What The Irish Learned

Virginia Tech: What The Irish Learned

By midnight Saturday, media covering the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech football game found themselves searching far back into the football archives of both schools.
When was the last time the Irish defeated a ranked opponent by that margin? It was USC in 1966 (51-0).
When was the last time the Hokies gave up that many points at home? It was 1974 to Houston (49-12).
That’s the sort of night it was in Blacksburg as Notre Dame handled the humidity, the Hokies and the noise.
Here’s what the Irish learned in Notre Dame’s first football visit to the Virginia Tech campus:

  1. Okay, so he’s human. Events from the previous two Saturdays might had suggested Ian Book might never make an error–after he produced nine touchdowns versus Wake Forest and Stanford combined without a turnover. That wasn’t the case at Virginia Tech. He threw one interception, was sacked twice and overthrew a few Irish receivers. But Notre Dame still won big, and Book completed 25 of his 35 throws for 271 yards and a pair of TDs. In Book’s three starts the Irish have averaged 46 points per game and won those three games by an average of 24 points. He now ranks 13th nationally in passing efficiency. 
  2. Maybe not an accident. Remember the Notre Dame Citrus Bowl win over LSU when Ian Book and Miles Boykin hooked up for the winning TD pass? At the time, when both were reserves, they seemed like an unlikely pairing. Now, not so much. Boykin has caught 19 combined passes the last two weekends. No Irish player has done better than that since Michael Floyd in 2011 began the season with 25 (12 versus USF and then 13 at Michigan). It’s obvious the Irish are finding matchups they like and taking advantage of them in a big way.
  3. Numbers sometimes mean nothing. Saturday in Blacksburg was another example of a football game where the final stats were not indicative of the result. Virginia Tech outgained Notre Dame (by three yards). The Hokies ran 18 more plays then the Irish did. Virginia Tech had six more first downs than Notre Dame did and its quarterback threw for 309 yards. Yet the Irish won going away because they scored 28 second-half points while gaining 278 yards—with Book hitting on 10 of his 12 throws after the break. The Hokies ran for only 56 yards (16 attempts) in the second half. 
  4. Sudden change. Dexter Williams has played in two football games for Notre Dame—and he changed both in dramatic fashion. Saturday in Blacksburg his 97-yard run with the Irish backed up near their own goal line flipped the field and jumpstarted Notre Dame’s second half. Williams now is averaging 169.5 rushing yards per game. The NCAA leader is Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin at 169.8. Because Williams missed the first four Irish games and because the NCAA says a player must play in 75 percent of his team’s game to qualify to be ranked in statistical categories, Williams does not and will not appear in the national rankings. But don’t think he won’t play a major role the rest of the way in how the Notre Dame ground game shows.
  5. The Irish are finishing. Irish coach Brian Kelly worried in mid-September that his Notre Dame team was not playing at the level it needed after halftime. The last three games that script has changed. Against Wake Forest, Stanford and Virginia Tech, Notre Dame has averaged 235 total yards and 24.3 points after intermission while holding its opponents to 8.0 points in the third and fourth periods combined.

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.