Once again, the attention of college football will be on Blacksburg Saturday night as 24th-ranked Virginia Tech hosts sixth-ranked Notre Dame in one of the biggest games of week 6 of the college football season. Virginia Tech presents the toughest test remaining on Notre Dame's schedule while the Hokies know that they have a chance to make a national statement on a primetime stage and pick up what would be the biggest win of the Justin Fuente era.
With that said, here is our By The Numbers breakdown of Saturday night's showdown in Lane Stadium.
7: Number of Passing Touchdowns Combined for Ryan Willis and Ian Book Last Week
Ryan Willis made his first start in a Virginia Tech uniform last week while Ian Book made his first start against a ranked opponent. Though both were tested by quality, ranked competition, both quarterbacks showed that they were more than capable with Book going 24-33 for 278 yards and 4 touchdowns while Willis went 17-27 for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Book has proven to be an upgrade after the early season struggles of Brandon Wimbush opened the door for Book to steal the job. Book has done about as well as any Notre Dame fan could imagine completing 74.3% of his passes with with 7 touchdowns and 616 passing yards over 2 games and three passes against Vanderbilt. This Notre Dame already looks like it's in the same tier as the Fighting Irish team that played for a national championship with Everett Golson at the helm and Book is a big reason for it in giving Notre Dame a difference-making passing game.
Meanwhile, Ryan Willis was very impressive in his first start as he gave the Hokies a vertical passing game with the arm strength to stretch the field consistently and prevent defensive backs from cheating forward because of it. In addition, Willis and the Hokies' passing attack ere able to convert on third and long time and time again, something that will wear down and frustrate any defense as it did to Duke's defense.
Willis and Book have exceeded all expectations in their limited time under center, but will both have a big stage Saturday night to keep the momentum going and build their star.
10.50: Yards After Catch Per Reception Average for Hezekiah Grimsley
ESPN's David Hale had an interesting stat earlier today about the impact Hezekiah Grimsley has been able to make after his catches.
Grimsley has taken a big step forward in his development over the past several months with the Williamsburg native proving to be a big play threat once he gets the ball in his hands. Grimsley has also shown that he can get the type of quick separation that any teams want in their slot receive making him particularly dangerous on crossing and quick in routes that helped Grimsley have a pair of big third down gains against Duke.
Part of the success of Hezekiah Grimsley has also been due to play design and the attention that Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah require on the outside with safety help. That safety help has created more space and one-on-one matchups for short and intermediate passes over the middle, something that Grimsley has more than taken advantage of.
Hezekiah Grimsley may not have the same spotlight that Damon Hazelton has after four-straight games with a touchdown, but Grimsley has the potential to be an x-factor
that swings Saturday night's game in the Hokies' favor.
7: Number of Sacks for Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery
Jerry Tillery is making a strong case for All-American honors this season with 14 tackles, 7.5 total tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in only 5 games. Tillery's best performances have also come against the toughest competition with the senior DT having 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 QB hurries this past week; 3 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble against Michigan; and a sack and forced fumble against Vanderbilt.
Now these pass rush numbers would be impressive for a defensive end, but Tillery has put up one of the most impressive pass rushing numbers over five games for a defensive tackle that I've seen. The fact that Tillery has done this while playing his best games against the Fighting Irish's toughest competition in Stanford and Michigan makes what Tillery has done even more impressive.
Virginia Tech has plenty of experience at the two guard spots with Kyle Chung and Braxton Pfaff, but Tillery is the type of defensive tackle that you don't want in a one-on-one matchup. Expect the Hokies to try to find schematic ways to make sure that Chung and Pfaff get some help from center Zachariah Hoyt and/or from having Dalton Keene or a running back used as an extra blocker in the backfield.
Jerry Tillery has been one of the best defensive linemen in America and has proven to be a difference maker in the biggest games this season with a bright future on Sundays
in the very near future.
6.5: Number of Tackles For Loss for Reggie Floyd
Reggie Floyd has been one of Virginia Tech's most consistent defensive players with 6.5 tackles for loss, 34 tackles, 2 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups through the first four games. Floyd has been solid, though not perfect, in pass coverage for the Hokies, but some of his best play has come in and around the line of scrimmage making his fair share of impressive plays on rush defense.
