Here are five keys for No. 16 Notre Dame (5-2) when it hosts Virginia Tech (5-2) on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
BOUNCE BACK GAME
The Notre Dame offensive line, defensive line and quarterback Ian Book had their worst games of the season in last week’s 45-14 loss at Michigan. They may need dominant outings against Virginia Tech to bring normalcy back to their team. The Irish are expected to do so as heavy favorites, but the Hokies are playing inspiring football as of late. Virginia Tech is riding a three-game winning streak and is coming off a bye week. The Irish need rebound performances from their key contributors.
According to the film analysis by the Tribune’s Tyler James, Book finished 1-of-10 passing for five yards with a sack and a nine-yard run in the 12 dropbacks Michigan provided pressure. Disruption has become a strength for the Hokies’ defense this season. Coordinator Bud Foster’s unit recorded 15 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss over the last three games. The Hokies have one more sack (25) and one fewer pass breakup (40) than all of last season. Book must regain the poise and confidence in the pocket that he showed in 2018.
ESTABLISH THE RUN
Just when the Irish running game seems to be finding its rhyhm, it becomes non-existent. Like last week, when Notre Dame ran for 47 yards on 31 carries after coming off a 300-yard rushing performance against USC. Running back Jafar Armstrong has not carved out a prominent role in his two games back since a Sept. 2 abdominal injury. With the banged up Tony Jones Jr. (ribs) set to be a gametime decision, Armstrong may become the featured back. A better running game would ease some pressure off Book, who already must handle the absence of starting right guard Tommy Kraemer (MCL sprain).
STOP THE RUN
The Irish defense can sell out on stopping the run or pass, but not both. They defended the pass but not the run well against Louisville and Michigan. Notre Dame will likely mimic its game plan against Georgia and Virginia, selling out against the run and challenging Virginia Tech to throw. Dual-threat quarterback Hendon Hooker revived the Hokies’ ground game after replacing Ryan Willis. Virginia Tech won its past three games with Hooker as the starter, averaging about 210 rushing yards and 40 points. He has not been forced to win a game with his arm, though.
Losing at home as a double-digit favorite would require Notre Dame to suffer self-inflicted wounds. With the Georgia game as its lone exception, Notre Dame hasn’t been that type of team. The Irish rank No. 1 and No. 7 nationally in red zone efficiency and turnover margin. Only six Power Five teams are worse than the Hokies (No. 117) in turnover margin. Taking care of the football and capitalizing on opportunities will place the Irish in prime position to become bowl eligible on Saturday.