Virginia Tech plays its final non-conference game of the season at Notre Dame on Saturday. The Hokies last visit to South Bend was a memorable one, as they rallied for a 34-31 win in 2016. Of course, only two players who saw time in that game are likely to play this Saturday.
Eric Hansen has been at the South Bend Tribune since 1988, the year of Notre Dame’s most-recent national championship season in football, and has been a jinx ever since. He’s also the co-host of Weekday SportsBeat and GameDay SportsBeat on WSBT radio (wsbtradio.com), as well as co-hosting the Pod of Gold Podcast with Tyler James.
All season long, we’ll bring you a look from the other side, getting the insight and thoughts of newspaper beat writers from Virginia and Virginia Tech’s opponents. These are the local journalists who cover these teams on a daily basis. We hope it reminds you the value of reading local newspapers and their websites.
Hansen took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Notre Dame going into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech.
1) After the Georgia loss, there was still a lot of talk nationally about Notre Dame not being out of the College Football Playoff race. Obviously, the blowout by Michigan ended any chance of that. How has the team reacted to its second loss and what’s the mindset heading into this less-than-glamorous meeting the Hokies?
The reaction to the 45-14 loss at Michigan Saturday night has been pretty much a full-blown spin cycle, meaning we’re all going to have to wait until Saturday for a genuine response. I do think this team has strong leaders who can make a difference in a situation like this, but it will be interesting to see what the motivation is to follow through. A possible Cotton Bowl with a Group of Five opponent? I think it’s telling that Notre Dame elected not to make embattled starting QB Ian Book available to the media either after the Michigan game or at Tuesday night’s player interviews.
2) Last time I was in South Bend, Notre Dame’s defense registered eight sacks against Virginia Tech’s rival, UVA. The Hokies have a young offensive line. Should new quarterback Hendon Hooker expect to be running for his life?
If the defensive line from the Virginia game shows up, definitely. But that’s a big “if,” given their collective no-show against Michigan. There’s talent, depth and one of the better D-line coaches around, Mike Elston, in the asset column. But mindset is key against Virginia Tech.
3) Ian Book had his worst game this season against the Wolverines. Chalk it up to a one off against a good defense in some bad weather? Or is there concern about Book?
It was actually the worst game statistically of his career, and certainly the weather suppressed the numbers somewhat. But it’s not an isolated performance. His pass-efficiency rating in the previous game, a home win over USC on Oct. 12, was his second-worst of the season and third-worst since taking over as the starter in Game 4 of the 2018 season. There’s clear regression from last year, especially against better-than-average defenses. Bad defenses? He shreds them.
4) The Irish looked good running the ball against USC, but struggled on the ground against Michigan. Similar to the question about Book, how healthy is Tony Jones Jr. and how healthy is that Notre Dame running game?
Jones suffered cartilage damage to his ribs against Michigan and rushed for a season-low 14 yards on eight carries before leaving early. The starter heading into the season, junior Jafar Armstrong, is back from a Sept. 2 abdominal tear but hasn’t had many opportunities or much production since rejoining the active roster on Oct. 12. Armstrong will be a big key to the ND running game in November, especially since starting right guard Tommy Kraemer (MCL injury) is likely out for the rest of the regular season.