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Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech: Five things to watch

Coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame look to knock off Virginia Tech in the two programs' first-ever meeting. (Associated Press)
Coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame look to knock off Virginia Tech in the two programs' first-ever meeting. (Associated Press)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Fighting Irish attempt to end home schedule with a win

Friday, November 18, 2016 12:01 AM
Notre Dame hosts Virginia Tech this Saturday afternoon in its final home game of the season as the Fighting Irish look to inch closer to bowl eligibility.

The meeting between Notre Dame (4-6) and the Hokies (7-3) will be the first ever between the two programs.

With cold, wintry weather expected in South Bend this weekend, what should we expect come 3:30 p.m. Saturday? Here are five things to watch:

1. Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans

After back-to-back games against the tricky triple-option, Notre Dame's defense now must prepare for Virginia Tech's more traditional attack.

As a whole, the defense has been much more stout since the dismissal of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, but circumstances (hurricane at N.C. State, lack of high-powered opposing offenses on schedule) may skew what has been a solid second-half of the season for the embattled Irish unit.

Junior quarterback Jerod Evans has not only thrown for over 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions this season, he also leads Virginia Tech in rushing. The Hokies have rushed Evans at least nine times a game in nine-consecutive contests, including 18 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns last week.

While it is not a triple option, Virginia Tech's dual-threat quarterback will challenge the Notre Dame defense in a similar fashion on Saturday.

2. Irish on third down

The Virginia Tech defense is one of the best when it comes to getting off the field. Entering this week, the Hokies rank fifth in the country in third down defense at 27.5 percent.

For the season, Notre Dame is converting 43 percent of its third downs, good for 39th in the country. However, over the last three weeks against Miami, Navy and Army, the Irish have converted 64 percent of its third downs.

This will be a battle to watch all day long, especially with the potential for wet weather perhaps limiting points on the scoreboard.

3. Defending Isaiah Ford

As if accounting for Evans wasn't enough, Notre Dame will also have to contend with Virginia Tech's leading receiver, Isaiah Ford.

The 6-foot-2 Ford leads the Hokies in every major receiving category, with 58 catches for 795 yards and seven scores on the year. He is a downfield threat, but also a solid possession receiver, with five of his seven touchdowns coming on throws inside the red zone.

The Irish's largely raw and inexperienced secondary has grown up substantially from the beginning of the season, but is still prone to letdowns, miscommunication and the occasional pass interference penalty. Ford will be a big test for starting corners Julian Love and Cole Luke.

4. DeShone Kizer at home

Is Saturday the final home game for DeShone Kizer? After plenty of hype at the start of the season, Kizer's shining star dimmed as Notre Dame losses mounted. That said, the junior has had an impressive season, throwing for 2,470 yards and 22 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

While Kizer has all the physical tools to go pro after this season, conventional wisdom would say that he needs another year of seasoning. Kizer is good for a couple missed opportunities a game, especially in the deep passing game, and struggles with reads and decision making in key moments. For the most part, this season's six losses are not directly on Kizer, but a more polished Kizer is perhaps able to more cover up the defense's deficiencies with more elite play.

In the end, it's all about what pro scouts project and how much money Kizer is in line to make after this season. While Kizer was non-committal earlier this week on leaving school or staying, it is a definite possibility that Saturday's home game will be his last.

5. Senior Day

The final home game will be an emotional one for over a dozen Notre Dame seniors against the Hokies. Defensive stalwarts James Onwualu, Isaac Rochell and Cole Luke will take to the field for the final time looking to earn win No. 32 during their time on campus.

On offense, senior offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin will look to open holes for the likes of fellow seniors Tarean Folston, Torii Hunter Jr. and Durham Smythe as the Irish look to end a largely-forgettable home season that has included three losses on a positive note.

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