What a fun team.
This was a game that probably couldn’t have started much better for the Irish. Somehow not shaking in their boots after Virginia Tech took a leisurely stroll through a suburban park on their way into Lane Stadium, Notre Dame raced out to a 10-0 lead, courtesy of Book starting 7-for-7, and more aggressive fourth-down play-calling from Brian Kelly and Chip Long.
The Irish then spent the remainder of the first half doing just about everything they could to conjure up images of The Bad Times. But even at their worst, the Irish were pretty good, keeping VT out of the end zone on all but one first half possession (including one where the Hokies started with 1st and goal at the 1), and generating the massive scoop-and-score Julian Love TD. I think we are all becoming acclimated to a somewhat higher level of performance for this team, because the general Irish reaction to a one-point lead at the half (this author included) was low-grade hysteria and high-ABV beverages.
Dexter Williams continues to be an absolute star in the backfield. His 97-yard touchdown run to start the second half was the play of the game, putting some much needed distance between the Irish and Hokies, and sucking the life out of the stands.* His gaudy 10.5 ypc was obviously buoyed by the huge TD run (and a second score that went for 31 yards), but once again Williams showcased his speed and power that is a step above the other Irish backs. The Irish are incredibly fortunate to have him back, and as long as we’re basking in the afterglow, my Sunday morning #HotTake is his suspension looks to have actually worked out pretty great! Having a running back who is fresh, not at all banged up from the first four games, and running angry as hell with with something to prove is apparently not without certain benefits. Conclusion: ResLife is officially an asset to Notre Dame Football, and Jack Swarbrick is out here playing seven-dimensional backgammon.
*Boy, did it get quiet in the fourth quarter. We’ll have another piece this week from somebody who actually attended the game, but Lane Stadium sounded like a morgue on TV in the second half. Excellent stuff.
Another week, another second-half suffocation by the Irish defense. Ho-hum. Khalid Kareem (who is somehow underrated) and the rest of the Irish defense turned in another brilliant performance, even without the services of Julian Okwara.* Here’s the sequence for the Hokies after the intermission: punt, missed FG, punt, missed FG, touchdown, interception, end of game. When VT did find the endzone, we were treated to head coach Justin Fuente deciding to go for two, followed by mass confusion, and finally a penalty and a long extra point. It was a nice reminder that other coaches sometimes make weird decisions under pressure, and aren’t perfect game managers. Winning by three touchdowns helps mitigate the impact of having human beings on the coaching staff, so let’s keep that up.
*Nobody knows exactly what targeting is, so I suppose that was targeting. On the other hand, Okwara displayed his extremely high football IQ by getting flagged with 16 seconds left in the first half, meaning he doesn’t have to sit out any portion of the Pitt game next week. Knowing where the clock is before you get ejected – that’s just veteran awareness right there.
This game had a lot of features that would have spelled trouble for the Irish in the past. On the road, at night, against a ranked opponent, with a sub-par first-half performance. But instead of letting the Hokies sneak back into it, the Irish rose up across all facets of the game and walked out of Blacksburg with a three-score victory. On a weekend that saw fairly widespread carnage (#5 LSU, #7 Oklahoma, #8 Auburn, #13 Kentucky and #14 Stanford all lost), the Irish showed themselves, for at least another week, to be cut above the majority of the competition.
And that feels pretty damn good.