run in Notre Dame history and the longest run ever inside Lane Stadium. On the night, Williams ran 17 times for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Since returning from his suspension, Williams has reenergized the Notre Dame rushing attack and already has 339 yards rushing with 4 touchdowns this season in just two games. He has done that damage against Stanford and Virginia Tech.
Tonight though, that Williams run came when Notre Dame needed it most. Williams later added a 31 yard score after the Hokes cut the Irish lead to 15 in the 4th. Game. Set. Match.
Ian Book is still a work in progress
Notre Dame came out firing tonight and on the first drive of the game Ian Book was 8 for 8 while engineering a touchdown drive. After that, Book started to look a little shaky and show that he still has a lot of room for improvement. Early on Notre Dame dialed up a bunch of downfield passes that Book was unable to connect on. Some, including one to Chris Finke, were almost sure touchdowns.
Now, some will argue that Notre Dame should have been running the ball and that the score was only close because Notre Dame abandoned the run in the first half, but guess what? Those pass plays were there. If Book connects on some of those plays where he had wide pen receivers downfield, Notre Dame is up double digits at half time.
Book responded well in the second half, but even then he missed a WIDE open Chase Claypool late in the 3rd with the issue still in doubt and a chance to ice the game. The point of all of this is to say that Book was still pretty good tonight, but he also showed that he still has a lot of room to grow.
Clark Lea makes excellent half time adjustments … again
For the second week in a row now, Clark Lea has made some amazing second half adjustments at half time after the opposing offense had some success in the first half. Down two of his best pass rushers and his top DROP ends, Lea devised a second half plan that limited Virginia Tech to just seven points. And those seven came after Notre Dame had already built a 22 points lead.
Virginia Tech’s first four drives of the second half resulted in Punt, Missed FG, Punt, Missed FG.
Last week Lea cooked up the same type of magic at half time and kept Stanford off the scoreboard for most of the second half. For a first time coordinator, that is very impressive.