In defeating Georgia Tech 30-22, Notre Dame became the only team in the country to beat three Power 5 teams this season and the first to contain Tech’s offense. After last week’s breathless finish at Virginia, fair questions were asked of the Irish about their understanding of Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme and whether it was the right fit for Notre Dame. Fairer questions were directed at Notre Dame’s depth and DeShone Kizer’s ability to fill in for Malik Zaire, who joined the ranks of Irish starters lost to injury for the season. Yesterday’s victory provided positive answers and showed that, perhaps implausibly, Notre Dame is still very much in contention.
Fourteenth-ranked Georgia Tech came into yesterday’s game with college football’s number one rushing offense and had scored sixty plus points in both of its previous games. Its vaunted triple-option offense and Coach Paul Johnson’s mastery of it had projected to give Notre Dame’s injury-addled defense fits. After pummeling Alcorn State and Tulane, Georgia Tech averaged 457.5 rushing yards per game.
Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to 216 rushing yards on 47 rushing plays and just 313 total offensive yards. This achievement, in large part, was the result of a perfectly executed defensive scheme that took first and second down away from the Rambling Wreck. The Irish forced Tech into four three-and-out series. Tech had none in their previous two games and just eleven all last season.
Notre Dame’s defense, which consisted of personnel selected by Caoch VanGorder specifically for the Tech game and who dubbed themselves the “SWAG team,” showed themselves, indeed, to be “students with attitude and game.” Jerry Tillery got his first start and consistently got the better of the under-sized Tech offensive linemen. Sheldon Day was disruptive at the point of attack, which allowed ample penetration into the backfield by linebackers Jaylon Smith, who had a nifty scoop and rumble fumble recovery, and Joe Schmidt. On passing plays, of which Tech ran 24, another indicator that their game plan came off the rails, quarterback Justin Thomas never had a pocket and never looked comfortable. He was sacked once.
The Irish took their foot off the gas late in the game and surrendered two touchdowns in quick succession, the last of which came after Tech recovered an on-sides kick. The result, though, was never really in doubt, and VanGorder’s decision to substitute personnel should provide them with valuable game experience.
Offensively, DeShone Kizer threw for 242 yards on 21 completions in 30 attempts. If he was uncomfortable or nervous with his first start and under the glare of the NBC and Showtime cameras, he didn’t show it, much. In fact, if anything, he was maybe too certain that he could make something of nothing. His worst moment of the game was a terrible interception thrown near Corey Robinson but closer to either of two Tech defenders in the back corner of the end zone in the second quarter and on third and goal from the five yard line.
His connection to Will Fuller and Chris Brown, though, was much more precise. He connected with Fuller on a forty-six yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and, later in the game, a thirty-six yard completion. Fuller became the first Irish receiver since 1970 to start the season with three one hundred-yard games. Kizer hooked up with Chris Brown eight times. Brown should have caught at least two more, but he was clearly a favorite and readily-forgiven target of the young quarterback.
On the ground, the Irish and C.J. Prosise gashed Tech. Notre Dame’s last touchdown of the game came in the fourth quarter on a 91 yard carry by Prosise, Notre Dame’s longest rushing touchdown in its home history. He finished the game with 198 yards and three touchdowns.
The offensive line was obviously bigger and better than Tech’s defensive front and they did a good job protecting Kizer and letting him go through his reads. They blocked effectively enough for the Irish backs, guiding them to 215 yards on the ground. This was the third time Notre Dame ran for more than two hundred yards this season. Ronnie Stanley was called for three false starts and Mike McGlinchey for one. Whether that was on them or the new signal caller will be seen over this week in practice and next Saturday against UMass.
The Irish may have lost safety Drue Tranquill for the season as he seemed to have blown a knee celebrating a PBU with Joe Schmidt. With the Irish losing a starter per game, at this clip, “next man in” may, at Fenway, have to be changed to “next bassoonist” or “next silent auction-winner” in. When the book on the 2015 season is written, maybe Corey Robinson will realize that taking that tiki idol from the old graveyard wasn’t such a good idea.