Georgia Tech (-2.5) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
Date: Saturday, September 19, 2015
Series: 27-6-1 Notre Dame
This is the One Foot Down preview for this weekend's game against Georgia Tech.
14 Different Ball Carriers
In our summer preview of the Yellow Jackets we mentioned how they were searching for new running backs for 2015. So far through 2 games they've given the ball to 14 different ball carriers, as many as in all of 2014.
Georgia Tech has run 24 offensive series in two games (I'm excluding their final drive last week in which they ran out the clock to end the game and a couple drives where they took a knee to end the half) and punted only 3 times so far. A pair of those punts came in week 1 garbage time on their last 2 series' against Alcorn State. Against overwhelmed competition, the Jackets have scored touchdowns on 19 drives in 2015.
This Game May or May Not Have Happened
I'm just going to embed this video here of Tech's last trip to our stadium. You can watch and reflect on life, if you choose.
Johnson's 4th Trip
This will be Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson's fourth trip to Notre Dame Stadium, the first three all while being the leader of Navy. Johnson nearly upset the Irish in the 2003 game, lost handily in 2005, and then finally ended the NCAA's longest losing streak in 2007. In all 3 games, Johnson's offense scored at least 20 points.
3-6 vs. Ranked Teams on the Road
Since Johnson took over in Atlanta his teams are 3-6 on the road against programs that finished the season ranked. That did include a win in Athens over Georgia in his first season although the Yellow Jackets began his tenure 1-5 against ranked teams on the road. Since then, Tech has defeated No. 23 Duke, lost to No. 8 Clemson, and beat No. 9 Georgia last year.
4 Players to Watch
QB Justin Thomas
The redshirt junior is in his second year of starting and coming off a fantastic season in 2014 that saw him lead Georgia Tech in rushing (1,086 yards) and use his arm as a major weapon with 18 touchdowns at 9.2 yards per attempt. So far this year, Thomas hasn't even played a full game worth of snaps and has accounted for 5 touchdowns. He's about as athletic and talented of a triple option quarterback as you'll find in recent history.
BB Marcus Marshall
Tech loves to give the ball to their fullback-esque B-Back position and we'll certainly see a lot of Stanford grad transfer Patrick Skov who already has 10 more carries than anyone else on the roster. However, watch out for true freshman Marcus Marshall who has shown a ton of explosiveness from the position with 221 rushing yards on just 14 carries.
AB Broderick Snoddy
The leading running back from 2014, Snoddy is now a 5th-year senior and has track-star speed. He got hurt late last year and is healthy now with 7 carries for 86 yards this season.
AB Qua Searcy
Another young back emerging for the Yellow Jackets is redshirt freshman Searcy. The common theme for all the top players right now is speed and a lack of touches due to poor early competition. Searcy has 7 rushes for 66 yards and has hauled in 2 receptions.
Settling for Field Goals
Same deal as when we play Navy. The Irish cannot afford to settle for field goals or for drives to stall inside Georgia Tech territory. You have to score a lot of points to beat this team. Over the Yellow Jackets last 19 losses, only 4 of them came when the opponent scored fewer than 30 points.
A Defensive Collapse
This is a moment of truth for Notre Dame. Former assistant turned special assistant Bob Elliott has been toiling away scouring the country to try and help the defensive staff stop the option. I'm not sure what would constitute a collapse per se--everyone should expect Ga Tech to do a lot of damage in my opinion--but it's time to see the pay off for so much studying.
DeShone Kizer Handling Everything
First career start against a ranked team in a game where the offense will need to play at a high level. No pressure.
2 Sides of the Line
Georgia Tech actually rotates linemen on occasion and values versatility. They are bringing 4 returning starters from last year too, including 5th year senior left tackle Bryan Chamberlain (6-4, 294), 5th-year senior left guard Trey Braun (6-5, 295), redshirt junior center Freddie Burden (6-3, 300), and 5th-year senior right tackle Errin Joe (6-3, 307). The latter player took over for Chris Griffin in game 8 last year and Griffin is out for 2015 with a knee injury.
The lone new starter is redshirt sophomore Shamire Devine (6-7, 366) a freaking huge tank at right guard.
