Photo Credit: Jake Roth
Coming off of a bye week, Virginia Tech is looking to march into South Bend and stun #16 Notre Dame. If the Hokies want to extend their three-game winning streak, these three matchups will be important to watch.
Ian Book vs. Virginia Tech Cornerbacks
After bursting onto the scene last season, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book had some high expectations to meet this year. While Book has still been a solid signal-caller, some would argue that he has not fully lived up to those expectations.
Book struggled last week against Michigan in particular. He finished the game 8-25 passing with just 73 yards.
Even before last week, Book had not been as dominant as expected this season. While he has been very accurate all season, most of his passes have gone for short gains. Against Power Five opponents, Book has exceeded 200 yards passing just once in five starts.
For Virginia Tech, their cornerbacks had an up and down game against North Carolina. Caleb Farley had possibly the best half of his career with four passes defended in the first half.
However, he left with an injury and did not return in the second half. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Farley has been practicing this week, and the Hokies hope to have him available against Notre Dame.
If Farley is able to play, it will be a huge boost for Virginia Tech. If not, they will rely on mostly Jermaine Waller and Armani Chatman at the corner position.
On one hand, the 348 yards and five passing touchdowns that the Hokies gave up to Sam Howell of UNC do not look great. On the other hand, the corners made a number of big plays in crunch time.
All season, the Virginia Tech cornerbacks have shown flashes of greatness but also areas where improvement is needed. If the Hokies want to upset the Fighting Irish, the corners will need to have one of their better games.
Virginia Tech vs. The Bye Week
Over the past two seasons, the Hokies have struggled greatly coming out of bye weeks. In fact, Virginia Tech has lost their last three games that came after an open date.
It started with the cancellation of last year’s game against East Carolina. Of course, that was not a true bye week, but it was an open Saturday nonetheless. The very next week, Virginia Tech suffered the infamous loss to Old Dominion.
The Hokies’ true bye week in 2018 came in week eight. The following Thursday, Georgia Tech marched into Lane Stadium and handed Virginia Tech a 21-point home loss.
Lastly, Virginia Tech had their first bye week of 2019 in week four. Immediately after, Duke destroyed the Hokies 45-10 in Blacksburg.
The troubling aspect about these losses is not just that they were losses, but the manner in which they occurred. Those three games are arguably Virginia Tech’s three worst losses over the past two seasons, and they all occurred after bye weeks.
So the question becomes, why is that? According to sophomore linebacker Dax Hollifield, the players needed to have a better mindset going into the off week.
“I feel like going into the bye week last time, we just weren’t focused,” Hollifield said. “We’ve gotten a lot smarter and grown up a lot since that happened.”
After three straight wins, there might not be a whole lot that the Hokies wanted to change during the bye week. According to wide receiver Tre Turner, the biggest focus is to keep up the intensity during their preparation.
“Honestly, if you all watch us play, you see that it’s a different team,” sophomore wide receiver Tre Turner said. “We’ve got a big game ahead of us and we’re all ready to play, so we come to practices working hard every day. It’s not like we change what we do.”
Virginia Tech will have to show that this bye week was better than the previous three if they hope to upset Notre Dame on the road.
Virginia Tech Defensive Line vs. Notre Dame Offensive Line
Throughout the course of the season, the Hokies’ defensive line has continued to improve. Against North Carolina, Virginia Tech recorded five sacks and nine tackles for loss as a team.
One player in particular who has stepped up for the Hokies is redshirt junior Jarrod Hewitt. He had his best game of the season against the Tar Heels, where he recorded two and a half sacks. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said that Hewitt is emerging as a true leader in the locker room.
“I just see a guy that’s taken the role as a leader, number one,” Foster said. “Number two, that leadership carries over, not just being a ‘rah-rah’ guy, but he’s also a leader by example. His performance and his practice habits on Tuesday through Friday, he’s being a great leader that way and that’s showing in his play.”
In addition to Hewitt, Virginia Tech has a number of young players like Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks who have vastly improved. In fact, Hewitt himself was the first to praise them.
“They’ve put the work in, and it doesn’t surprise me now to see their success on the field,” Hewitt said.
This week, Virginia Tech’s number one focus will be stopping the run. Notre Dame is averaging 171.3 yards per game on the ground, so the Hokies know they have a tough task ahead of them.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve got to be able to do is stop the run,” Foster said. “That still has to be our first and foremost, and then hopefully we can create a little bit, get a little bit of pressure.”
As Foster says, the Hokies will also look to get some pressure on Ian Book. Even though stopping the run is the first priority, Virginia Tech would love to get into the backfield early and rattle Book if possible.
Overall, the Hokies have their work cut out for them this weekend. Upsetting a top 25 team on the road is no easy task.
At the same time, Virginia Tech knows what they need to do to put themselves in a position to win. First, the Hokies need to force Ian Book into another below average performance. Next, Virginia Tech needs to show that they have conquered the bye week and come out stronger on the other side. Finally, the Hokies defensive line needs to build on the momentum they created their last time out.
If Virginia Tech can do those three things, they just might be able to pull off an upset.