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2021 Game day preview: Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame

2021 Game day preview: Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame

Virginia Tech West Virginia Football

Virginia Tech QB Braxton Burmeister #3 scrambles against West Virginia during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Morgantown,W. Va. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Here's what to look on Saturday when Virginia Tech hosts Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m...

Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame

  • Where: Lane Stadium (65,632); Blacksburg, VA
  • When: 7:30 p.m.; Saturday
  • TV: ACCN
  • Records: Virginia Tech 3-1 (1-0 ACC); Notre Dame (3-1)
  • Last game: Virginia Tech 21-10 win over Richmond, Notre Dame 24-13 loss to Cincinnati
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 2-1
  • Last meeting: Notre Dame W 21-20 (11/02/19)
  • Line: Notre Dame -1

Keep an eye on Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister

Tech coaches spent the off week pondering how to unlock Burmeister’s full potential. Coach Justin Fuente praised Burmeister’s toughness and his knack for making plays during the off week, but he also acknowledged that the quarterback hasn’t come close to reaching the preseason expectations they had for him in the passing game. Burmeister remains capable of making any throw, but he’s been reluctant to let loose. The off week came at a great time for him to review the first four games and get a clear picture of where he needs to improve, and this will be a huge test for the quarterback with ACC play right around the corner.

Who has the edge?

(Even) Offense: Notre Dame didn’t announce a starting quarterback this week after benching Jack Coan in the second half last week for Drew Pyne. Pyne orchestrated a pair of scoring drives and seemed to provide the Irish with a bit of a spark. Coach Brian Kelly said the decision was made internally at the start of the week, but declined to reveal the decision publicly. He indicated on Thursday that experience was an important factor, which would seem to favor Coan. Things have gone downhill for Coan since he threw for 683 yards in the first two games, but quarterback play isn’t the offense’s only issue. Notre Dame is only averaging 2.4 yards per carry this season and the offensive line has struggled.

(Tech) Defense: Virginia Tech’s scoring defense is ranked No. 11 in the FBS (15.3 points allowed), No. 12 in third-down defense (28.9% conversion rate) and only allowed 15 plays of 20 yards or more (tied for No. 20). That’s a pretty solid recipe for success. Their resume would be near perfect if it wasn’t for a letdown in the first quarter against West Virginia. The Hokies know it’s going to take another couple lockdown performances for fans to really start believing this group has what it takes to recapture some of that Lunch Pail magic, and locking down Notre Dame would be a good start.

(EVEN) Special teams: Tech starting receiver Tayvion Robinson finally broke through with a punt return touchdown against Richmond. He’s averaging 15 yards per return (ranked No. 8 in the FBS) and that kind of production will give opposing teams plenty to think about. Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree creates similar problems on kick returns. Tyree has a special teams touchdown this season and is averaging a robust 29.8 yards per return. The pressure will be on Tech kicker John Parker Romo to consistently kick the ball through the back of the end zone. He has a 61.1 touchback percentage this season, but was 4 of 4 against Richmond.

(TECH) Intangibles: If this is a one-possession game entering the fourth quarter, Tech’s home-field advantage at Lane Stadium could play a pivotal role. The raucous crowd that attended the season opener made a difference down the stretch against North Carolina. Notre Dame won’t get easily rattled, but a sold-out crowd will make it hard for the Fighting Irish to communicate late in the game if Tech is holding onto a slim lead or fighting to score a game-winning touchdown.

Niziolek’s prediction: Notre Dame 21, Virginia Tech 17

Tech’s offensive struggles through the first month of the season are impossible to ignore. This is a group that two weeks ago only managed two offensive touchdowns against an FCS opponent. Can the Hokies end their offensive slump? Or will they get another lights out defensive effort? Don’t rule it out, but it feels more likely that Tech falls short because the offense simply can’t score enough points.

Virginia Tech Keys to the Game

Mr. Clean — Virginia Tech can’t afford to give Notre Dame any freebies. That means no turnovers and also no penalties. One overlooked aspect of the Hokies early success is they are one of the least penalized teams in the country (tied for No. 3 out of 130 FBS teams with 3.8 penalties per game). The game against Richmond was only the first time this season they lost the turnover battle.

What a rush — Notre Dame has almost allowed more sacks through five games this season (22) than they did all last year (25). According to Pro Football Focus, Notre Dame gave up 14 pressures in last week’s loss to Cincinnati and the line has allowed at least 10 pressures (a combination of sacks, quarterback hits and hurries) in all five games. Tech’s chances will rise significantly if the defensive front is consistently disruptive.

Big Play Tre — If all else fails, Tech could just throw it up to Tre Turner. The strategy paid huge dividends against Richmond with the receiver making a pair of contested circus catches. Turner had six catches for 102 yards in the win and that was his first 100-yard game since the end of the 2019 season, which is way too long of a gap. The ball should be thrown in his direction 8-10 times on Saturday night.

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