Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2018*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 32 of 55 OCT. 8, 2018 33 seams to the slots, or end-arounds and screens to a variety of hybrid players. "Because of that, the box really can't be loaded up, unless a team can beat the Hokies' skill players one- on-one at every position. Not many teams have the talent to do that." Senior running back Steven Peo- ples was the team's leading rusher through three games with 255 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries. Redshirt sophomore Deshawn Mc- Clease had 35 carries during the same stretch with 187 yards and one touchdown. "Peoples is a former walk-on and a big, bruising runner," Sullivan stated. "He's not really a tackle-breaker de- spite his size, but is capable of truck- ing guys, and he's shown a bit more long speed than in previous seasons. "McClease is a lightning-in-a-bot- tle jitterbug at the line of scrimmage, and he can make guys miss at the second level, as well." Playmaking for the quarterback may have been somewhat of a ques- tion mark after losing their top wide receiver, Cam Phillips, who caught 71 balls for 964 yards and seven touch- downs a season ago. The group did, however, return several established players. Former Ball State wide receiver Da- mon Hazelton has emerged as the top figure after sitting out 2017. The redshirt sophomore caught 11 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in Virginia Tech's first three games. Sophomore Sean Savoy started at wide receiver last year — catching 39 passes for 454 yards and four touch- downs — as a rookie, but is now a reserve with fellow sophomore He- zekiah Grimsley taking over. Grimsley was second on the team with 10 receptions for 127 yards in the first three weeks. Junior Eric Kumah added nine catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. "Hazelton is a big body with tre- mendous athleticism," Sullivan ex- plained. "It's a shock that a kid with his talent started his college career at Ball State. "He has the ball skills and physi- cal attributes that allow him to get downfield. If Willis can be an accu- rate deep passer, Hazelton may actu- ally be one of the few players on the team nearly guaranteed to benefit. "Eric Kumah has been a solid player on the opposite side of Hazel- ton. He still has that potential down the road. The slots are a bit of a ques- tion mark with Grimsley supplanting Savoy. The tight ends haven't been involved much yet, but [redshirt ju- nior] Chris Cunningham did catch a touchdown against Old Dominion. " [ S o p h o m o re ] D a l t o n K e e n e showed some really good things in the receiving game last year. He's more a Rob Gronkowski-style modern tight end who can line up basically anywhere and make an impact." The offensive line struggled against Old Dominion, surrendering four sacks and six tackles for loss. True freshman Christian Darrisaw is ex- pected to anchor the left side against Notre Dame, with fifth-year seniors Kyle Chung and Braxton Pfaff at the guard positions, redshirt sophomore Zachariah Hoyt at center and senior Yosuah Nijman at right tackle. "The offensive line has seen a bit more shuffling than I'd have ex- pected," Sullivan said. "The coaching staff talked all offseason about how right tackle Kyle Chung would move inside to center … and then he began the year playing a guard position. "Then, when center Zachariah Hoyt had some bad snaps, he and Chung flipped positions. … The unit has played pretty well despite all those moving pieces, which is a sur- prise in itself." Another surprise was the struggle on the other side of the ball versus Old Dominion. After that contest, the Hokies defense was surrender- ing 408.0 yards per outing. Redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Belmar stepped into Hill's spot, while redshirt junior Houshun Gaines is at the other defensive end. Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ricky Walker and redshirt sophomore nose tackle Jarrod Hewitt man the interior. The quartet combined for just three tack- les for loss and a sack in the first three games. "The pass rush without Hill is go- ing to be a major question mark," Sullivan said. "Most likely Houshun Gaines is given more freedom to go after the quarterback, while the re- placement for Hill will be a platoon of several redshirt freshmen and sophomores. "I like what Emmanuel Belmar brings as a run defender at that posi- tion, but there are several guys who will see time." At linebacker, the Hokies suffered major losses with Tremaine Ed- munds departing for the NFL after totaling 108 tackles in 2017. On top of Edmunds, the Hokies also lost their second-leading tackler Andrew Mo- tuapuaka (92 stops) at the position. "Fortunately, sophomores Dylan Rivers and Rayshard Ashby have translated their special teams experi- ence from a year ago into decent pro- duction this year," Sullivan noted. "Ashby in particular has been able to jet into the backfield somewhat regularly, allowing Rivers to patrol that second level of the defense a little bit. "Both need to improve tackling, but given the expectations coming into the year there's a lot to like." The secondary suffered losses in the starting group, having to replace Adonis Alexander and Greg Stroman at cornerback, Terrell Edmunds at safety and Mook Reynolds at Whip, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety spot. GAME PREVIEW: VIRGINIA TECH Facts & Figures NOTRE DAME AT VIRGINIA TECH Game Info Date: Oct. 6, 2018. Site: Lane Stadium (65,632). Kickoff: 8 p.m. Television: ABC. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129) and on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: This will be the second all-time meeting between the two programs. Virginia Tech won the first matchup 34-31 at South Bend in 2016. Head Coaches: Virginia Tech — Justin Fuente (22-9, third season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (74-34, ninth season). Noting Virginia Tech: The Hokies are aim- ing for their 26th straight bowl appearance, a streak that started in 1993 under legendary coach Frank Beamer … Fuente won 10 games in his first season and nine contests a year ago … If Virginia Tech can reach the nine-win mark again in 2018, it would mark the first stretch since 2009-11 that it hit that threshold three consecutive seasons … Despite the praise of the atmosphere in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech's last home win against a top-25 team came in 2009 against Miami … The Hokies are 0-6 since then, and 0-3 against top-10 programs.

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