The Virginia Tech Hokies suffered a disappointing home loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday, but now have had time to move on and get ready for their last non-conference game of the regular season on the road at Notre Dame. Notre Dame may only be 4-6 this season, but the Fighting Irish have been playing better lately, and will not be an easy game for the Hokies with Vegas having the game as a pick’ em.
Both teams have plenty to play for with Notre Dame needing to win out to go to a bowl game while a win could definitely send the Hokies back into the top 25 next week, but a loss of any sort may keep them out for the rest of the season. With that said, here’s a look at the key matchups between Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
CBs Brandon Facyson, Adonis Alexander vs. WR Equanimeous St. Brown
Brandon Facyson and Adonis Alexander were not tested much last week against the Georgia Tech triple option with Facyson playing well and Alexander being solid but not great as the sophomore did have a couple of not so good moments. However, the duo will face a Notre Dame offense led by talented QB DeShone Kizer who has a dangerous weapon on the outside in wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.
St. Brown is Notre Dame’s top receiver with 45 catches for 777 receiving yards with an impressive 8 receiving touchdowns and an average of 17.7 yards per reception. St. Brown is a dangerous playmaker on the outside with great size at 6’5” and a future on Sundays in the not too distant future given his size and skill set.
For Brandon Facyson and Adonis Alexander, this will be a challenge with Alexander likely to be matched up a fair amount against St. Brown with Notre Dame likely seeing the sophomore as the weaker of the cornerback duo. Bud Foster and Brian Mitchell likely will have their cornerbacks for a tough battle even if conditions are less than ideal for passing the football knowing that a player like St. Brown sometimes only needs a couple catches to make big things happen.
Both cornerbacks have the size and athleticism to match up with St. Brown relative to most collegiate cornerbacks but know that this will be a challenge and will likely have Bud Foster giving safety help and running some zone as well especially with DeShone Kizer’s ability to make plays as a runner also.
If the Hokies can slow or even shut down St. Brown, Virginia Tech should put themselves in a much better position.
LB Andrew Motuapuaka vs. QB DeShone Kizer
Virginia Tech has continued to struggle to contain mobile quarterback and this week, the Hokies face another mobile QB in Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer who is the Fighting Irish’s second leading rusher and actually leads the Fighting Irish in rushing TDs with 7 (the rest of ND has a combined 8). Kizer has proven he is a mobile threat and the Notre Dame will look to test the Hokies early and often especially in what is expected to be poor conditions.
For Virginia Tech, a lot of the responsibility for containing Kizer will be on the linebackers especially Andrew Motuapuaka who may be used as a spy in some cases while playing zone over the middle of the field on other cases in a position he could be one of the first to react and stop Kizer if he gets some space to improvise and run the ball.
Motuapuaka is going to have to be able to read Kizer well and react quickly to when Kizer tries to take off and make something happen with his legs knowing that the talented mobile QB can take advantage of hesitation from a defender. Motuapuaka and the Virginia Tech defense as a whole will need to be solid in their tackling and make sure they wrap up to prevent form breaking a tackle and making something big happen.
With conditions likely not to be great for passing but good enough to maintain the threat of it, Virginia Tech will need to be ready for the threat of Kizer and him making plays with his legs off of true run plays or improvisation off of pass plays. If the Hokies struggle to keep Kizer from making plays with his legs, it could be a long afternoon for Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech Offensive Line vs. Notre Dame Defensive Line
The Virginia Tech offensive line struggled immensely last week against a Georgia Tech defense that only had 8 sacks entering that game as the Hokies allowed 5 sacks in the upset loss to Georgia Tech. Now, the Hokies face an average pass rush at best but a Notre Dame rush defense that will be ready for a physical battle in the trenches and has some talent.
For the Hokies, there was a lot of promise about an offensive line that returned four starters but so far, this unit has been the one spot that has lived up to the expectations though they haven’t been as bad as many fans make them out to be. However, the Hokies will need the offensive line to bounce back against a Notre Dame defense that has 54 tackles for loss this season compared to 13 sacks and has 5 different players with at least 6 tackles for loss.
In what will be cold, wet conditions; being able to establish a rushing attack will be quite important and the Hokies will need the offensive line to step up especially in the interior with guys like Augie Conte, Wyatt Teller, and Eric Gallo who have been the weak point of this offensive line. Notre Dame is also only giving up 4.1 yards per carry and while they’re 76th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game, the Fighting Irish have the talent to make this interesting.
However, the Hokies are facing a Notre Dame defense that has also had to face back-to-back triple-option teams and could be physically more worn down than normal. If Virginia Tech can get the run game going, it will be largely due to the performance of their offensive line that must also protect Jerod Evans better this week. If the Hokies’ offensive line can do that, they can attack a secondary that has two freshman starters through the air and force Notre Dame to load the box a little more than normal.
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