Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2018*

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

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Page 34 of 55 OCT. 8, 2018 35 BY BRYAN DRISKELL VIRGINIA TECH RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE It is difficult to evaluate the Virginia Tech ground attack through the first three games of the season. The 245.0 yards per game average is impressive, but it went for 305 yards against Football Cham- pionship Subdivision opponent William & Mary and 318 more against an Old Dominion program that has given up 248.6 yards per game in seven Power Five games since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014. In their 24-3 season-opening victory against Florida State, the Hokies rushed for just 112 yards and averaged 2.8 yards per carry, after the team averaged 173.4 yards per game on just 3.9 yards per attempt in 2017. Senior Steven Peoples has been an early surprise for the Hokies, rushing for 255 yards and 6.5 yards per carry in the first three outings after gaining just 327 yards and 3.8 yards per rush in his first three seasons in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies have a massive and physical offensive line that averages 308.4 pounds across the board. It is led by 6-7, 314-pound senior right tackle Yo- suah Nijman, a player with an NFL future. Notre Dame gave up 259 yards on the ground to Wake Forest, but 128 of those yards came on the Deacons' final three possessions, after the Irish defense started working in backups with the result no longer in doubt. In the first three contests the defense held oppo- nents to just 103.7 yards per game on the ground and just 2.9 yards per rush. Senior linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te'von Co- ney have combined for 65 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss through four games, while Notre Dame's defensive line combined for 14 stops behind the line in that same span. Advantage: Notre Dame VIRGINIA TECH PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Virginia Tech put up good numbers through the air in its first three games, averaging 256.7 yards per contest while ranking 13th in the land in yards per completion (15.7) and 19th in yards per at- tempt (9.3). The concern moving forward, however, is that redshirt sophomore starting quarterback Josh Jackson fractured his left fibula in Virginia Tech's stunning 49-35 loss to Old Dominion Sept. 22. Jackson will be replaced by Kansas transfer Ryan Willis, who was 9-of-18 passing for 131 yards off the bench against the Monarchs. Willis started parts of two seasons for the Jayhawks before transferring to Virginia Tech, throwing for 2,530 yards and 12 touchdowns while being picked off 18 times. Willis will have a number of weapons to throw to, including Damon Hazelton, a talented redshirt sophomore that hauled in 11 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in Virginia Tech's first three games. Notre Dame ranked 77th in passing yards al- lowed per game (223.5) through its win over Wake Forest. However, the Irish had double-digit second- half leads in each of its first four games, which forced opponents to go to the air early and often. The peripheral numbers on defense are much On PaPer Senior right tackle Yosuah Nijman (6-7, 314 pounds) leads the way for a massive and physical offensive line that helped Virginia Tech average 245.0 rushing yards per game during its 2-1 start. PHOTO BY DAVE KNACHEL/COURTESY VIRGINIA TECH ATHLETICS GAME PREVIEW: VIRGINIA TECH

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