Virginia Tech (7-3 SU, 4-6 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-6 SU, 4-6 ATS)
College Football Week 12
Date/Time: Saturday, November 19th, 3:30 PM
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
By Mike Mann, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: VT +1 / ND -1
Over/Under Total: 56
The Virginia Tech Hokies travel nine hours northwest up US-35 to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for a Saturday afternoon showdown in South Bend. This will be the first meeting ever between the two teams, though a bit of luster has been taken of the matchup as neither enters the game ranked with the Irish in the midst of a disappointing 4-6 season and the Hokies coming off a heavily favored home loss to Georgia Tech in Blacksburg that saw them drop out of the polls after having been ranked 14th going into the weekend.
Needing a win to clinch the ACC Coastal division and playing against a Yellow Jacket team forced to play a backup quarterback making his first career start, many thought Virginia Tech was a near lock to win at home, including the oddsmakers who instilled them as a 14 point favorite. Instead Georgia Tech took control early and was up 20-0 at halftime before the Hokies attempt at a second half comeback fell well short and they eventually lost 30-20. After going three straight games without a turnover VT lost the ball four times while also missing an easy field goal and mishandling a snap late in the first half that led to one of Georgia Techs touchdowns. The Hokies will now need to win their season finale against interstate rival Virginia to claim the ACC Coastal division crown and win the right to play Clemson in the conference championship game. Tech certainly lucked out being on their side of the conference this season, as no Coastal team is currently ranked while the Atlantic division features the three headed monster of Clemson, Louisville and Florida State.
One Hokie highlight in the loss against Georgia Tech was junior wide receiver Isaiah Ford recording his 185th career reception at Virginia Tech to take over the school record for catches all time. This comes after last year setting the team single-season record in receptions (75), touchdowns (11) and yards (1,164), becoming the first player VT history to ever gain more than 1,000 yards receiving in a year, and then going on to break the school bowl record by catching 12 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown in their 55-52 Independence Bowl victory over Tulsa to cap off his stellar 2015 season. While the Hokies were well known for the defense and special teams during the Frank Beamer era, their offense is building toward something special with underclassman highlighting the skill positions throughout the starting roster. The backfield consists of sophomores Trevor McMillian and Marshawn Williams while Ford is joined amongst the wideouts with fellow juniors Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges rounding out the youthful core. The most important piece of their point scoring puzzle is junior quarterback Jared Evans, who was a relative unknown going into spring camp but since being named team starter in late August, has left little doubt that the new head coach Justin Fuente made the right choice in picking Evans as the teams on the field leader.
Evans will be looking to rebound from his first poor performance of the season and get his team back on track as their season nears its end. The junior college transfer had never started an FBS game until 2016 and has played efficiently well all season, completing 63% of his passed for 2,565 yards, an impressive TD-INT ratio of 22/4 while also rushing for an additional 608 yards and 6 touchdowns. Unfortunately two of his interceptions were in last weeks loss to Georgia Tech and the teams success has been tied to that of their quarterback throughout the season, going 7-0 in games when Evans doesnt throw an interception and just 1-2 when he does. This week he will be up against a Notre Dame defensive backfield that while they may be playing well and far better than ever expected, are still a group full of youth and inexperience that recently ran into issues with a similar style quarterback as Evans when they let Navy signal caller Will Worth run and pass all over them in their loss to the Midshipmen in Jacksonville to open November. How Evans bounces back and handles the up and coming d-backs of the Irish will likely be the matchup that has the greatest impact on the outcome of Saturdays game.
Notre Dame was able to recover from their disappointing loss to Navy and take out all leftover frustrations on Army last weekend, winning easily 44-6. C.J. Sanders returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Irish never looked back from there and were up 38-6 at halftime, which was their largest lead at the end of two quarters since 2003. Despite missing wide receiver Torii Hunter due to injury the passing game experienced little to no resistance from the physically outmatched Army secondary, with Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer spreading the ball amongst their offensive options and completing passes to 11 different players on his way to adding three more touchdowns passes to his near duplicate season stat total of the Hokies quarterback Evans-
Kizer 22 TD passes, 7 TD runs, 2470 yards passing, 440 yards rushing
Evans 22 TD passes, 6 TD runs, 2565 yards passing, 608 yards rushing.
Last weekends game against Army finally saw Notre Dame commit to their bafflingly under-utilized rushing attack and the Irish offense responded with 261 yards on the ground, their largest output of the season. Why it took Brian Kelly so long to realize that having a backfield laden with talent was worth heavily investing in for their weekly game plans is one of the major unanswered questions and reasons as to why the Irish are having the disappointing year that they are.
The biggest issue facing Notre Dame this season, other than the program poison of head coach Kelly, has been their lack of consistency, which is a problem that stretches back to last season. They havent won back to back games since last November, which is a telling reason as why they have gone just 4-9 in their last 13 games overall. Unfortunately for financial backers of the team, they have been even worse maintaining any sort of winning ways against the spread, not having covered in back-to-back games since last October and going 1-5 against the spread in their last six following a win and 0-6 in their last six games following a cover.
Notre Dame needs to win their last two games to gain bowl edibility, but I believe that dream of a somewhat salvaged season will end on Saturday in South Bend. Virginia Tech ranks higher than the Irish in all eight major statistical categories on both offense and defense (total yards , passing yards, rushing yards and points per game), and while the quarterbacks for both teams are playing at a high level, I believe the coaching and defense of the Hokies will win out in the end and Virginia Tech will get the rebound road victory at Notre Dame Stadium in what many Irish fans are still holding out hope will be Brian Kellys last home game at the school.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Virginia Tech +1
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