Notre Dame continues to improve on defense, but the Irish are coming off a performance against Cincinnati in which the unit wasn't able to make stops when it mattered most. The Marcus Freeman led unit is going against a scuffling Virginia Tech offense, but the Hokies have a stingy defense of their own. Notre Dame needs to be the best defense on the field for the Irish to come away with a victory.
Here's what I'm looking for early to feel good about the defense being ready to dominate.
1. Stars are playing like stars - Notre Dame is facing a must-win situation. The Irish have been living dangerously all season but have managed to win games. Losing to Cincinnati stung, and following that up with the program's first two-game regular season losing streak since 2016 could cause this season to snowball in the wrong direction.
Winning on the road in these types of environments, and with this kind of pressure to get the season back on track, requires your star players to play like star players, and your captains need to be on their game.
That means my eyes early on will be focused on Kyle Hamilton, Isaiah Foskey, Jayson Ademilola, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Drew White. I'm especially focused on the first three, who have a chance to be game wreckers, but the latter two - the leaders - also need to play well from the get go.
2. Dominate up front - Notre Dame's defensive line has been the brightest spot on the team this season, and they need to play like that against tonight. It sort of build on point one and leads into point three, but the Hokies have a good line, and Notre Dame needs to win this battle. That especially means shutting down the Hokie ground attack immediately and not letting quarterback Braxton Burmeister to get comfortable in the pocket.
3. Be disruptive against the pass game - Building on the two previous points, if the stars are playing like stars and the defensive line is dominating the Irish should be very disruptive in the pass game. That means getting pressure on the quarterback, hits on the quarterback, forcing quick decisions (often wrong decisions) and breaking hard on the football. Notre Dame's defense needs to have a thirst for the football tonight, and if all three levels are playing good against the pass the Hokies will have little chance to move enough to win the game.
4. Early down success - Virginia Tech is not good a playing off schedule. Notre Dame shutting down the run game and getting back to being more disruptive behind the line (tackles for loss, sacks) will put the Hokies in long-yardage situations it struggles to convert. Forcing incompletions in the pass game (see point three) will achieve the same objective.
If Freeman's defense is dominant in early downs it will force a lot of quick punts and give its own offense more opportunities to get on track.
5. No big plays - It's simple, when the Notre Dame defense doesn't allow big plays it dominates. When it allows big plays it is vulnerable. The Irish cannot allow big plays in this game, especially in the early going when the Virginia Tech crowd will be looking for any reason to go nuts.
Irish Breakdown Content
Become a premium Irish Breakdown member, which grants you access to all of our premium content, our premium message board and gets you a FREE subscription to Sports Illustrated! Click on the link below for more
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!
Join the Irish Breakdown community!
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown YouTube channel
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes
Follow me on Twitter: @CoachD178
Follow me on Parler: @BryanDriskell
Like and follow Irish Breakdown on Facebook