Everything is starting to fall into place for No. 6 Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have jumped to a 5-0 record for the first time since 2014 and the third time under coach Brian Kelly. Their most recent victory against then-No. 7 Stanford gave them two wins against ranked opponents.
“The offense is complementing the defense,” Kelly told reporters this week. “The defense is complementing the offense. And certainly the special teams is part of that. That certainly wasn’t the case early in the year. So when each unit is complementing each other very wall, you’re playing usually very good football.”
Now comes another challenge.
No. 24 Virginia Tech (3-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will try to hand Notre Dame its first loss when the teams meet Saturday night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. The showdown marks only the second time the programs have squared off, with Virginia Tech storming back for a dramatic 34-31 win in 2016 at Notre Dame Stadium.
This time around, Virginia Tech is coming off a 31-14 win over then-No. 22 Duke. The Hokies are looking to beat a top-10 team in front of their home crowd for the first time since topping ninth-ranked Miami in 2009.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente is taking nothing for granted with Notre Dame coming to town.
“It will be the most complete and talented team that we’ve played to date,” Fuente told reporters. “They have all things clicking in different areas of the game and have recently made a quarterback change. The last two weeks they’ve been very explosive, averaging 47 points per game, I think.
“Defensively, they’ve played really well the entire year with giving up less than 20 points a game. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our team. I know we will have a great atmosphere, but we’ve got to do a great job of preparing this young squad heading into this ballgame.”
Fuente’s figures were right on the money.
Notre Dame has scored 94 points in two games (47-point average) since Ian Book took over at quarterback in place of Brandon Wimbush. And the Fighting Irish have given up 94 points all season, an average of 18.8 points allowed per game.
Book has turned the page on an up-and-down start to the season for Notre Dame’s offense. The pro-style quarterback has completed 52 of 70 passes (74.3 percent) for seven touchdowns and no interceptions this season.
Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong have provided an effective one-two punch in the Fighting Irish backfield, combining for 548 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Virginia Tech likely will be led by Ryan Willis, who began the season as the backup quarterback but started last week in place of injured Josh Jackson. Willis is 30 of 52 (57.7 percent) for 527 yards, four touchdowns and no picks.
Willis’ 332 passing yards last week marked the most by any Virginia Tech quarterback in his starting debut.
Steven Peoples has five rushing touchdowns for the Hokies and Damon Hazelton has four touchdown receptions.
On defense, Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney leads the team with 39 tackles to go along with one sack, one interception, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups. Teammate Jerry Tillery has seven sacks up front.
Hokies defensive lineman Houshun Gaines will try to maintain his impressive play after registering 2 1/2 sacks and four tackles against Duke. He is tied for the ACC lead with two forced fumbles this season.
Kelly does not want his team to feel overconfident heading into the game.
“The environment in Lane Stadium — everybody knows about ‘Enter Sandman,'” Kelly said. “It’s a ritual there since 2000 where they really get that place rocking.
“Our job is to handle the environment and go in and play really good football. If we do that and handle the environment, handle ourselves and our preparation, we’ll be in pretty good shape. If we can’t handle the environment, we can’t prepare the right way this week because we’re distracted because everybody’s telling us how great we are, then we’ll be in big trouble.”