“How was Blacksburg?” Brad asked before I could even say hello and congratulate him on finishing a Sunday marathon. “How was ‘Enter Sandman?’”
One of the better bad influences in my life, I met up with Brad and a few of his friends early Sunday afternoon after my flight back from Virginia. They had flown to the Midwest to idiotically run 26.2 miles, while I had not slept more than three hours in a night since Wednesday amid eastern travel. That did not stop me from appreciating Virginia Tech’s entrance to Lane Stadium on Saturday. As I explained to Brad …
Notre Dame fans should also now look back on it fondly. The Irish had no trouble with the atmosphere, eventually finding their offensive groove to post a 45-23 victory against the No. 24 Hokies. The impressive opening can be viewed as a unique piece of college football theatrics, something which differentiates fall Saturdays from their corresponding Sundays, rather than a thundering crescendo that led to a dream-ending loss.
As much as I looked forward to the moment that would be different than most weekends, I was also somewhat skeptical. I have heard Wisconsin students belt out a few lines of “Jump Around.” They then lose their breath to the accompanying jumping and focus on that task, not the sing-along.
I have heard pockets of the Notre Dame student section join the band in “Everytime We Touch” by Cascada. Maybe 10 percent do so, leading to comedy but hardly all that much volume.
This is where I have to say Virginia Tech was a bit different. The music was loud, the stands shook a little bit, the drama was palpable. What set it apart? All 66,000 sang past the refrain. They may have reached their peak at “Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight,” following the second verse. I have never heard an entire stadium in unison like that, and I am glad I did.
That said, it was still not as intimidating as no one singing along to “Enter Sandman” while one slender man jogs from the bullpen to the pitching mound, as long as it is the slight figure owning the best pitch in baseball history.
YOON SETS POINTS RECORD
What is most impressive about senior kicker Justin Yoon breaking Allen Pinkett’s (1982-85) career mark of 320 points at Notre Dame is that Yoon did so with seven, maybe eight, games remaining in his career. His 47 points this season give Yoon 322 in his career, and at the pace of 2018, he could end up with as many as 377 points. If the Irish offense keeps up its pace of the last three weeks with junior quarterback Ian Book starting, then accelerate that expected output to 380 points for Yoon.
Either way, his mark should last a long time. To break it, a kicker would have to start four seasons on teams averaging more than 30 points per game, a mark reached at Notre Dame only 20 times in the last 50 years.
Of the 27 scholarship freshmen in the recruiting class of 2018, 14 made the trip to Virginia Tech. Six of them showed up on the stat sheet. A few more than that played.
“This is a younger group that is a little bit looser in that sense,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “But very focused when it comes to doing their job.”
During Saturday’s postgame, Kelly pointed out the caliber and number of players that had not made the trip: sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong (knee), fifth-year left guard Alex Bars (ACL), junior defensive end Daelin Hayes (stinger), sophomore defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway (foot), sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah (foot), senior nickel back Shaun Crawford (ACL). Those absences undoubtedly led to some of the freshmen making the trip, but it is just as noticeable how many of them held up against a ranked opponent on the road.
SPEAKING OF INJURIES AND DEPTH … Will Hayes be back this week?
To preempt an obvious question: Junior defensive end Julian Okwara will be able to play in the first half against Pittsburgh (2:30 ET; NBC), because his targeting ejection came with fewer than 20 seconds before halftime. All that matters for this concern is that it came before halftime, by 20 seconds or 20 minutes.
The other half of that tandem, Hayes, may not be back.
“[Stingers] usually calm down in 24-to-36 hours,” Kelly said Sunday of an eight-day-old injury. “If they don’t, then the window opens up to six weeks. Once he’s asymptomatic, then he’ll be cleared to play. We’ll go from there.
“He was out obviously practicing non-contact drills because he was still symptomatic. Had some tingling in his hand.”
Quite frankly, Hayes should be able to take this week off without endangering Notre Dame’s season, and then he will have the idle week as more of a cushion. As well as the defensive line reserves played, there is no question about the Irish preference.
“I thought the kids did a really good job of not letting the adversity take advantage of the situation for them,” Kelly said. “… We’re better with Julian and Daelin no question, but those guys stepped up and played to a standard.”
WHAT ABOUT AARON BANKS? Will he see competitive snaps this weekend?
The sophomore is expected to rotate with senior Trevor Ruhland at left guard, but Ruhland handled those duties largely on his own against the Hokies. To some degree, that makes sense. Banks had only one week to jump inside to guard from tackle and prepare. Should his first such action — first real action in any collegiate capacity — have come at Lane Stadium? It would make more sense to give the youngster two weeks of run-up and let that debut occur in friendly confines.
ELSEWHERE … Will Oklahoma be granting media access to its newly-promoted linebackers coach?
Bob Diaco moved into the role as part of the domino effect of the Sooners firing their defensive coordinator after a 48-45 loss to Texas on Saturday. One of the more entertaining personalities in college football, hopefully Diaco gets a few chances to meet with the press.
If keeping track, Diaco does not quite join Notre Dame’s last two defensive coordinators as now holding those positions elsewhere, Brian VanGorder at Louisville and Mike Elko at Texas A&M. VanGorder’s season is not going well, while Elko’s is. Some context against Irish numbers:
Louisville: 32.7 points allowed per game; 413.83 yards allowed per game; 2-4 record.
Texas A&M: 20.2 points; 327.3 yards; 4-2 record.
Notre Dame: 19.5 points; 357.3 yards; 6-0 record.