The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are hoping to bounce back after suffering their first loss of the season when they take a road trip to Virginia Tech this Saturday. Even at 4-0, the Irish had plenty of concerns, many of which showed up in their 24-13 defeat to Cincinnati.
Virginia Tech has had some ups and downs of its own. A huge season-opening win over North Carolina spawned increased expectations, but a loss at West Virginia followed by an uninspiring win over Richmond has dampened those hopes a bit. Still, this is a 3-1 team that has a huge division win on its résumé, and a victory over Notre Dame would give the Hokies some momentum going into the heart of the ACC schedule.
All three of the meetings between the Irish and the Hokies have come since 2016, and Notre Dame has won the last two contests.
No. 14 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Notre Dame -1
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Earlier this week, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that he knew who the starting quarterback would be, but he was not going to announce it to the public. While Jack Coan was listed at the top of the most recent depth chart, many feel that Drew Pyne will take the snaps. Pyne not only propelled the Irish to the win over Wisconsin after Coan injured his ankle, but he also was the more effective quarterback in the Cincinnati game.
Regardless of who plays the position, if the offensive line doesn’t step up its game, it probably won’t matter. Notre Dame ranks 129th out of 130 FBS teams in tackles for lost yardage allowed. Not surprisingly, they are also 126th with 22 sacks allowed in their five games. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are quality running backs, but they’ve had nowhere to run so far this year. The pass catchers haven’t been special and may be even further hamstrung if tight end Michael Mayer can’t play or is limited with his hip injury. But the offense’s biggest issue is along the offensive line.
Meanwhile, the Hokies are tied for 33rd in America with seven tackles for a loss per game. Notre Dame will have to be most concerned about ends TyJuan Garbutt and Amaré Barno, a duo that has combined for eight tackles for lost yardage. Making things even more problematic is that Virginia Tech has a pretty complete defense with Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale leading the charge at linebacker and Jermaine Waller headlining a solid secondary.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
After shuffling quarterbacks the past couple of seasons, the Hokies have a primary signal-caller this year in Braxton Burmeister. His numbers certainly don’t jump out at you, but he has provided the stability that Virginia Tech needed. The offense doesn’t create a lot of big plays in the passing game, but Burmeister has not made many big mistakes either. And while he doesn’t have huge rushing totals, he is very fast and can’t make teams pay in that way.
It is frustrating that with receivers like Tré Turner and Tayvion Robinson that Virginia Tech can’t establish more of a vertical passing game. But that is the case. Also, big plays are lacking on the ground and the Hokies are 13th in the ACC in rushing offense per game. Add it up and you have a team that ranks 112th in total offense in 2021.
That is good news for an Irish defense that has been burned by big plays too many times this season. The seven plays of more than 40 yards allowed have hurt Notre Dame substantially because, in other aspects, this has been a disruptive unit, as their 15 sacks attest. The Irish are also 10th in the nation in third-down defense. Tackle Kurt Hinish, who has missed the previous two games, should return, adding another piece to a very productive defensive line.
It’s pretty easy to conclude that points will be at a premium this weekend in Blacksburg. Notre Dame’s struggles on the offensive line and Virginia Tech’s lack of explosiveness play right to the strengths of the opposing defense. How effective Notre Dame is running the football will be a key aspect in this game. The Irish have accomplished virtually nothing on the ground through five games, but Virginia Tech did give up 173 rushing yards to West Virginia and 160 to FCS Richmond. If Notre Dame can’t run the ball, Virginia Tech will apply enough pressure to make life very difficult for the Notre Dame passing game. Because we haven’t seen it yet, I don’t expect the ND line to open up many running lanes. Virginia Tech won’t score a lot, but they won’t need to.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Notre Dame 14
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.