Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

• Virginia Tech hasn’t defeated a Top 25 team at Lane Stadium since beating No. 9 Miami in 2009.

• Through four games, Virginia Tech has rushed for 480 more yards than it’s allowed (816 gained/336 allowed).

• The Hokies have allowed zero punt return yards and only 45 kick return yards. Only Oklahoma (29) has allowed fewer combined punt return and kick return yardage.

RB DEXTER WILLIAMS

What does the senior running back have planned for an encore? His season debut of 161 rushing yards against Stanford gave Notre Dame a needed spark at running back with Jafar Armstrong sidelined by a knee infection. Potential has never been an issue for the former four-star recruit. But if Williams can be a consistent producer out of Notre Dame’s backfield, the offense has more balance with an explosive threat. The Irish have lost seven consecutive road games when they haven’t rushed for more than 150 yards.

DE JULIAN OKWARA

The number one in the sack column doesn’t tell the story of Okwara’s effectiveness for Notre Dame. He’s been giving opposing quarterbacks a hard time all season. Even the six quarterback hurries he’s been credited with don’t do justice to the time he’s spent causing chaos in the backfield. The Irish defensive line has been a big part of the success of Notre Dame’s defense, and Okwara’s a key cog. His pressure on the outside often leads to sacks for someone else. Look for Okwara to try to pick on freshman left tackle Christian Darrisaw.

WR DAMON HAZELTON

The Ball State transfer hasn’t wasted any time making an impact in his first year of eligibility at his new school. Hazelton leads Virginia Tech in receptions (15), receiving yards (348) and receiving touchdowns (4). The 6-foot-2, 222-pound wide receiver from Baltimore has scored a touchdown in all four games this season. Hazelton has even shown a connection with quarterback Ryan Willis, who replaced the injured Josh Jackson. The two already have connected on seven catches for 101 yards and one touchdown in less than five full quarters.

S REGGIE FLOYD

Notre Dame’s offense won’t have to look hard to find Floyd. He’ll probably be near the football regardless of where it ends up. The 6-0, 222-pound junior safety leads Virginia Tech in solo tackles (20) and tackles for a loss (6.5). Floyd, a captain, recorded his first interception of the season last week against Duke. He also tallied eight tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss in that victory to earn ACC Defensive Back of the Week. Floyd doesn’t shy away from contact in the secondary.

Running back Dexter Williams returned from suspension in week five against Stanford and takes his first carry of the season 45 yards for a touchdown.
Virginia Tech’s Damon Hazelton (14) runs the ball while Duke’s Josh Blackwell dives during the Virginia Tech-Duke game last Saturday.