Ryan Willis vs. the Notre Dame Defense
After losing their starting quarterback and leader, Josh Jackson, in a week four loss, the outlook for this Virginia Tech offense looked a bit bleak. That outlook quickly shifted when backup Ryan Willis took over and led the Hokies to a 31-14 victory on the road against Duke, a top-25 ACC opponent.
Willis transferred from Kansas before the 2017 season. After spending one full season backing up Jackson, he now gets a chance to showcase his skills — albeit under unfortunate circumstances.
Willis could not have hoped for a better start to his career as a Hokie. He has thrown for 463 yards and four touchdowns on in his first five quarters of play as the starting quarterback. Over that time, he has a completion percentage of 58 percent and no interceptions. While he is not the same running threat that Jackson was, he can still hurt defenses with his legs if they lose contain.
The key to slowing down Ryan Willis and this Virginia Tech offense will be getting them behind schedule — limiting their gains on first and second down to set up third and long. The Hokies are currently ranked 66th in third down conversion rate, converting 40 percent of the time. In their game last week, they converted 37.5 percent of the third downs they faced.
Forcing the Virginia Tech offense into third and long will take a team effort from the Notre Dame defense. The defensive line will have to win at the point of attack, creating lanes for the linebackers in run support. The front seven will need to pressure Willis on passing downs and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. On the back end, the secondary will need to do their best to limit the big plays and contain the Hokie receivers.
If the Irish can accomplish all of that, they should leave Lane Stadium with an impressive top-25 road victory.