The Virginia Tech Hokies fell to 5-3 on the season after a heartbreaking 21-20 loss at Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon. The game was tied at the half and just four minutes into the second half, Virginia Tech kicker Brian Johnson connected on a 44-yard field goal to give the Hokies a 17-14 lead. Tech would lead most of the second half until Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book scored from seven yards out to give Notre Dame the lead with just 29 seconds left.
While it is a tough loss for the Hokies, there were several encouraging signs. Sadly, moral victories do not count nor should they, but let’s take a look at five things from this game that stood out.
It wasn’t a good day for Quincy Patterson
The final stat line shows Tech’s redshirt freshman passer as having completed just nine of 28 passes for 139 yards with one score and a late interception on what was essentially a hail mary attempt.
To his credit, Patterson did lead the Hokies with 77 yards rushing on the day.
Early in the game, it was frustrating watching the offense. You could tell offensive coordinator Brad Cornelson was calling a game where he was afraid of allowing Patterson to throw the football. So many three-and-outs. When Patterson did throw, things weren’t going his way. Drops did play a huge role in at least five of Patterson’s attempts. It wasn’t Tre Turner’s best day either.
Considering where the Hokies were playing, I thought Patterson did several good things. I don’t believe we make one grand proclamation about his future based on this performance. It was his first career start, at Notre Dame. Some of the inaccurate throws can be attributed to ball placement, something Patterson can clean up.
With the offense giving the Hokies very little, they still should have won this football game and there are more reasons than just the quarterback on why Virginia Tech did not win this game.
What was the plan on offense?
I say this half jokingly as the plan was clear; keep Patterson in manageable down and distance situations while trying to give him more high-percentage passes.
Well, considering he completed just over 30 percent of his throws, that strategy did not work.
Some things Cornelson couldn’t help, such as Patterson missing some easy throws or the receivers doing the young quarterback no favors with several drops. My biggest issue with this game plan was the lack of involvement of Dalton Keene and James Mitchell?
You have two talented tight ends who can affect the game in multiple ways, yet you choose not to scheme them ways to get the ball in space? Neither player had a catch yesterday and, again, that wasn’t completely their fault, but we know from the past few years that this offensive staff can be somewhat oblivious in scheming things to the tight end group.
Head coach Justin Fuente and Cornelson had two weeks to prepare for this game. Perhaps they should have watched the Baltimore Ravens on how to scheme around a young quarterback who can run, while relying on a talented group of tight ends.
Execution was bad on Saturday, but the offensive coaching staff did the young offense no favors either.
What was up with the officiating?
This was a bad day for the officials. I tend to believe every day is a bad day for the officials, but in South Bend on Saturday afternoon, this group was terrible.
And I say this on both sides.
The Fighting Irish had some calls go against them, too.
Virginia Tech was called for two egregious penalties on one Notre Dame drive late in the fourth quarter. Freshman defensive end Eli Adams delivered a textbook hit on Book just as he released the ball and the officials flagged him for a personal foul.
It was a bad call. To make matters worse, defensive back Armani Chatman picked off Book on the same play, unfortunately it was negated due to the bogus call on Adams. That was a huge play that went against the Hokies.
Many former players were expressing their frustration on social media.
Refs gave Notre Dame every yard on this drive. Literally “Gave” then every yard.— Brandon Flowers (@BFlowers24) November 2, 2019
On the same drive, cornerback Caleb Farley got tangled up with a Notre Dame receiver in the end zone and was called for holding. Keep in mind, this was a running play where Book kept it. Terrible call.
There were other bad calls, but you get the point. It was a bad day for the men in stripes.
The defense was outstanding
When we look at the final stats and see that Book passed for 336 yards and the Irish ran for 106 yards, you probably think it wasn’t too good of a day for Bud Foster’s bunch. Well, that’s where stats do lie.
Virginia Tech’s defense was terrific until the final drive (and more on that later). The Hokies often used a three-man rush, dropping eight into coverage and making Book beat them, keeping things in front of them. It worked. As far as the running game, Tech held the Fighting Irish to just 2.8 yards per attempt. That is vintage Bud Foster.
Foster did just enough to make Book uncomfortable and when the Notre Dame passer did go downfield, Tech’s secondary was solid. At times, the VT secondary had issues with Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool, who was easily the Irish’s best offensive player. But for the most part, Notre Dame struggled to gain any traction on offense.
It was another banner performance for junior linebacker Rayshard Ashby. Early in the game, Ashby had a couple of miscues but that didn’t last and he was all over the place. He finished with 13 tackles, including three for loss and also forced a huge fumble that Divine Deablo would scoop up and take 98 years to the house. Deabo also had a big game, as he had five tackles and also picked off a pass.
Virginia Tech Linebacker Rayshard Ashby forces a fumble on the Goal Line and Safety Divine Deablo picks it up for the Hokies Touchdown.— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 2, 2019
All tied up at 14 heading to halftime. pic.twitter.com/mPoUO3hyDp
Dax Hollifield was terrific, too, as he had seven tackles, two for loss, a sack and also an interception. I also thought TyJuan Garbutt had a strong performance as he got to Book on at least three occasions.
That last drive will haunt this team all season
The Hokies were so close to an upset win on Saturday. Truthfully, they outplayed Notre Dame and I am quite sure most Golden Domers would agree. However, as we stated earlier, there are no moral victories and Tech’s three-game winning streak is over.
The Fighting Irish first got the ball deep in their own territory, starting at their own 13 with just 3:22 remaining. Foster decided to continue rushing three and dropping eight into coverage and allowing Book to take the short throws and for the defense to keep things in front of them. Otherwise, he wanted Notre Dame to have to earn it.
The defense did a solid job at times, and were one play away—twice—from ending the game but couldn’t stop two fourth-down conversions. The 26-yard strike from Book to Claypool to set up the first and goal on a 4th & 10 was the most noticeable miscue. Which begs the question, should Foster have sent pressure?
Look, Coach Foster has earned the right to not be questioned on his coaching acumen. He is a legend and we all love him. But I am sure he is privately wondering on a couple of those plays on that game-winning drive should he have mixed things up and sent some type of pressure.
It doesn’t matter now and the Hokies must regroup as they can still win the Coastal Division. At 2-2 in league play, Tech’s final four games are conference matchups, two of which are in Lane Stadium. This weekend, they face a very good Wake Forest team in Blacksburg. This young team needs to put the Notre Dame loss behind them and go on another streak,