Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

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

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Page 38 of 55 OCT. 9, 2021 39 GAME PREVIEW: VIRGINIA TECH catches for 42 yards and a score) is an NFL-caliber tight end who led the Hokies with four touchdown receptions in 2020. First-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman promised an attacking, high-risk, high-reward style, and he's delivering. Through four games, Notre Dame tied for the na- tional lead with nine interceptions. It was also tied for 14th with 3.5 sacks per game and ranked in the top 20 in pass-efficiency defense (19th, 107.33). Game-changing plays have become the norm for the Irish in this category. Notre Dame intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz four times and returned two of those picks for touchdowns. Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. VIRGINIA TECH RUN DEFENSE Following its three-yard rushing performance against Wisconsin, Notre Dame entered the Cincin- nati game last weekend tied for 122nd out of 130 FBS teams at 80.0 yards rushing per game with a 2.3 yards per-carry average, the fourth-worst mark in the country. Junior Irish tailback Kyren Williams — a 2021 pre- season All-American on some lists and a long-shot Heisman Trophy candidate to start the season — has only 244 rushing yards and a 3.8 per-carry av- erage, while freshman backup Chris Tyree has also struggled, recording only 78 total rushing yards on a 2.9-yard clip with one touchdown through four games. The maligned Irish offensive line allowed 9.75 tackles for loss per game through Wisconsin, the third-most in the country. For Virginia Tech, redshirt sophomore linebacker Alan Tisdale (33 tackles) and junior linebacker Dax Hollifield — the star of the Hokies defense with 30 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks — have established an adequate rush defense that has ranked this season around ninth in the ACC and 50th nationally. Advantage: Virginia Tech NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. VIRGINIA TECH PASS DEFENSE Void of a rushing attack, Notre Dame has be- come more pass-reliant in 2021 than it has in any of the previous 11 full seasons under head coach Brian Kelly. Through four games, the Irish pass-to-rush play-call ratio was split at about 50-50, yet Notre Dame's aerial attack posted almost four times as many yards than on the ground (1,145 yards pass- ing to 320 yards rushing). As a point of comparison, Notre Dame in 2020 had 505 rushing attempts for 2,533 yards and completed 362 passes for 2,849 yards — for nearly a 50-50 production split. On the flip side, Irish sophomore tight end Mi- chael Mayer, along with senior wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Avery Davis, are thriving in a pass-first scheme. With 14 catches, 230 receiving yards and three touchdowns through four games, Austin is fi- nally becoming a reliable target, while Davis was equally productive with 12 grabs for 204 yards and a touchdown. Mayer leads the team in receptions and has remained at or near the top of the Irish list with three touchdown catches. Virginia Tech has stabilized its pass coverage after this unit was decimated in 2020 by player opt-outs, injuries and COVID-19 outbreaks. Junior cornerback Jermaine Waller headlines the Virginia Tech coverage unit, and he's off to a first- team All-ACC type of start. Waller — who played sparingly in 2020 because of injury — leads the Sophomore wide receiver Tayvion Robinson is second on the Hokies squad with 14 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns through foru games. PHOTO COURTESY VIRGINIA TECH ATHLETICS

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