There was a time when the skyline between Notre Dame and Chicago was lined with glowing furnaces and fantastically-sized factories. Within those factories, men poured, formed, and cut steel. Today, those factories are mostly closed. Today, those men are mostly dead. On Saturday night, before the heaving, bouncing bodies in the stands, young men from Notre Dame, very much alive and fired by echoes cheering her name, quieted piped-in heavy metal with a punishing dose of heavy mettle.
In their biggest game since the last one, the Fighting Irish pummeled the then twenty-fourth-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies, 45-23. The match had been pitched as a test of Brian Kelly’s boys’ ability to win an important game away from the friendly confines between the mums. If crushing a twenty-fourth-ranked team before sixty-seven thousand somewhere in the rural South can exorcise the demons of last season’s self-immolation on South Beach, then Dexter Williams is Father Karras. ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit said the Notre Dame back ran with “desperation,” to exorcise the demons that kept him from the field for the season’s first four games. Whatever the motivation, he punished the Hokie D to the tune of 178 yards and 3 touchdowns, one of which was a 97-yard dash and the longest score in their stadium’s history.
There were minutes in the second quarter, long minutes in which the Irish defense was unable to stop the Hokie’s offense between the thirties, and a palpable sense of dread rose across Notre Dame nation. With the Irish leading on the strength of a solid opening drive for a touchdown and then a field goal from Justin Yoon, now the highest scorer in Irish history, the Hokies started picking away with field goals of their own. Ian Book stumbled. An all-too-familiar story was unfolding.
But then Julian Love scored on a scoop and score off a Ryan Willis fumble on a Khalid Kareem sack. Put aside the Hokie touchdown that followed to end the half. Notre Dame took a 17-16 lead into the locker room. That locker room may as well have been a forge, for the players who came out were steeled. The Hokies were not ready.
After a Tech punt that pinned Notre Dame deep, Dexter Williams went the length of the field in two carries, the first of which went for negative two yards. On the next possession, Ian Book connected with Miles Boykin for a forty yard score. Boykin was a favorite target who notched 117 yards and two touchdowns. Virginia Tech would score in the third quarter. In the second half, Notre Dame outscored their opponent 28-7.
By Sunday evening, Notre Dame was ranked fifth in the country, behind Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson. By Sunday evening, Notre Dame was squarely in the mix for the playoffs, given the likelihood of running the table. By Sunday evening, Sandman had come and gone. His sand had nothing on Irish steel.