It was not that Notre Dame lost. It wasn't even that the Fighting Irish lost by 35 points. The issue is that they lost 45-14 to Michigan when they had two weeks to prepare. With so much on the line, the Irish failed to show.
But 5-2 Notre Dame still has five games remaining, and they begin the regular season's final month by hosting Virginia Tech. The Hokies had an open date last week, giving them plenty of time to dissect the woes of the Irish. At 5-2 itself, Virginia Tech is now back in the ACC Coastal Division race, and though the game against Notre Dame won't impact the conference standings, it will affect where the Hokies will spend the holiday season.
The Irish won in Blacksburg last year and the Hokies won at Notre Dame Stadium in 2016 in the only two meetings between the two schools.
Virginia Tech at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -17.5
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Like everyone else, the Hokies saw exactly what Michigan did to Notre Dame last Saturday night. The Wolverines had 303 rushing yards and threw the ball only 14 times. While Justin Fuente’s team is averaging 175 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 53rd in America, the rushing attack has been trending in the right direction. The Hokies had 254 yards in their most recent game against North Carolina and 224 yards in the win over FCS opponent Rhode Island.
It may be a different challenge going against an ND defense that will be angered over what occurred last Saturday night. Still, Virginia Tech has to establish the run. With the change away from Ryan Willis, the quarterback position is now a big factor in Tech's running game. It appears that Hendon Hooker will be ready to go after leaving the UNC game with a knee injury, and Quincy Patterson II showed in relief that he was capable of leading the Hokies to victory.
The key for Notre Dame this weekend will be to win the battle along the line. Michigan pushed the Irish around to the point that the Wolverines didn’t need to throw, but the Virginia Tech offensive line is not quite as powerful as the one Notre Dame faced this past week. Injuries have resulted in inexperienced players being forced into starting roles up front for the Hokies. The Irish must be able to corral the run while also pressuring Hooker and not allowing time for his receivers to get free.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Brian Kelly ended the doubt early this week. With message boards calling for Phil Jurkovec to replace Ian Book at quarterback, the Notre Dame head coach said that Book would be his starter and that it was never in question. Which Ian Book plays remains to be seen.
The Book who showed up in Ann Arbor was not good — 8-of-25 for 73 yards says it all. But he had plenty of company in misery. The offensive line, much like their brethren on the defensive side, had no chance against the Michigan defensive front. The team's 47 yards rushing on 31 carries rival Book’s unimpressive stat line.
But things should be different this week. Bud Foster’s defense has done a much better job stopping the run in recent weeks, but the Hokies have been burned through the air. In the past three games, Virginia Tech’s defense has given up an average of 368 yards per game via the pass. Interestingly, the Hokies are 3-0 in those games. Their completion percentage allowed isn’t bad, but when opposing teams have completed passes, they’ve gained sizable chunks of yards. Notre Dame isn’t the most explosive passing team, which is an advantage for Virginia Tech, especially if a defense that is 16th in the nation in sacks can put pressure on Book and again make him skittish in the pocket.
There are two other factors to look at when analyzing this game, and those are Virginia Tech’s negative turnover margin and Notre Dame's psyche. The Hokies, even in victory, were minus-two against North Carolina. If they lose the turnover battle this week, Notre Dame will win. As for Notre Dame’s mindset, in 2014 the Irish were in the College Football Playoff conversation until losing to Florida State. After that loss, the team stumbled home to a 7-5 regular season. In 2017, the Irish were No. 3 in the playoff rankings when they went to Miami in early November and got beat in a similar fashion to Saturday night. They followed that up with an uninspired win over Navy and an 18-point loss at Stanford. I think both aspects will play out as Notre Dame will come out flat and won't truly put Virginia Tech away until a late turnover seals it for the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Virginia Tech 24
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.