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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Virginia Tech

October 6, 2021
3,077

This is Justin Fuente’s sixth season at Virginia Tech and it still feels up in the air whether he will make it to his seventh. The Hokies are 3-1, but it hasn’t exactly been an impressive 3-1 and they have only played one ACC game so far this season.

Ranked 32nd in F+, this could be one of those make-or-break games for Fuente’s job security. Win it and he’s 4-1 heading into the heart of their ACC schedule and on his way back closer to the upper tier of the conference. Lose it and they might be in a position where they are scraping by to be bowl eligible late in the season.

Injuries

TE James Mitchell is out for the season. He was one of the top tight ends in the country.

RT Silas Dzansi missed the Richmond game with an ankle injury. His status for this game is uncertain at this time. They had to shift the O-line around quite a bit with him out so his absence could be a big deal for them.

Offense

Rated 42nd in F+, that isn’t a real reflection of how they’ve played this year. An explosive running attack from last year has gone dry after losing some key pieces and they are struggling to score points.

They are currently 105th in yards per play.

Expected Strengths

WR Tre Turner doesn’t have monster stats this season, but he’s a great player. A beast on contested catches, he’s a player that Notre Dame is going to have to bracket quite a bit.

WR Tayvion Robinson is smaller. He has some explosive potential after the catch.

RB Raheem Blackshear is also a player Notre Dame has to account for in the passing game. He’s another player with great ability after the catch.

Despite all of their struggles, they have been able to move the chains on 3rd down quite a bit (34th). They’ll be going up against one of the top 3rd down defenses in the country this week.

Potential Weaknesses

The offensive line hasn’t been as good as it was last season. They’ve been inconsistent run blocking and they greatly miss Khalil Herbert and the running threat of Hendon Hooker at quarterback. They’re averaging only 3.59 yards per carry on the season.

Braxton Burmeister is QB1 and he simply hasn’t been good enough for them. He’s struggled mightily in the red zone completing only 33.3% of his throws and he’s not been very good against the blitz. He’s averaging 5.2 yards per attempt and completing only 53.8% of his passes. That’s 4.5 YPA and 16% less than when there is no blitz against him. Teams have blitzed him over 50% of the time and it’s working.

Despite those playmakers at receiver, they haven’t been explosive passing the football (87th in receptions of 20-yards or more).

Scheme

They haven’t been great running, but they’re still at a 59% run rate in their first four games. With that and roughly ¼ of their passes going behind the line of scrimmage, they are looking to make teams tackle well against them.

Burmeister also doesn’t have the biggest arm so that’s one reason why they stick to a lot of short throws and he’s looking to get the ball out quickly versus the blitz too.

Fuente still uses quite a bit of pre-snap motion to try and create creases in the running game and they will hand it off to Robinson or Turner on sweeps a couple of times a game.

Key Players

QB Braxton Burmeister - He’s not a big play threat as a runner, but he’s a good athlete who has averaged 6.5 YPC when taking out sacks.

WR Tre Turner - He was over 80% with his catch rate on contested targets last season and he’s at 56% for his career.

RB Jalen Holston - He hasn’t had a lot of room to run, but he’s 215 and isn’t easy to tackle.

OT Luke Tenuta - Switched from right to left tackle, but they had him back on the right side after Dzansi’s injury. A monster at 6’9” 322.

Key for Notre Dame

Don’t let Turner beat you

In hindsight, Notre Dame should have paid a lot more extra attention to Alec Pierce during the Cincinnati game. I don’t see them making that mistake with Turner who is one of the most talented receivers they’ll face in 2021.

Defense

It’s been a bit of a comeback for the Hokies on this side of the ball. Ranked 28th in F+, coordinator Justin Hamilton has them playing closer to the days of old.

They’re 11th in scoring defense and did a heck of a job against a North Carolina defense in week one that had torched them the previous season.

Expected Strengths

They’re playing faster on defense this year and it’s produced results. They have a 19.4% Havoc rate, they’re 14th in sacks per game, and they’ve been great at getting off the field on 3rd down (12th in the country).

A lot of it starts up front with two quality edge defenders in Amare Barno (20 Havoc plays last season) and Tyjuan Garbutt, but they are pretty good at all three levels of the defense.

Dax Hollifield feels like he is in his 8th season starting for them and continues to be very productive. The combination of him and Alan Tisdale has been very strong at inside linebacker.

They were depleted at corner last season with Caleb Farley (1st round pick) opting out and Jermaine Waller injured. Waller is back. He and Chamarri Conner (nickel) have made a lot of plays for them in the secondary.

The biggest reason why they are keeping points off the board has to do with them not giving up the big play. They are limiting explosives and any defense that does that, is going to be tough to score on.

They’ve only allowed three receptions of 30-yards or more and only 4 runs of 20-yards or more (two against North Carolina).

Potential Weaknesses

The corner spot opposite of Waller is a player Notre Dame should attack. CB Armani Chatman, listed as a co-starter, is a player that West Virginia picked on him. He gave up a long touchdown and was beat on other passes that were off target.

It’s Chatman or true freshman Dorian Strong at that spot.

They’re playing another true freshman at free safety in Keonta Jenkins and PFF has him allowing a perfect 158.3 NFL passer rating when he is targeted. The safeties in general are players that aren’t great in coverage. Nasir Peoples has allowed completions on 10 of his 11 targets and the other safety he shares the position with, Devon Hunter, is more of a ‘tweener that is closer to a linebacker.

If Michael Mayer is healthy in this game, they should look to him any time he is matched up one of their safeties.

Scheme

They run a 4-2-5 and they play a good amount of man coverage and they seem to be doing a lot less in every aspect of the defense than under Bud Foster. That seems to be a good thing because simple has led to success for them.

Hamilton has them blitzing a lot less and rushing four more. It worked very well against North Carolina.

Drew Pyne is expected to start this game and maybe he’ll bring more pressure because he's a new quarterback, but they’ve taken less chances and haven’t given up the big play because of it. I imagine they’ll want to continue to do that and try to make Notre Dame drive the field as much as possible given their issues up front.

Key Players

LB Dax Hollifield - Made the move to Mike. Good timing as a blitzer.

DE Amare Barno - 3.5 TFLs against UNC, but shut out since then. Still a disruptive player and Notre Dame will want to double him as much as possible.

DE Tyjuan Garbutt - Playing the best ball of his career. He leads the team in sacks and has two forced fumbles.

CB Jermaine Waller - Great ball skills. Leads their team with three interceptions.

Key for Notre Dame

Find big plays after the catch

It’s not that the Irish won’t take some shots down the field, but more big plays are going to have to come from them gaining yards after the catch with the way Virginia Tech is playing defense. Notre Dame has relied on big plays in the passing game on offense and those will be difficult for them to come by against the Hokies.

They’ll need some players to break some tackles rather than just the deep ball.

Special Teams

K John Parker Romo is only 1 of 3 on field goals this year and both misses came inside of 40-yards.

Freshman P Peter Moore has been solid for them with 43.8 yards per punt.

They do have a couple of dangerous players on their return teams. RB Raheem Blackshear has the speed to break on kickoffs and WR Tayvion Robinson returned a punt to the house against Richmond.

Overview

Welp, this looks like it should be another very close game for Notre Dame. I don’t see Virginia Tech lighting up the scoreboard, but the Irish will really need to find something in the running game against the Hokies because they have been so stingy giving up explosive plays in the passing game.

This is a game where Pyne gaining some yards on scrambles could be significant and getting more from the Tyler Buchner package could be a difference-maker as well.

 
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