What would normally be a tough home game for Notre Dame football is starting to look like a mismatch in favor of the Irish.
For Virginia Tech neither last season nor this off-season went as planned. The Hokies finished 2018 with a 6-7 record, including a shocking loss to Old Dominion and a one-sided home loss to Notre Dame football. To say this was disappointing was an understatement. Virginia Tech was 9-4 in 2017, and expectations were high for Justin Fuente is his third season.
After two strong seasons, Fuente took a third year stumble. Virginia Tech was ranked 20th to start the season and picked to finish 2nd in the ACC Coastal. They finished unranked and 5th in the ACC Coastal. They only made a bowl game by winning their final game of the season over Marshall.
This off-season didn’t inspire anymore confidence in Coach Fuente. So far, ten players have transferred to new programs. Several others remain in the transfer portal without a new program. Among the transfers is quarterback Josh Jackson, who was the highly touted starter before his injury in 2018.
Jackson’s injury, which came against Old Dominion, derailed Virginia Tech’s season. The Hokies managed to go 2-1 in games following Jackson’s injury. Unfortunately, that start was followed by a four game skid, which made even making a bowl game a difficult task in 2018.
A bad 2019 could end in Justin Fuente coaching in the AAC West again.
The good thing about Jackson’s injury is it at least gave new quarterback Ryan Willis experience in games. Willis was good but not great last season. He threw for over 2,500 yards, 24 TDs, and 9 INTs. Not terrible, but when you consider how good his receiving corp is, Willis could have produced better.
As for those receivers, Virginia Tech had five different players with at least 25 catches last season. That’s depth, and they’re returning too. The Hokies will return four of those five pass catchers. Tre Turner and Damon Hazleton highlight the Hokies’ receiving corps. Meanwhile, Dalton Keene gives them a great pass catching threat at tight end.
Of course, throwing into the Notre Dame secondary won’t be easy, especially since the Virginia Tech running game isn’t as inspiring as their passing offense is. That leaves offensive balance as a question they’ll have to answer.
More than half of last year’s starters on the offensive line have moved on, as did their leading rusher. This means that Virginia Tech will be relying on a lot of youth to keep themselves on schedule offensively. That’s a recipe for needing to throw more — and being predictable.
At running back, Virginia Tech will likely function by committee. Jalen Holston (career 4.0 yards per carry), Terius Wheatley (career 6.0 yards per carry), and Deshawn McClease (career 4.7 yards per carry) will headline that committee.
The Virginia Tech defensive line also sees a lot of turnover heading into 2019. Furthermore, in 2018, the defense didn’t play well at all. One could make an argument that it was the most disappointing defense of Bud Foster’s career. However, there is still talent on that side of the ball.
TyJuan Garbutt will headline the defensive line. He’s young, and spent at lot of time last season disrupting the backfields of opponents. Now, with a full year with a college strength and conditioning program under his belt, he should be one of the best defensive ends in the ACC.
Garbutt was, in a way, a personification of the entire Hokies defense. That is to say, talented, but very young, That youth showed across the board, and they were inconsistent at best as a group. Virginia Tech was 98th in total defense last season, allowing 438.7 yards per game. Opponents scored 31 points allowed per game against them.
There’s potential for this team to still struggle on defense this season. However, given how well they’re coached, a little bit of maturity could help them show a much stronger effort. Which end of the spectrum they’ll be on is almost impossible to predict, though.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Virginia Tech 20
Notre Dame brings an extremely talented offense to compete against a defense that needs to prove they can play at a high level. Jafar Armstrong should be able to run all over the Virginia Tech front seven, opening up passing lanes for Ian Book. On offense, Virginia Tech will struggle to run the ball, making them one dimensional. Unfortunately for the Hokies, only being able to throw the ball will play right into the strengths of the Irish defense. Additionally, the game is in South Bend, and the Notre Dame faithful will be motivated to match the intensity of the crowd we saw in Blacksburg last season.