Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is already tired of “Enter Sandman,” the Metallica song that plays such a major role in the way No. 24 Virginia Tech stirs up its fans for the start of football games at Lane Stadium.
The sixth-ranked Fighting Irish will get to experience the atmosphere firsthand on Saturday night.
“I can’t wait to hear it one more time because it means we’ve started the game,” Kelly said. The Fighting Irish practiced this week with noise approaching the decibels of a jet engine.
The Irish (5-0) will be seeking their third victory against a ranked team this season, and their second in as many weeks. A win would their first road victory against a Top 25 team, and that has been a challenge for them in recent years. Notre Dame has won only eight of its last 20 true road games overall, and is 1-8 in its last nine road games against a ranked opponent.
The Hokies (3-1) also have beaten two teams this season that were ranked when they played.
While Kelly believes the Irish are ready for what he expects will be an “incredible atmosphere,” he also likes the way his team is “beginning to complement each other.”
“The offense is complementing the defense. The defense is complementing the offense. And certainly the special teams is part of that,” Kelly said. “And that certainly wasn’t the case early in the year.”
A move to Ian Book at quarterback has had a lot to do with it, too.
“He has certainly created a confidence level among the entire unit,” Kelly said of the junior. “And whether it’s escapability, where he can sense the rush and that builds a confidence level with your offensive line that they know that even if they maybe don’t sustain a block, that they’re going to be OK so I don’t have to grab or hold. Wide receivers knowing that they’re going to get the football in a position where they can run after the catch.’
“I could go on and on and on. But he’s won football games.”
The Hokies have made a change behind center as well, with Kansas transfer Ryan Willis stepping in last week after sophomore co-captain Josh Jackson broke a bone in his leg in a stunning loss at Old Dominion .
“It’s going to be electric,” Willis said. “Hokie Nation’s going to come out loud. I feel like everyone across the nation kind of follows Notre Dame. I grew up in the catholic school system, I went to catholic high school. So just that alone, you kind of hear about Notre Dame here and there. I’m excited. They’re a good team.”
Here are some other things to watch when Notre Dame visits Virginia Tech:
Since moving into the starting lineup two games ago, Irish quarterback Ian Book has been involved in nine touchdowns. He ran for three and threw for two in a 56-27 victory at Wake Forest , then threw for four more last week as Notre Dame beat Stanford 38-17 . The Hokies’ Ryan Willis replaced the injured Josh Jackson in the starting lineup last week and threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-14 victory against Duke.
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
The Fighting Irish rushed for 272 yards in their victory against Stanford last week and are averaging 201 rushing yards per game. Virginia Tech is fourth-best among FCS programs, allowing just 84 rushing yards per game. The Irish have lost seven straight road games when failing to run for at least 150 yards.
The Hokies will have to account for defensive lineman Jerry Tillery on every play. Tillery shares the national lead with seven sacks and had four against Stanford. He’s also forced three fumbles.
The Irish will be without left offensive guard and co-captain Alex Bars, who will have surgery next week to repair an ACL/MCL knee problem and miss the rest of the season. Senior Trevor Ruhland moves into Bars starting spot and sophomore Aaron Banks also is working there. Kelly does expect running back Tony Jones (sprained ankle) to be available, but Dexter Williams ran for 161 yards in his season debut last week when Jones was hobbled.
Virginia Tech plans to unveil a monument outside the stadium for former coach Frank Beamer before the game, and the National Football Foundation will honor Beamer at halftime. Beamer compiled a 238-121-2 record at Virginia Tech and retired in 2015. He will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.
By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer