It wasn't always pretty for the Notre Dame defense but the unit made enough plays to be a key factor in the Irish road victory over Virginia Tech.
Here are my five biggest takeaways of the performance of the defense from the 32-29 win.
1. Captains Lead The Way - Notre Dame was on the road, playing in a hostile environment against a quality team, and the team was facing a must-win situation after losing to Cincinnati a week ago. Notre Dame simply could not afford to lose, and to win the game the Irish needed leadership and playmakers to emerge.
On defense there were a lot of big plays, but the Irish veteran captains led by example all game long. That's the recipe you need to win a game like this.
Linebacker Drew White had two bad run fits on an early Virginia Tech touchdown, but outside of that I was impressed with his motor and playmaking. White was very active in the win, playing hard downhill, he made good pass game decisions and took away the middle and he was a major force against the run game.
Nose tackle Kurt Hinish is having a really sneaky good season, and getting him back into the lineup was huge for the Irish defense. He was physical at the point of attack and was quite disruptive up the middle. Virginia Tech couldn't move him off the ball and his ability to beat the talented Hokie interior blockers was highly impressive.
End Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa's numbers don't do justice to how well he played against Virginia Tech. The Irish captain set the edge at a high level, he was active in the pass game and his motor was excellent.
2. This Defensive Line is Really Good - To build off that point the Irish defensive line continues to be really, really good. Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa weren't the only big men to make plays last night. Isaiah Foskey was arguably Notre Dame's most disruptive big man and Jayson Ademilola had another quality performance. I could list big plays from a number of other linemen in the contest.
The Irish front dominated the Virginia Tech ground game early, which forced the Hokie staff to the perimeter with its pass game and jet sweeps. Virginia Tech's running backs had just 38 rushing yards on 16 carries, good for just a 2.4 yards per carry average.
The line combined for 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
3. Goal Line Stand Was Huge - At no point was the play of the defensive line more prominent than in the huge second quarter goal line stand. Virginia Tech had a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line but failed to punch the ball into the end zone, due in large part to the play of the line.
On first-and-goal the Irish were on the field and facing a hurry up look so they could not get a substitution in the game. Notre Dame had three backup defensive linemen on the field along with Hinish, but the defensive line still dominated the first down snap.
Hinish blew up the call side of the line and Rylie Mills shot backside and the two combined to blow up the first-down run. Tagovailoa-Amosa perfectly played a bootleg on second down and forced an incomplete pass on second down.
4. Quarterback Contain Issues Are Concerning - The Irish dominated the conventional Virginia Tech runs, but where they struggled was containing the perimeter jet sweeps and the quarterback runs, especially on scrambles.
Overall the Virginia Tech quarterbacks gained 88 yards (78 net yards) in the win. Virginia Tech went up 29-21 in the fourth quarter by turning a 3rd-and-15 into a touchdown due to it losing the quarterback.
This has been an issue in several games this season. In fact, three times the Irish have allowed quarterbacks to run in for scores, and twice they were in the fourth quarter. The first was against Toledo and it gave Toledo a late-game lead, the second was last night, and the score put the Irish offense in a tough spot.
5. Cornerback Play Was An Issue At Times - The play of the corners was solid early in the season and Cam Hart has been very good for much of the season, but against the Hokies the corners had a bit of a rough night.
Virginia Tech picked on Clarence Lewis and TaRiq Bracy for much of the game and they were able to have chain-moving success against the Irish corners. They caught a break when Hart was beat on a deep ball that the quarterback overthrew an open receiver, and Lewis got beat for a touchdown that was negated by an offensive penalty.
Hart's open field missed tackle turned a play that would have forced a punt into a 25-yard gain that ended with a Virginia Tech field goal.
Bracy made up for a bit when he had an excellent interception that set up a score for the Irish offense that gave the Irish a third quarter lead. Hart also sniffed out a trick play and jumped a deep route.
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