Ever since the schedule was released, every Virginia Tech fan had October 6th circled on their calendar. Now, that day has arrived as an undefeated Notre Dame comes to Blacksburg knowing that dreams of a perfect season and a playoff berth become serious with a win tonight while Virginia Tech has a chance to pick up a statement win unlike few the Hokies have had.
Over the past week, the hype surrounding this game has gone to new heights that have only been seen for the ACC Championship in 2016 and last year's ACC title rematch with Clemson under Justin Fuente. The question is can the Hokies break through and pick up what would easily be the biggest win of the Fuente era or will Notre Dame pick up their third win over a ranked opponent?
With that said, here are our picks for tonight's showdown in Lane Stadium.
Notre Dame has their best team under Brian Kelly since their national championship appearance while Virginia Tech has lots of momentum once again after a big win over Duke last week. Now, the Hokies get a primetime stage to make a big statement against one of college football's best teams while Notre Dame can make a case to climb even higher in the polls with a big road win in arguably the most hostile environment in college football.
One of the most fascinating storylines surrounds the quarterbacks with both teams' starters being former backups who gained their jobs in different ways. Both Ian Book and Ryan Willis looked very impressive against ranked competition last week, but Book will face arguably his toughest challenge yet on the road in the toughest environment he's played in by far while Willis will face a much stiffer test via Notre Dame's defense.
The big difference in this matchup comes on the ground as the Fighting Irish have proven to have a consistent running game along with having their best RB in Dexter Williams no longer suspended. That running game should take some of the pressure off Book while Willis will need his running game to step up and provide some help after being held to 2 yards per carry last week.
Notre Dame may be the more talented team, but Virginia Tech will be able to hang with the Fighting Irish throughout. Willis' vertical passing potential will make life much more difficult for Notre Dame on the defensive side. However, while both teams have shown plenty of offensive potential, Notre Dame's defense will be a big difference as the Fighting Irish will be able to get some pressure on Willis while also having the cornerbacks on the outside to slow down the Hokies' passing game enough.
Both Ryan Willis and Ian Book have been breakout stars the past couple of weeks, but Book has the easier matchup against a young Virginia Tech defense and unlike Daniel Jones, Book has the receivers to make the big plays that Duke's receivers couldn't make last week. The Hokies should continue to get better throughout the season, but Notre Dame is the better team and despite the electric environment, the Fighting Irish will leave Blacksburg with the victory.
Pick: #6 Notre Dame 34, #24 Virginia Tech 28
Coming off of last week’s win over Duke, the hype surrounding the Hokies football team is back. This week will prove whether or not the hype will stay.
Virginia Tech looked dominant in defeating the then No. 22 Blue Devils, but Notre Dame presents much more of a test. Backup quarterback Ryan Willis performed better than anyone could have expected, leading the Hokies offense to a big win. The defense rebounded well from the loss at ODU, but still has areas that need work. Coaches talked this week about the aspects of Virginia Tech’s game that need improvement, and I’m not sure one week is enough time to make those changes before taking on a national power such as Notre Dame.
Ever since the Irish made the switch at quarterback, their offense has been much more dynamic and is a group to be feared. Notre Dame is a strong, physical team, and this weekend’s game will test the Hokies more than any other this season. Virginia Tech still has a good team and a good outlook for this season, but given its recent performance against big-time opponents at home, this game doesn’t look so good. The Hokies should keep this one close, but in the end, the Irish will leave Blacksburg with a win.
Pick: #6 Notre Dame 42, #24 Virginia Tech 34
Tonight will be one heckuva game, to say the least. The Hokies come into the game off an impressive win at then-No. 22 Duke, while the Irish come off a win at home against then-No. 7 Stanford. Tomorrow will be the biggest - not the most important - game this season for Virginia Tech. For the Fighting Irish, this might be their toughest remaining game on their schedule.
Ryan Willis and the offense can’t afford any mistakes tomorrow. The offensive line will have to be on their A-game. I think the guys up front will figure it out eventually against this very good Notre Dame defensive line. It will just take some time. The receivers and running game have to get going. Damon Hazelton and Steven Peoples will lead Tech’s charge tomorrow on offense and I think the offense is so underrated and people have seen so little of Willis playing that it will come as a little bit of a shock and Tech has a tiny advantage. The Irish’s D cannot be underestimated, though.
As for the defense, Ian Book is going to cause problems. He can do everything, like Justin Fuente said earlier this week. The Notre Dame offense will cause problems, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Hokies can stop the Fighting Irish. I think Tech’s defensive backs will have a problem on their hands with Book at the helm. I think Book has a field day, FOR THE FIRST HALF, with Tech’s corners. It won’t look good but I think Foster and Co. adjust after halftime and figure things out.
Special teams? If the Hokies can make some plays on special teams, they will have a huge advantage.
My prediction: 31-30, TECH. Brian Johnson hits a field goal as time expires to give the Hokies their biggest win in the Justin Fuente era.
Pick: #24 Virginia Tech 31, #6 Notre Dame 30
The Ryan Willis lead Hokies really impressed last week. After an incredibly disastrous weekend, Virginia Tech’s resilience was really great to see. That said, Notre Dame is by far the toughest test this team has faced.
I predict a good game in Blacksburg on Saturday. The key factor will be whether or not the Hokies defense can limit the big play for Notre Dame. In their three wins, the Hokies were able to limit their opponents to few or no huge chunk plays. Against Old Dominion, the Monarchs averaged what seemed like 50 yards per play.
It’s no secret that Notre Dame has some athletes. Both outside receivers are well over 6 foot for the Irish, and they rushed for 270 yards last week against Stanford. So for those reasons, I can’t feel comfortable picking the Hokies.
That said, I still believe it will be close. The crowd will certainly be excited, and the team has been preparing for this game for a long time. As long as the Hokies can keep it interesting, I will consider that a step in the right direction.
Pick: #6 Notre Dame 27, #24 Virginia Tech 20
Tonight, the Hokies will be playing a very talented Notre Dame team that is perhaps the best team Notre Dame has had since that 2013 team that made it to the BCS Championship. However, the Hokies finally have an offense that can make explosive plays consistently. With Ryan Willis under center this offense has a different look. If Willis can play like he did last week against Duke, and keep his passes sharper then I can see a high scoring game.
Offensively, I think Ryan Willis will indeed be the guy to watch out for. He has a talented group of receivers and can make aggressive passes due to the size and physicality of these receivers. But most importantly, in order to have those big play passes, the offensive line must win the battle in the trenches and establish a run game. This is the biggest game for the Hokies this whole season so the question is after one start, can Ryan Willis play with the pressure of national spotlight?
The Lunch Pail Defense was evident in last Saturday's game coming away with an interception and huge pressure all night from the defensive line. The Hokies will have another huge task in Notre Dame's quarterback Ian Book. Last week against Stanford, he threw for four touchdowns. Book is a stud at QB and the defensive line needs to get pressure right off the bat.
If the Hokies can keep Book uncomfortable all night, that can play a huge factor in his decision-making and perhaps cause a few turnovers. The Lane Stadium environment should also help as well.
Overall, I can see this game being either a very low scoring game or a complete shootout. Either way if both teams show up expect this game to be close to the very end. VT 38 ND 35
Pick: #24 Virginia Tech 38, #6 Notre Dame 35
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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