Nov. 18, 2016
After two weeks away from home Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s 2016 Notre Dame football team returns to Notre Dame Stadium Saturday for its final home game of the year against Virginia Tech. It’s the last of five Atlantic Coast clashes this season (previous wins over Syracuse and Miami, losses to Duke and North Carolina State), it’s the last of six home contests (previous wins over Nevada and Miami, losses to Michigan State, Duke and Stanford) and it’s the first time the Hokies and Irish have met. Here are five things to watch as the Irish face Virginia Tech:
1.The weather forecast is not great.
After a beautiful fall week in South Bend with sunny skies and temperatures approaching 70 degrees, the weather heads in the other direction. Conditions for Saturday afternoon are expected to include the strong possibility of rain, snow, wind gusts approaching 40 miles per hour and temperatures that might reach 40. But, hey, after you’ve already played in a virtual monsoon at North Carolina State, how tough can that be? It may be worth remembering that on the same early October day that the Irish and Wolfpack struggled for any sort of yardage in the horrible weather in Raleigh, a few hours later and a few miles away in Chapel Hill, the Hokies pinned a one-sided 34-3 defeat on a ranked North Carolina team in conditions that were fairly similar.
2. It’s Senior Day.
Twenty-eight seniors will be introduced before kickoff Saturday, though only a handful (including captains Isaac Rochell and James Onwualu) have no eligibility left. Corey Robinson, who has assisted the Irish as a student coach this fall, will miss the finale while finishing his Rhodes Scholarship interviews. Expect an emotional setting from the Notre Dame standpoint. These seniors have been 17-6 at Notre Dame Stadium over their four seasons—and it’s safe to say they’d like to hike that win total to 18 sometime after darkness overtakes the Irish home facility.
3. How will Virginia Tech react?
This has been billed as a “tweener” game for the Hokies – with the Irish qualifying as the road opponent in between what becomes a pair of opportunities to win the ACC Coastal Division title. The Hokies thought they would wrap that up last weekend at home against Georgia Tech—but the Yellow Jackets ran for 309 yards and built a 30-7 lead before winning 30-20. These Hokies have been hard to gauge at times—their league schedule for 2016 did not include either Clemson or Louisville and maybe their most noteworthy win was over a North Carolina team that was then ranked 16th and is currently tied with Virginia Tech atop the ACC Coastal standings. Virginia Tech’s two league losses have been to Syracuse (a team the Irish defeated by 17 points) and Georgia Tech.
4. The Hokies pride themselves on defense.
Virginia Tech is bullish on more than 20 years of defensive success that suggests the Hokies are the best team in the country (from a statistical standpoint) over those two decades in sacks, interceptions and preventing opponent third-down conversions. During that period they’ve never lost on the road to a nonconference foe when registering at least three sacks—and don’t forget one of those wins was at Ohio State in 2014. Notre Dame in 2016 has allowed 2.1 sacks per game (65th nationally), while Virginia Tech has posted 2.4 per game (42nd). Notre Dame in 2016 has had only eight passes intercepted in 10 games (to rank 54th), while Virginia Tech has picked off 10 (42nd).
5. Whatever it takes to win.
The Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame has featured six victories by at least 38 points, and with one of those coming last week against Army the Irish would like to build on that. On the other hand, the biggest Notre Dame bugaboo this fall has been the losses in close games, so Kelly and his crew would like nothing better than proving (much like they did in their last appearance at Notre Dame Stadium in defeating Miami) that they can make the plays to win in a tight situation, if it comes to that.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler follows the Irish football scene for Fighting Irish Media. Look for his Sunday Brunch piece, an inside recap of what happens against Virginia Tech as Brian Kelly’s squad continues its 2016 season.