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  • Notre Dame got an impressive and important win over Stanford at home last week, but the impact of a few key injuries will make it hard for the Irish to cover on the road.
By Sam Chase
October 03, 2018

Notre Dame at Virginia Tech (+6)

Sat. 10/7, 8:00 p.m. ET

Three things to know before betting on Notre Dame-Virginia Tech:

1. Less than two weeks ago, Virginia Tech suffered perhaps the worst loss in program history: a 49-35 loss at home to previously winless Old Dominion. Tech was a 28.5-point favorite, making it the biggest upset of the season and the biggest non-conference FBS upset since 2013. To make things worse, Hokies quarterback Josh Jackson fractured his fibula in the third quarter, seemingly dooming Tech's chances going forward.

Backup Ryan Willis led a 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter after coming in against Old Dominion, an effort that understandably went overlooked given the huge upset. But last week, no one could ignore Willis. As a 6.5-point underdog on the road against undefeated conference rival Duke, Willis completed 17 of 27 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns to lead Virginia Tech to a shocking 31-14 upset over the Blue Devils. Willis's performance came against a strong pass defense. Even after the game, Duke still ranked 20th in the nation in opponent completion percentage (53.0%). And when the pressure was on, Willis delivered. He completed 7 of 9 third-down passes for 123 yards. With Willis under center, the Hokies offense looks like it will be just fine.

2. Entering the season, Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster faced a number of questions. His unit had lost important contributors from 2017's squad. Skeptics' worst fears were confirmed against Old Dominion, as the Hokies allowed a mind-blowing 632 yards of total offense to a Monarchs team that played its backup QB for almost the entire game. That's about as bad as it gets.

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Things weren't looking much better heading into the Duke game. The line shot from Virginia Tech +3.5 to +6.5 when it was announced on gameday that Duke's previously injured Daniel Jones, one of the ACC's best quarterbacks, would get the start. But Foster's D limited Jones's options, often dropping eight men into coverage and forcing Jones into throwing Duke's first interception of the season. Despite maintaining a light presence in the box, Tech still sacked Jones three times and held the Devils to 71 yards on the ground (2.0 yards per carry). Foster is one of the most respected coordinators in the sport, and he now has his defense's confidence back up as it prepares to host Notre Dame this weekend.

3. Notre Dame notched a huge win last Saturday night with a 38-17 dismantling of previously unbeaten Stanford, giving itself an inside track on a College Football Playoff berth if it can run the table from here. Since switching to Ian Book as his starting quarterback in advance of the Wake Forest game two weeks ago, Brian Kelly's offense has looked like a whole new animal. Book has thrown for 603 yards and six touchdowns across his two starts, and the Irish offense got yet another injection of talent against Stanford when running back Dexter Williams returned from suspension to rush for 161 yards and a touchdown.

But all is not as rosy as it may seem in South Bend. A high-profile game against a physical team like Stanford always leaves a roster vulnerable to a letdown performance the next week, but Notre Dame's problems go beyond that. Left guard Alex Bars, one of the nation's best at his position, is out for the season after suffering a gruesome leg injury against the Cardinal. Freshman running back Jafar Armstrong, who played well early this year, is out for several weeks with a knee infection, and RB Tony Jones Jr. had to leave the Stanford game with an injury. Star linebacker Drue Tranquill broke his hand, meaning he'll be playing with a cast going forward.

Those offensive injuries are especially concerning since Notre Dame struggled with its run game early this season. After losing Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey to the NFL, Bars was by far the best player on the O-line this year. With the dwindling depth in the backfield—plus the natural letdown position that Notre Dame finds itself—the rejuvenated Hokies have a great opportunity to give the Irish a tight game at home.

Pick: Virginia Tech +6

Confidence: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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