5 keys to the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech matchup: Can Williams, Ruhland deliver in expanded roles?

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

By Carter Karels

South Bend Tribune

Here are five keys for No. 6 Notre Dame as it travels to No. 24 Virginia Tech for an 8 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff.

SHINE DEXTER SHINE

Although he rejoined the Irish just last week, Williams already has one of the team’s most important roles. Senior running back Jafar Armstrong remains out after undergoing surgery on his infected left knee. Tony Jones Jr. could be limited after twisting his ankle last week. Expect another game in which Williams earns 20-plus touches. It will come against an even better run defense. Notre Dame fans should hope his conditioning is where it needs to be.

NEXT MAN UP

Down their best offensive lineman in Alex Bars, the Irish need a complete game from Ruhland. The senior performed well as Bars’ replacement, and he showed flashes in relief of Tommy Kraemer earlier in the season. The Hokies are tied for fourth in run defense, allowing 84 yards per game. Ruhland will need to help open up holes for a short-handed backfield against defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s aggressive scheme.

BE SMART WITH THE FOOTBALL

Ian Book has not thrown an interception and poor decisions on his account have been few and far between. The junior has not faced a defensive coordinator as creative as Foster, though. A week removed from the Old Dominion embarrassment, Virginia Tech gave Duke fits by dropping eight in coverage often. While Book has performed well against that look, expect the Hokies to challenge his weaknesses like Stanford failed to do.

RESPECT RYAN WILLIS

He’s no Josh Jackson — Virginia Tech’s starter who was injured against Old Dominion on Sept. 22 — but Virginia Tech’s quarterback has not looked like a backup. He went 17-of-27 for 332 yards and three touchdowns against Duke. Willis already struck a connection with Damon Hazelton, who leads the Hokies in catches (15), receiving yards (348) and receiving touchdowns (4). The Irish pass rush dominated last week and has to make Willis similarly uncomfortable.

LIMIT THE NOISE

Last year’s fiasco in Miami is not expected to be in play Saturday. It’s a different team. But it is important for Notre Dame to continue its hot start in the first quarter. Hokies coach Justin Fuente is 20-0 when leading at halftime and 40-4 for his career. Taking the crowd out of the stadium could help Book and the Irish keep their composure — unlike the Miami game.

Senior offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland made his first career start at right guard against Wake Forest.

NOTRE DAME (5-0) at VIRGINIA TECH (3-1)

At Lane Stadium (66,233), Blacksburg, VA

Kickoff: 8 p.m.

TV: ABC

Series history: Virginia Tech leads series 1-0

Betting line: Notre Dame by 7