Notre Dame Blows Lead to Virginia Tech, Bowl Eligibility Dwindles

Ranked No. 10 in the primary AP Top 25 Poll of the campaign, no one expected the Fighting Irish to be scrapping for a mediocre bowl game over its final two matchups. Yet again, though, Notre Dame (4-7) showed off its maddening inconsistency in a 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech (8-3) on senior day.

Trailing 31-21 with 3:49 left in the third quarter, Hokies’ quarterback Jerod Evans spurted the comeback, leading his group to 13 consecutive points to round out the contest. The junior racked up 334 total yards, finding the end zone three times, as well as accounting for two turnovers.

The biggest blow for the Irish came early in the fourth frame as Irish cornerback Cole Luke was called for pass interference on an iffy call. Nevertheless, Evans cashed in, tossing a seven-yard touchdown to 6-foot-7 receiver Bucky Hodges. The reception tied up the contest at 31 apiece.

On their next possession, Virginia Tech methodically drove down the field again on a 10-play, 51-yard drive, culminating in Joey Slye’s 20-yard game-winning field goal. In the second half, the Irish’s defense allowed a mind-boggling 20 points.

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer had just over a minute to tie the game on the last possession but was unable to move the ball beyond the Hokies’ 47-yard line. Plus, their defense even knocked him out of the contest, forcing backup Malik Zaire to attempt the final heave of the evening.

Following the defeat, Notre Dame picked up its first losing season in nine years, as well as Brian Kelly’s first as a head coach in South Bend, Ind. Incredibly, the Irish have led in 10 of 11 contests in 2016, too.

Prior to the matchup, Virginia Tech yielded an impressive 184.9 passing yards per game. In the first half, Kizer accumulated 199 passing yards, including two scores through the air and one interception. On top of that, he connected with eight different receivers. But in the final 30 minutes, he struggled mightily, tossing for a head-scratching 36 yards

Furthermore, in the last two periods, Notre Dame sputtered on offense, collecting five of its six three-and-outs.

After the first series of the contest, it seemed as if Kizer could lead the Irish to an upset. He exhibited plenty of poise against the No. 15 total defense in the nation, marching his unit on a seven-play, 78-yard drive in just over three minutes. Tailback Josh Adams capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run.

Subsequently, on the Hokies’ first possession, the Irish’s defense inhaled their teammates’ aggression. Senior linebacker James Onwualu forced Evans outside the pocket on third down, delivering a strip sack. Kizer and his bunch would convert the turnover into a field goal, which extended the advantage to 10-0 in the first quarter.

Two possessions later, Notre Dame’s signal caller continued his red-hot start. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder rammed a bullet into receiver Chris Finke’s waiting palms in the end zone for a 31-yard strike. Moreover, it was the sophomore wideout’s first career touchdown.

That momentum was unable to keep Notre Dame’s hopes for a victory alive, though. While it’s possible for the Irish to sneak into a bowl game in Dec., only three teams with a 5-7 record appeared in one last season. Hence, an offseason with Kelly on the hot seat seems likely.

About Eli Hershkovich

Eli Hershkovich is a graduate of DePaul University. Along with writing, he also works at 670 The Score, a sports radio station in Chicago.