After a big win over a previously ranked Duke team last week, No. 24 Virginia Tech carries some momentum into their primetime showdown with a sixth-ranked Notre Dame team that knows that the Hokies are the toughest test left on their schedule. With that said, here are the keys to the game for the Hokies in tonight's game.
Establish the Run
Last week against Duke, Virginia Tech won in spite of their rushing attack. Yes, the Hokies established the run in terms of continuing to go their running game and make it clear that they weren't going to be an air raid attack. That worked enough against Duke, but after only having 2 yards per carry last week, the Hokies will have to have a more legitimate rushing threat against a Notre Dame defense that is talented at every level, but especially along the defensive line.
Virginia Tech has stuck rotating primarily between Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease, but if one of those guys really gets going, don't be surprised to see them get the bulk of the carries. McClease's struggle against Duke were particularly surprising given how it was only the second time in his career he's been held under 5 yards per carry when receiving at least 10 carries in a game (10 carries, 27 yards, 2.7 yards per carry).
In addition, one player that the Hokies haven't involved much at all recently, but could be a guy to watch is Terius Wheatley. The redshirt freshman out of FUMA has shown lots of potential especially during the first two weeks, but has slowed be an apparent injury that kept him from the field against Old Dominion and only saw him receive 2 carries for 5 yards against Duke. If the Hokies are looking for a spark on the ground, look for Wheatley to get his chance.
Virginia Tech has to have more success on the ground against Notre Dame and no, that success won't be coming from Hendon Hooker being the new AJ Bush and only running read options when he comes into the game. If the Hokies can't get an efficient running game going, it'll make Ryan Willis' challenge much steeper against a highly-balanced, high-powered Notre Dame offense.
Get Pressure Without Blitzing
Cornerback has proven to be a weakness for Virginia Tech with the Hokies' DBs having some struggles in man coverage across the board. Last week, Bud Foster adapted to cover up that weakness decreasing the number of blitzes he ran while going a lot more with 4 or even 3 pass rushers, leaving 8 to cover. Against Duke, that adjustment proved to make a big difference with the Hokies' defense finding plenty rhythm and slowing down Duke's offense after that adjustment.
This week against a Notre Dame loaded with multiple talented receivers, Bud Foster will need to have a defensive line that can get pressure with 3 or 4 pass rushers only even against a Notre Dame offensive line that has proven to be quite good so far this season.
One thing that may help is the fact that Notre Dame will be without senior offensive lineman Alex Bars who suffered a season-ending injury last week. Now Notre Dame does have plenty of talent around him, but attacking his replacement may be a point of emphasis early on to try to see if VT can find an advantage there especially with interior guys like Ricky Walker and Jarrod Hewitt or even some inside moves from Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar to create some misdirection.
No matter what, the Hokies will have to find ways to make Notre Dame's breakout QB Ian Book uncomfortable in what will easily be the toughest environment he's played in. If the Hokies can make Book uncomfortable and get him out of rhythm, they'll have a real chance at slowing down the Notre Dame offense.
Don't Be Overcome By The Moment
Yes, Virginia Tech has played on big primetime stages in recent years including their Labor Day night showdown with Florida State, but this is a young team with plenty of new faces, especially on defense, playing in the only big primetime game of the week. In addition, many of these players will be playing in a highly-charged Lane Stadium that can be a great advantage or cause a player to lose themselves if they get too wrapped up in it.
Time and time again, one of the biggest things for any player is to play with emotion when on a big stage but not be overcome by it. That balance is something that even veteran players can struggle with, but is especially a challenge for younger teams like the Hokies who will be going into this game with a QB who has never started a game in Lane Stadium and a defense that only has a couple of senior contributors on it.
The Lane Stadium crowd has the potential to be an x-factor in and of itself especially in moments when Notre Dame has momentum and the Hokies need to flip it. If the Hokies lose themselves in the emotion and energy of the crowd, it could give a young team some problems that Notre Dame has the talent to take advantage of. However, if VT can take advantage of what should be a special environment, it could be the difference that helps VT pick up their biggest win of the Justin Fuente era.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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