After a loss to West Virginia and close win over Richmond, Virginia Tech undoubtedly needed a bye week to get some things fixed especially offensively. Now, those bye week preparations will be put to the test as the Hokies are looking for their biggest non-season opener win of the Justin Fuente era against a Notre Dame team hungry to bounce back after losing at home to Cincinnati last week.
Both teams have proven to be strong defensive teams with struggling offenses for various reasons but will one offense reign supreme or will one defense shine brighter than the other? Here are our picks for the Hokies against the Fighting Irish.
The forecast has improved significantly and the rain seems likely to stay away tonight for this massive showdown, but that may not make too much of a difference for the struggles offenses that Virginia Tech and Notre Dame bring to Lane Stadium tonight against their stalwart defenses.
There's no doubt that this should be an absolutely rocking environment which could be more advantageous than normal given the offensive line and QB issues that Notre Dame has had. Tech will need their rush defense to sharper up some after not having their best game against Richmond though the bye week should help that while they'll need Amare Barno and TyJuan Garbutt to make some big plays as pass rushers.
Meanwhile, Tech needs to find some offensive consistency that has been non-existent with VT's offense not doing much outside of the scripted drives that you see at the opening of halves. Silas Dzansi seems likely to be back at right tackle which would be a major OL boost but Tech will need Brad Cornelsen to open up the playbook both with their package of read option and motion rushing plays along with some consistency from Braxton Burmeister.
Of course, Notre Dame has a talented defense headlined by elite safety Kyle Hamilton who may be a top 5 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
This will be a low-scoring, four quarter game where Tech's homefield advantage will prove crucial especially given Notre Dame's QB issues. VT's rushing attack will benefit a lot from the return of Dzansi allowing them to go with the offensive line that started the season well against UNC and MTSU.
Additionally, Tech will win the hidden yardage battle with strong special teams plus a lack of penalties that has been a strength for Tech this season. That hidden yardage will prove critical as that combined with Tech's strong defense and ND's QB and OL issues will prove enough for the Hokies to get a big win ahead of next week's critical Coastal showdown with Pittsburgh.
Pick: Virginia Tech 17, #14 Notre Dame 10
The Hokies will be staring in a mirror when No. 14 Notre Dame comes to town on Saturday night. The Irish have proved to be a menace on defense while barely sliding by on offense, which is something the Hokies have become accustomed to this season. Both projected starting quarterbacks lead underwhelming passing attacks, and rely on their run game to do much of the work for their respective offensive units.
Brian Kelley has one of his best defensive teams since he has been the coach for the Irish, and that starts with chess piece Kyle Hamilton. It's impossible to miss him, as the 6-4, 230-pound defensive stalwart is seemingly everywhere. I'd expect him to have a chance at an interception. It will be interesting to see when Cornelsen decides to attack the middle of the field or if he will stay away from it all together especially given Burmeister's recent struggles. With James Mitchell out, it would make sense to avoid Hamilton's area as much as possible.
Notre Dame has a fast defense overall, meaning the Hokies must try to get north-south with their run game.
When Notre Dame has the ball, you can expect a conceptually weak offense that relies on receivers winning on short to intermediate routes on the outside with tight end Michael Mayer being the true focal point. Quarterback Jack Coan has an average arm but he is accurate in the intermediate range. I would anticipate some pressure packages put together by Justin Hamilton to force the ball out quickly and not allow Coan to get into a rhythm with the short passing game. Tech should be able to handle Notre Dame's offense provided they have a plan for Michael Meyer.
Because of the bye week, Fuente and his staff should have been able to do thorough advance scout of the Fighting Irish and with the crowd behind the Hokies, there will be plenty of energy in Blacksburg. But I think Notre Dame's offense has more success than the Hokies' offense will, and this game comes down to a 4th quarter turnover which allows the opponent to win the game.