Who And What To Watch: Virginia Tech @ Notre Dame

Your weekly pre-game points of interest as Notre Dame hosts Virginia Tech on Senior Day.

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1 – Neither is slow out of the gate: The Irish offense enters Saturday scoring a touchdown on its opening possession in three consecutive contests – and in six of the contests played to date. Moreover, they’ve scored the game’s first touchdown in nine of 10 outings, the exception a 10-3 loss in Raleigh’s residual hurricane winds and rain against North Carolina State.

Virginia Tech has surrendered an opening drive touchdown just once this season, and it occurred in defeat, a 34-17 upset at the hands of Syracuse.

The Hokies have outscored their 10 foes 74-29 in the opening quarter this season. Notre Dame has had similar success, enjoying a 106-44 margin. 

2 – But the second score seems to set the tone: While Notre Dame has scored the first touchdown in nine out of 10 contests, they’ve nonetheless gone on to lose in five of those nine matchups.

As noted last season, scoring the game’s second touchdown tends to set a given game’s tone (the second touchdown generally either ties the contest at 7 or cuts into a 10-0 lead or otherwise extends to a 14-0; 14-3 lead, both of which impact game strategy).

It’s been no different this fall with the team doing so holding a 7-2 edge (Duke winning and Syracuse losing as the exceptions – it’s likewise notable that Duke scored one snap after Notre Dame took its 14-0 lead). The team scoring a contest’s second touchdown has enjoyed 17 wins in the last 22 outings dating back to the outset of the 2015 seasons contests involving the Irish.
3 – Three-Headed Monster: At the conclusion of the 2009 season, their final contest as teammates, former Irish and current NFL stars Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph had produced an aggregate 4,494 receiving yards.

Virginia Tech’s WR-WR-TE trio of Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, and Bucky Hodges have combined over three seasons (the Irish trio had two) to dwarf that total, registering a stunning 5,963 yards during their time together in Blacksburg.

Will the Virginia Tech veterans get the best of Notre Dame’s youth-filled secondary Saturday afternoon? It’s doubtless the toughest test Todd Lyght’s crew has faced to date.

4 – Close won’t count: Virginia Tech’s defense ranks 15th nationally heading into Saturday’s contest but two areas of Hokies expertise should be particularly troubling for Irish fans:

  • The 12th ranked pass efficiency defense
  • A 55% touchdown percentage allowed when foes breech their red zone

(For the sake of reference, Ohio State ranks #1, Michigan #3, Clemson #8, and Alabama #9 in the all-important pass efficiency defensive metric.)

Notre Dame drives on everyone – cashing in with six rather than three is the challenge. Can the Irish offense – solid but unspectacular with a 60 percent touchdown percentage – finish the drill in the red zone despite adverse passing conditions Saturday vs. the Hokies?

5 – Lasting Impression? Notre Dame has yet to win two straight games this season. It’s beaten one team that’s cemented bowl eligibility.

It’s lost to a Service Academy, to a basketball school, and to at least one, if not two programs set to fire a head coach in the off-season.

And if the Irish are to lose today, a 4-7 mark would almost certainly turn into a 4-8 final record after a Saturday afternoon spent in Los Angeles thereafter.

But a win? A win lends hope. A win engenders goodwill. And most important, a win allows a frustrated but dedicated senior class to celebrate their careers in front of their home fans. 

“It's huge, just the turnaround and being a solution to this whole thing,” said captain James Onwualu of what it would mean to finish 6-6 with a bowl bid after first falling to 3-6 in early November. “It would be very nice to see that some of the work we've put in led to something, something that we can hold onto and have another opportunity to compete.”

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