Floyd has always seemed very comfortable in the rover's play around the line of scrimmage with an impressive ability to process a run and quickly come downhill to beat the blocking and get a tackle for loss. In addition, Floyd has shown he's not afraid of contact throwing his body around at times and playing with an impressive level of intensity that clearly seems to rub off on the whole team.
Of course, Notre Dame will likely try to make sure their tight ends and slot receivers pay attention to where Floyd is for their rushing attack knowing how productive the potential All-ACC safety is as a run defender.
Floyd has made some mistakes but overall, the Northern Virginia safety has been a difference maker on the Hokies' defense and a clear reason why VT is 3-1 with a pair of road ACC wins over teams ranked in the top 25 at the time of facing them.
7.7: Yards Per Carry for Notre Dame RB Dexter Williams In His Return From Suspension
After missing the first four games due to a suspensions that wasn't officially announced till after Notre Dame's win over Stanford, Dexter Williams came out and unlike former Heisman contender Bryce Love, was the star running back who had a big performance. For his season debut, Williams ran for 161 yards and a 1 touchdown on 21 carries with an impressive average of 7.7 yards per carry.
Notre Dame has had some very good running backs over the past few years including Philadelphia Eagles rookie Josh Adams with Williams looking like the latest talented back. Of course, Williams has only had one week but the fact that the senior was able to come off a four-game suspension against a Stanford team traditionally known for being a shutdown defense is quite an impressive performance.
Combine Williams' strong rushing performance with the play of Book, and Notre Dame has their most balanced and effective offense under Brian Kelly. Saturday night, Virginia Tech will face their toughest offensive challenge on the schedule against a balanced, highly-effective Notre Dame attack that has proven playmakers both in their passing and rushing attacks.
2.7: Yards Per Carry Allowed By Virginia Tech's Rush Defense
While Virginia Tech's pass defense has been suspect at times, the Hokies' rush defense has been quite strong allowing only 2.7 yards per carry while only giving up 84 yards on the ground per game, good enough for fourth best in America. Even with the departure of Trevon Hill, Virginia Tech's rush defense hasn't skipped a beat with the Hokies holding Duke to 2 yards per carry while holding the Blue Devils' top 2 running backs to under 3 yards per carry.
Part of that success has been because it's been a collaborative effort for the Hokies' defense with nine different players having recorded at least 2 tackles for loss for the Hokies this season. The collective success of the Hokies' unit has been in part due to their aggressive, chip on their shoulder mindset that helped them shut down Cam Akers to start the season along with forcing Duke to beat them through the air last week.
Notre Dame has proven to be a very capable team on the ground, but the Fighting Irish lost arguably their best offensive lineman this week in Alex Bars. Though the Fighting Irish still have talent on their offensive line, replacing an experienced, talented player like Bars on the road in a very hostile environment presents a great place for the Hokies' defensive line to attack and test early and often.
1-0: Virginia Tech's Record Against Notre Dame
The situation was a lot different the last time these two teams played with Notre Dame on their way to a disastrous 4-8 season while Virginia Tech was set to win the ACC Coastal in its first year under Justin Fuente. However, it was Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish who came out firing to start the game in search of the upset.
Despite a slow start that seemed to have the Hokies on their way to a disappointing loss, Virginia Tech pulled off one of their best comebacks in a season that became defined in part by impressive comebacks (see 2016 Belk Bowl
) with Joey Slye kicking a game-winning field goal with less than five minutes to go.
That game was also a big night for Ken Ekanem who had a major late sack to help shut down Notre Dame's last-minute salvage effort. Earlier this week, Ekanem brought up the story of his recruitment about Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish pulling his offer while Bud Foster and Frank Beamer quickly reassured him of his offer after suffering a torn ACL.
In the end, I think Brian Kelly has plenty of regrets about pulling Ekanem's offer though the Fighting Irish still probably wouldn't have gotten him anyway.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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