Lesar: Five keys to Notre Dame-Virginia Tech

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune


Earlier this week, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he noticed for the first time this season that his team was playing with “an edge” against Army. Well, it’s one thing for a physically superior team to play like that. It’s something quite different to keep that sort of attitude against an equal. If the Irish plan on pulling off a victory over Virginia Tech, they will have to approach it with confidence and decisiveness. Or, as Kelly put it, “an edge.”


Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans will be one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks Notre Dame will see this season. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound junior, who came to the Hokies from a junior college, has already thrown for 2,519 yards and 22 touchdowns and run for 608 yards and 6 TDs. He has three quality receivers – Isaiah Ford (58 catches, 795 yards, 7 TDs), Cam Phillips (46, 633, 2) and Bucky Hodges (36, 514, 5) – who will make it tough on the Irish secondary, unless the expected windy weather shifts the game plan. 


There’s no room for Notre Dame to get caught in negative-yardage plays. The Virginia Tech defense has a habit of performing at crunch time. The Hokies rank fifth in the country (41 of 149) in third-down conversion defense. One of the reasons for that statistical success has been the aggressive play of nose tackle Woody Baron and outside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The two have combined for 31 tackles for loss. With the Irish offensive line struggling with consistency, it could be a challenge. Virginia Tech is tied with Illinois for No. 6 in the country in tackles for loss (82).


Notre Dame’s defensive unit just finished a two-week grind in which it packed away all the principles and game plans for conventional offenses in favor of re-inventing everything for the option. With Navy and Army now in the rear-view mirror, it’s back to preparing for a power attack that could have the capability to stretch the field. Under Kelly, the Irish are 4-3 in games after Navy. Toss in a second straight triple-option team and the frustration can increase.


“Senior Day” at Notre Dame Stadium can always be tricky. There aren’t a lot of players exhausting their eligibility, but there are others who may not choose to return. Besides guys like defensive linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, linebacker James Onwualu and cornerback Cole Luke – all of whom are definitely done – will receiver Torii Hunter be back? How ‘bout quarterback DeShone Kizer? Or left tackle Mike McGlinchey? Or running back Tarean Folston? Or left guard Quenton Nelson? They all have options. How will they react?

Georgia Tech quarterback Matthew Jordan (11) fumbles while being hit by Virginia Tech defender Tremaine Edmunds (49) during the first half of an NCAA football game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Nov. 12 2016. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)