SOUTH BEND –
How it Happened
The game opened with a couple of three-and-outs, but on Notre Dame's second possession, the Irish began to move the ball downfield with some long passes. Deep throws to Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley moved the ball into the red zone and Notre Dame nearly missed a touchdown when a pass from Ian Book floated a pass just over the outstretched fingertips of Cole Kmet in the end zone. On third-and-5 from the Virginia Tech 17, however, Kmet ran a deep route and Book thought he was going to run shallow. The miscommunication led to Book throwing the ball directly to Virginia Tech defensive back Dax Hollifield for an interception as Kmet threw his hands up behind the play.
The Hokies weren't able to do anything with the turnover, however, going three-and-out again (one of four straight three-and-outs for Virginia Tech to open the game with third-string quarterback Quincy Patterson II getting the start). A short punt and a solid return from Chris Finke gave the Irish the ball at the Hokie 26 and Book quickly put the ball inside the 10 with a good throw to Finke outside the far hash marks for 18 yards. On the next play, play-action left Kmet wide open in the end zone and Book found him for an easy 8-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 Irish lead midway through the first quarter.
It seemed as though the Irish might take control from there, but instead the offense stalled and Virginia Tech finally got something going. The Hokies took over at the ND 45 after a mediocre punt and a dumb kick-catch interference penalty. A facemask penalty on the Irish moved VT deeper into Notre Dame territory and Patterson's first completion of the game went for 12 yards to Damon Hazelton on fourth-and-4. Later in the drive, Patterson looked for Hazelton again, this time in the end zone. Troy Pride Jr. was in good coverage, but Hazelton pushed off and made the catch from 8 yards out. There was no flag and the Hokies tied the score at 7. Those two completions to Hazelton represented half of Patterson's total in the first half.
Notre Dame's offense responded to the tying touchdown with its best drive of the first half. The Irish marched 77 yards in 11 plays to re-take the lead, as Book made several good decisions and the Irish coaching staff made some nice play calls. Maybe the best of those was a well-designed screen pass with some misdirection to Jafar Armstrong, who raced 26 yards to the Hokies' 4-yard line. On the next play, Book found tight end Tommy Tremble wide open on a simple out route for the score and a 14-7 Irish advantage.
Virginia Tech's offense remained completely inept as the first half wound down and it looked like the Irish would take a two-score lead into the locker room. Late in the second quarter, Notre Dame drove deep into Hokies territory, with Book completing a 20-yard throw to Finke and Armstrong bowling a tackler over on another screen for a 13-yard gain and a first down at the Tech 5. Then, disaster struck. Armstrong took a handoff and tried to bully his way into the end zone, but linebacker Rayshard Ashby put his helmet directly on the ball and popped it loose. VT's Divine Deablo picked it up and had nothing but green in front of him, racing 98 yards the other way for a tying touchdown with nine seconds remaining in the first half. The Hokies went into the locker room fired up with the score deadlocked at 14.
That momentum carried over into the early part of the second half. The Hokies got the ball first and a 28-yard completion to Hazelton on a deep slant put the ball in Notre Dame territory and led to a 44-yard field goal that slipped inside the right upright to Virginia Tech its first lead at 17-14.
The Irish once again had a solid offensive response, driving into Virginia Tech territory without much trouble. A 12-yard pass to Finke, who was much more active in this game than he had been in previous weeks, and a powerful 10-yard run from Jahmir Smith behind Aaron Banks moved the ball to the Virginia Tech 33. From there, the Irish took a shot deep on a post to Chase Claypool. The 6-foot-4 receiver had a step on the corner, but Book's pass from a clean pocket was slightly underthrown and Deablo came underneath to pick it off and stifle the threat. It was another missed opportunity for the Irish.
The Hokies extended their lead early in the fourth quarter, with the help of a spectacular catch by wide receiver Tre Turner (not to be confused with the former TinCap and World Series champion Trea Turner). On third-and-3, Patterson looked deep for Turner, with Pride once again in good coverage. This time, Turner went up and over Pride to pull the ball in and then slipped out of the cornerback's tackle, eventually picking up 50 yards. The play led to a 25-yard field goal as the Irish defense stiffened in the red zone and Virginia Tech went in front 20-14 with 13:25 remaining.
The Irish made another bid to get back in the game on the ensuing possession. After starting at its own 1-yard line (thanks to a poor decision by freshman Lawrence Keys to kneel the ball after fielding it outside the end zone), Notre Dame drove 82 yards in a whopping 17 plays, helped along by a couple of ill-timed personal foul penalties on Virginia Tech. The Irish got inside the 5-yard line, but on second-and-goal, Armstrong committed a bad chop block penalty. The block didn't affect the play at all as Book had already thrown the ball, but it backed Notre Dame up 15 yards. The Irish had to settle for a field goal, which Jonathan Doerer missed wide right. The Irish didn't get the ball back until less than four minutes remained.
In the end, though, Claypool bailed the Irish out, with an assist from Book. On Notre Dame's final possession, it started at its own 13. It faced a pair of fourth downs and converted them both, with the second the biggest play of the drive, a 26-yard completion to Claypool on a fourth-and-10 deep in route. On third-and-goal from the Virginia Tech 7, Book kept the ball and ran up the middle. Finding no room, he instead broke outside and saw a lane, racing into the end zone for a tying touchdown with 27 seconds left. The winning scoring drive traveled 87 yards in 18 plays, but took just 2:53 on the clock.
The Doerer extra point made it 21-20 despite a bad snap and the Irish held on to win. Kyle Hamilton got the game-sealing interception.
Player of the Game: Rayshard Ashby
Ashby came into the game with 10 tackles for loss this season and coach Brian Kelly called him "one of the best we've seen" at linebacker. He lived up to that billing against the Irish, racking up 13 tackles, including three for loss and making maybe the biggest play of the game: the forced fumble on Armstrong that led to the Hokies touchdown late in the first half. Eleven of his tackles were of the solo variety.
Facts and Figures
Notre Dame has won 16 consecutive home games dating back to 2017. It's the third-longest streak for the Irish since Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930. ... Virginia Tech came into the game No. 117 in the country in turnover margin at minus-5. The Hokies were plus-1 against the Irish today. ... Notre Dame outgained VT 447-240. Patterson completed just 9 of 28 passes for the Hokies for 139 yards. ... Claypool finished with eight catches for 118 yards. Book had 391 total yards and accounted for three touchdowns. ... Notre Dame came into the day perfect in the red zone, scoring on 24 straight trips inside the 20 to open the season. They were the only FBS team with a 100% success rate coming into the game, but that streak was broken on Book's interception in the first quarter. ... Notre Dame running backs had gone 1,273 straight carries without losing a fumble since 2015, the longest active streak in the NCAA, before Armstrong's bobble ended the streak ... Irish running back Tony Jones Jr. missed the game with a rib injury. Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker, who had led the Hokies to a 3-0 mark as the starter, missed the game with a knee injury. ... The Irish have not lost back-to-back games since the final two games of the 2016 season against Virginia Tech and USC.
The Irish are back in action next Saturday, taking on Duke (4-4) at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network. The Blue Devils will be coming off a bye, but before the off week had lost back-to-back games to Virginia and North Carolina. Duke beat the Irish in South Bend, 38-35, in 2016.