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No. 6 Notre Dame passes road test at No. 24 Virginia Tech with big second half

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Lane Stadium was rocking and the home team was dreaming of pulling off another late night upset in Blacksburg. No. 6 Notre Dame shook off a bit of rust and responded by saying thanks, but no thanks.

The Irish used a big third quarter featuring a few key plays on both sides of the ball to secure a 45-23 win over the 24th-ranked Hokies on Saturday night and look more and more like a team that is making plans to find a spot in the College Football Playoff this season.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an easy, breezy trip below the Mason-Dixon line for Brian Kelly’s team. Quarterback Ian Book threw his first interception of the season right to an undercutting linebacker but found his rhythm as the game went on and finished with a respectable 271 yards and two touchdowns. His relatively quiet night won’t cause any fans to call for backup Brandon Wimbush by any measure but it did allow others to take the offensive spotlight as a result.

Once again it was running back Dexter Williams who provided the spark the team needed, breaking off a 97-yard run on the seventh play of the second half on his way to 178 yard, three score effort. Book also hooked up several times with Miles Boykin, who had a big night with 117 yards through the air and two touchdowns down the stretch that essentially sealed the result on the scoreboard.

Kicker Justin Yoon also set a school record for career scoring with an extra point in the fourth quarter and Julian Love recorded a scoop-and-score touchdown just before halftime as part of a strong defensive effort from Notre Dame.

Virginia Tech did have their chances early in the game but never could quite capitalize on short fields and miscues. Signal-caller Ryan Willis was under siege most of the night with a hand in his face but threw for 309 yards, two scores and two picks — doing well to only get sacked twice. Steven Peoples led the way on the ground with 64 yards but the Hokies had to take the air most of the second half as they fell further and further behind.

The victory makes the Irish bowl eligible as they move to 6-0 but, perhaps more significantly, gives the team their first road win against a ranked team since 2015. The trip to Blacksburg was viewed by many as a tricky one but the group passed the test with flying colors and put together yet another impressive second half to pull away against a solid team.

It will also lead to even more speculation that this is going to be a special season in South Bend with the Playoff looking not just like a possibility, but a real likelihood given the upcoming schedule. Notre Dame will return home to play Pitt on NBC next weekend and do not have a top 25 caliber team left on the docket. A rivalry game against Navy in San Diego and against USC in L.A. to end the year could be tricky but there certainly a path to 12-0 if the team keeps playing like they have been on this remarkable run in 2018.

No. 8 Notre Dame passes biggest test yet, top No. 7 Stanford as Irish remain undefeated

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Wake up the echoes, Notre Dame is for real.

The No. 8 Irish passed their biggest test of the young season to remain undefeated on Saturday night, using several big offensive plays to scoot past No. 7 Stanford 38-17 in yet another fantastic rivalry game under the lights in South Bend.

Quarterback Ian Book picked up where he left off last week against Wake Forest, making his first home start and quickly winning over the crowd with pinpoint passes all game long. He finished an efficient 24-of-33 for 278 yards and four touchdowns in an offense that really felt like they were hitting on all cylinders at times. Just as important as the signal-caller’s arm were his legs too, with Book scrambling for several nice pickups and extending many more. Miles Boykin had a breakout game with 144 receiving yards and a score but Chase Claypool, Alize Mack and Nic Weishar all found the end zone as well.

Those kinds of plays were helped in part by another impressive effort by the offensive line up front. They allowed only one sack and opened up several big holes for Irish backs to run through. Senior Dexter Williams made the most of his first touches of the year in the absence of Jafar Armstrong, rushing for 161 yards and breaking off a 45-yard touchdown run on the second series of the game. Tony Jones added a further 40 yards as the Irish recorded 272 yards on the ground all told.

The fast pace that Notre Dame got off to was nearly matched by the Cardinal before falling off as the second half wore on. QB K.J. Costello made several big-time throws in keeping his team in the game but began to falter once the clock ticked over to the final quarter. He finished the game with only 174 yards and a touchdown, while his late interception seemed to seal the result as his team failed to pull off a magical comeback for the second week in a row.

Maybe more concerning to head coach David Shaw was the status of his star running back Bryce Love, who limped off injured early in the fourth quarter. Last year’s Heisman runner-up rushed for 73 yards and showed his trademark burst on a touchdown run, but injured his ankle down the stretch and was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.

The victory now will see even more national attention focused on Notre Dame as they can put two of their toughest tests of the year behind them in wins against Michigan and, now, Stanford. The Irish do have a tricky trip to Blacksburg next week at Virginia Tech but the only ranked teams left on the docket could be late November tests against Syracuse and USC.

Some will say it’s still too early in the closing hours of September, but it’s very much time to start talking about Notre Dame making a run at the College Football Playoff in 2018.

Late touchdown lifts No. 14 Notre Dame to second straight bowl win over No. 17 LSU

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A late touchdown pass from backup quarterback Ian Book to wideout Miles Boykin lifted No. 14 Notre Dame to a 21-17 win over No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. It was the second time in four seasons the Irish have closed the year with a bowl win over LSU; the Irish booked a 31-28 Music City Bowl defeat of the Bayou Bengals to conclude the 2014 campaign.

After a 3-0 first half, LSU took the lead on a 20-yard pass from Danny Etling to Derrius Guice, then extended its advantage to 14-6 on a 2-yard Guice run with 11:13 left in regulation. However, two missed field goals late in the first half cost LSU a chance to take complete control of the game with Guice’s scores.

With Book in the game for starter Brandon Wimbush (3-of-8 for 52 yards), Notre Dame drove 75 yards in 10 plays to score on a 5-yard Dexter Williams run, then tied the game on a Josh Adams shovel pass that was originally ruled short of the goal line but overturned upon review.

LSU moved to the Notre Dame 1-yard line with 2:03 remaining, but Ed Orgeron elected to go for a 17-yard Jack Gonsoulin rather than risk a 4th-and-1 play. Gonsoulin’s kick was good, giving the Tigers the lead.

Notre Dame needed only three plays to take the lead, when Book (14-of-19 for 164 yards with two touchdowns and one interception) found Boykin for this 55-yard score.

LSU’s last-gasp chance to win the game died on an incomplete Etling pass on a 4th-and-15 from his own 29-yard line.

LSU closed Orgeron’s first season as head coach at 9-4, while Notre Dame successfully erased the taste of last year’s 4-8 season with a 10-3 campaign. The win allowed Brian Kelly to become the fourth head coach in Notre Dame history to record three 10-win seasons.