Several members of the defensive line return from 2014 starting with sophomore end KeShun Freeman (6-1, 240) who will be making his 15th career start this weekend. Senior tackle Adam Gotsis (6-5, 282) is a nice experienced player with 3 tackles for loss already this year. Redshirt junior Rod Rook Chungong (6-3, 241) made a handful of starts last year and offers depth at end, as does redshirt junior Tyler Stargel (6-3, 252).
Redshirt junior Patrick Gamble (6-5, 282) is a big body at nose tackle and is being helped out by 5th-year senior Jabari Hunt (6-3, 292) who is back for 2015 after being ineligible last year. Also, look out for sophomore Antonio Simmons (6-3, 235) as a pass rushing specialist off the egde.
I convinced myself about 2 months ago that I would pick Notre Dame to beat Georgia Tech for a few reasons.
One, as a fanbase we've been so afraid of this game that it would seem only fitting the Irish will win. This is Navy on steroids! Navy but with better athletes! It's been like a collective nation-wide reverse jinx. Good job, everybody.
Two, I was confident Notre Dame would start 2-0 and have enough momentum to pull out a home victory. Plus, I like that the game falls early in the season when we have only 3 injuries on defense instead of twice that number later in the year.
Three, in comparing Tech and Navy we really underestimate just how much Notre Dame makes the Middies' blood boil. Sure, Paul Johnson has a bone to pick with Brian VanGorder because the latter had the audacity to move Georgia Southern away from the triple option when he became head coach. But do the Georgia Tech players really care about that?
You see, so much of college football is about passion, emotion, and intensity. Ever since Navy started getting more efficient with their prep academy to stash athletes away and welcome in 300 pound linemen they've tasted victory in modern times--now pulling the upset of their 4 years is real and possible. Navy brings insane intensity against Notre Dame. Every. Single. Season.
I'm not saying Georgia Tech won't play with passion on Saturday. What I'm saying is in the event that the Irish punch the Jackets in the mouth it's possible for them to respond with, "You know what, our goal is to win the ACC and get back to the Orange Bowl a loss in South Bend isn't a big deal." No such response exists for Navy, which is why I don't believe Georgia Tech is necessarily x times more difficult of a game when looking at this through the prism of either team playing Notre Dame.
Additionally, I know this may sound weird to an outsider who sees the No. 8 team in the country with a 2-0 record but Notre Dame has their backs against the wall this weekend. Missing Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, or Tarean Folston is one thing--being without Malik Zaire for the remainder of 2015 is a monumental change for the Irish. Since Vegas opened the line has moved heavily in favor of Georgia Tech now making the Irish home dogs.
I talked about it not long ago in the look back at the Guide to Rebuilding Notre Dame--one of the hallmarks of the Brian Kelly era is at least one big win every year when the breaks are going against the team heading into a matchup. This game against Georgia Tech has that kind of feel to it.
The problem for Notre Dame is that while emotion and intensity are a big part of the game it's not the only thing. You know, there's a reason why Georgia Tech is favored after all.
I really don't know what to expect with Notre Dame's defense going up against this explosive offense but I think it'll be tough to win more battles than they lose. Thomas is such a good option quarterback and him working in tandem with coach Paul Johnson making on-the-fly adjustments is downright scary.
I've seen it written everywhere since the Zaire injury that the Notre Dame offense "will be fine." I guess that depends upon your definition of 'fine' right? Fine enough to still have a productive offense and win a bunch of games? I'm, ahem, fine with that belief.
But will it be fine enough to keep pace with Georgia Tech?
That question has been bugging me all week and I can't shake the doubt. I don't like the thought of Kizer having to throw a bunch of times in his first start, nor going really conservative and trying to grind out yards with Prosise and some freshmen. I'm pretty sure Kelly won't do the latter (too much pressure to score points in bunches & Tech's defense has been leaky in recent years) so it'll take at least some balance on offense with Kizer playing at a high level.
I have a really hard time seeing Kizer playing that well. A couple months ago I expected Zaire at the helm and a 2-0 record. I'm not convinced Notre Dame is winning but if they do it'll be a huge victory that could save the season on many levels.