By midnight Saturday, the 2018 Notre Dame football regular season will be half over. The Irish navigated their way through five obstacles in September — including wins over ranked teams Michigan and Stanford. October brings another set of challenges, starting Saturday night against a 3-1 Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg.
Here’s what to consider in advance of the Irish-Hokie matchup in Notre Dame’s first football visit to the Virginia Tech campus.
- When push comes to shove. The Irish coaches and players have said all the right things this week about handling whatever amped-up environment they face Saturday night in Blacksburg. Now is their chance to go out and do it.
- “Do it again.” Remember that old Steely Dan tune from the 1972 “Can’t Buy a Thrill” album? It fits perfectly for Notre Dame this weekend. Coaches love consistency. They want to know they can count on the same (or maybe even a little better) performance they saw in practice and in last week’s game and in the one before that. So as impressed as Brian Kelly and his staff have been with the nine touchdowns and no turnovers ascribed to quarterback Ian Book the last two Saturdays, they want to see if he can do it again Saturday night — on the road, in prime time before hostile fans, in front of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit and their national ABC audience.
- “Do it again” — Part II. The same applies to Irish running back Dexter Williams. He burst into the 2018 season last Saturday night with a touchdown on his first rushing carry of the year. His teammates like the idea that his 161-yard effort versus Stanford was no mirage. He’s got help, but if he can continue to run with that urgency, it will go a long way toward solidifying a diverse Notre Dame offense.
- A secret no more. The Irish came into the 2018 season thinking they had the makings of a solid defense based on returning personnel. And that unit did what it needed to do to win some close games in September. Yet last week’s effort against a Stanford attack that routinely has given Notre Dame trouble (38 points by the Cardinal just a year ago in Palo Alto, for example) seemed to send a message. Notre Dame’s second-half shutdown effort, in particular, raised eyebrows and helped earned national recognition for the Irish.
- Compliments for complement. Kelly noted accurately this week that what jumped out at him from the Wake Forest and Stanford games was the way his various units complemented each other in the course of those victories. Even in four wins, there was a different feeling in the Notre Dame locker room after the Wake Forest and Stanford games compared to the Ball State and Vanderbilt games. The players understand that different feeling came about because of the way their offense, defense and special teams complemented each other in the course of these last two games — and the fourth-quarter sense of urgency that Kelly has been requesting. All that will be key moving forward.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.