Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2019

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

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40 NOV. 2, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK E ven with a 5-2 record, it's dif- ficult to grasp the trajectory of this Virginia Tech football team. Two of the Hokies' wins have come against Football Cham- pionship Subdivision opponents in Furman (24-17) and Rhode Island (34-17), and a third was over Old Do- minion (31-17), a Group of Five team with a record of 1-6 heading into the final weekend of October. In those three contests, their average margin of victory was 12.7 points, but the games often felt closer than that. Their two losses came at the hands of Boston College (35-28) and Duke (45-10). The defeat against the Blue Devils was particularly dishearten- ing to Virginia Tech fans because it was such a beatdown at home. On the other hand, two of the Hok- ies' wins have come over a physi- cal Miami (42-35) team on the road and a North Carolina (43-41 in six overtimes) squad that took reign- ing national champion Clemson to the wire. In that game, Virginia Tech showed resolve and handled adver- sity well for the first time in years. "When they played against North Carolina [Oct. 19], we saw them do something that we haven't seen a lot of," said Tim Sullivan, editor of Hok- "When things start to go poorly, they've tended to fold in the last couple of years. But ... they managed to put it back together and managed to win a ridiculous multi- overtime game." With just five games left, Sullivan foresees a few possible outcomes for the Hokies' season. With only two conference losses, will they find a way to compete for the ACC Coastal Division title? Or could they floun- der as they did last year and finish under .500 a second season in a row? Virginia Tech has been invited to a bowl every season since 1993 and plans to continue that streak. OFFENSE Virginia Tech has been quite in- consistent this year on offense, and much of that has to do with quarter- back woes. After starting at quarterback for most of last season, including against Notre Dame, fifth-year senior Ryan Willis has struggled this year. In the five games he has played in, he com- pleted 61.5 percent of his passes but was also stiff in the pocket and threw five interceptions. "He's a gamer," Sullivan said. "He goes out and tries his butt off. But I think it was clear that if they had somebody who could be more care- ful with the ball — he was a walk- ing turnover a lot of the time — but also somebody who has the physi- cal skills to make the big plays, they would make the switch. "And after a couple of really bad games for Willis, they've been going with Hendon Hooker." Hooker is a 6-4 redshirt sophomore who started and led the team to vic- tory over Miami. His completion per- centage is a little lower than Willis' at 57.4, but he does a much better job of pushing the ball down the field. He averages nearly 4.5 more yards per passing attempt than Willis. Hooker is also much more capable running, with 48 rushing attempts already this season in limited action. Unfortunately for the Hokies, head coach Justin Fuente is hopeful but still uncertain if Hooker will be avail- able to play against Notre Dame. He suffered a knee injury against North Carolina and had to leave the game. Sullivan believes that the strength of this offense is its wide receiving corps. Both sophomore Tre Turner and redshirt junior Damon Hazelton have big-play capabilities. The 6-2 Hazelton has just 10 catches in four games, but he leads the team in receiving touchdowns with five. He is also averaging 23.7 yards per grab. Turner may not be quite as much of a down-the-field threat, but he's still averaging 14.4 yards per reception, while 5-10 fresh- man Tayvion Robinson is a slot re- ceiver who leads the team in total catches with 24 and receiving yards with 267. GAME PREVIEW: VIRGINIA TECH Redshirt junior wide receiver Damon Hazelton has just 10 catches in four games, but he aver- ages 23.7 yards per grab and leads the team with five receiving touchdowns. PHOTO COURTESY VIRGINIA TECH ATHLETICS Facts & Figures VIRGINIA TECH AT NOTRE DAME Game Info Date: Nov. 2, 2019 Site: Notre Dame Stadium (77,622) Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. ET Television: NBC 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 third meeting between Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The series is tied 1-1, with the Hokies winning 34-31 in South Bend in 2016 and the Irish posting a 45-23 victory in Blacksburg last year. Head Coaches: Virginia Tech — Justin Fuente (30-17, fourth season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (86-37, 10th season). Noting Virginia Tech: With a record of 749-474-46, Virginia Tech is 16th all time in total wins … The Hokies' .608 winning percentage ranks 23rd all time … Virginia Tech has won 11 conference champion- ships in its 116-year history, with four coming in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which the program joined in 2004 … The Hokies have also been part of the Big East (1991-2003), Southern Conference (1922-64) and the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1912-21) … Virginia Tech was also independent on two separate occasions for 50 years combined … No Virginia Tech player has ever won the Heisman Trophy … The Hokies have an all-time bowl record of 13-19, with their last postseason victory coming in the Belk Bowl in 2016 … Virginia Tech is coming off of a 6-7 season in 2018, which is the program's worst finish since the team went 2-8-1 in 1992. Roller-Coaster Ride The Hokies have been up and down all year

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