Things got a little hairy at the end when Georgia Tech started throwing to the fullback in the flat and recovered an onside kick. But, the Fighting Irish prevailed with an exclamation point on Saturday to take down the Yellow Jackets 30-22. Let's talk about this one.
Play-Call of the Game: C.J. Prosise 1-Yard Touchdown Run
Nothing fancy but a much-needed hard-nosed ManBall™ goal line touchdown that really felt like it was going to be the end for Georgia Tech. The 4th quarter had just started and this score put the Irish up by 16 points.
Notre Dame would add another score but this was all they needed to win.
A couple things to point out--notice how Prosise's quickness beats the run blitzer from his right and how Weishar's block to Prosise's left flattened another blitzer. Great execution.
DeShone Kizer exceeded my expectations and played really well. However, in a weird way he didn't play as well as his stats suggest if that makes sense. He was a handful of drops from putting up a 25 of 30 for 300 yards type of performance which would have been incredible. I don't know if he played quite that well.
Still, he was calm and in control. There was some miscommunication on a couple throws, he tried to do a little too much on a couple others to dangerously make something out of nothing, and of course the end zone interception was a rookie mistake. Kizer is a little slow going through his reads and getting the ball out of his hand, however, I still think he has really well developed pocket sense and really good quick escapability for his size.
A lot to improve upon but a great first start to a young career.
Turning Point: Georgia Tech's 1st Drive of the 4th Quarter
If there was a time when the Jackets needed a momentum changing touchdown drive it was on their first possession of the 4th quarter. This came after Prosise's 1-yard score and the Irish taking a 23-7 lead.
The beginning and end of this possession summed things up for Georgia Tech. First, they were flagged for a holding call on the kick return and then after burning 3 precious minutes in the 4th quarter they moved the ball only 14 yards on 6 plays finishing things with Justin Thomas being swarmed by Irish defenders and foolishly pitching the ball backwards in a vain attempt to do something.
After the punt, Prosise would score on a Notre Dame Stadium record 91-yard run to burst the game wide open at 30-7 with 7 minutes left in the game.
Surprising Stat: Tech Finished with 4 More First Downs
I bet if I asked you without looking if you believed this most would have said no way. Well, it's true! Georgia Tech finished with 21 first downs to Notre Dame's 17.
Although to put it in perspective, Tech gained 3 of those first downs via penalty and jammed in 7 more on their last 2 drives in the pseudo garbage time minutes.
Unheralded Star: Joe Schmidt and/or Chris Brown
Quite the redemption for Joe Schmidt who had a bad game last week and by the laws of former walk-ons immediately had his job under scrutiny even though he's a captain and the coaches continually say he's so much better than his backup. A game-leading 10 tackles with 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and another quarterback hurry ought to quiet his detractors. For a while.
Chris Brown is another player who usually has a lot of critics. Following a couple bad drops in the game he looked like a major target for ire on Saturday. However, he rebounded with a quality game leading the offense with 8 catches, 5 of which went for first down.
Missed Opportunity: Georgia Tech 4th &2 Late in the 4th Quarter
This was the moment that kept the Yellow Jackets' hopes alive. Georgia Tech had bruised its way to a first down with B-Back Patrick Skov but had him stuffed short on 3rd & 4 near mid-field.
Notre Dame spent most of the afternoon really shutting down any crucial interior runs but this one really was a let down that led to 15 extra points for Georgia Tech.
Flag of the Game: Holding by GT Right Tackle Errin Joe
This was a huge momentum shifting series of events early in the second half. Notre Dame caused a fumble on Tech's opening drive of the half but had to settle for a field goal to make it 16-7.
The Jackets moved quickly into Notre Dame territory and before you knew it Justin Thomas finally broke free for a 23-yard touchdown run. But, holding was called and Tech got backed up into a 2 & 17 and had already lost confidence in their field goal kicker at this point. They'd later go for it on 4th & 16 from the 32-yard line and get zero points on this drive following an incomplete pass.
Red Zone TD Success: 50%
Better than last week, and the Prosise short touchdown run (ND's 4th and final red zone trip of the game) really made a big difference.
The first red zone trip resulted in the interception in the end zone. Bad play-call to go with the fade there? Bad decision by Kizer too? Eh, probably although it was third down from the 5-yard line in a regular passing situation. That's a pretty common time to throw a fade to your big Catch Radius receiving target.
The next series the Irish scored in the red zone thanks to a 17-yard run by Prosise. The third red zone attempt was probably as frustrating as any following Jaylon's near scoop-and-score. Prosise got stuffed on first down, Stanley false started on second down followed by an inaccurate throw by Kizer to Prosise, then Fuller had a ball go through his hands on 3rd down. Notre Dame settled for a field goal.
Scheme n Such
I like what I've seen so far this season and this was another quality gameplan by the coaching staff.
They stayed balanced (32 runs to 30 passes, and were one more defensive stop away from piling on a bunch of 4th quarter clock-draining rushes like 'good' teams get to do) with 200+ yards rushing and passing while averaging a healthy 7.4 yards per play.
By the way, the Irish have opened 2015 while averaging over 7.0 yards per play in each of the first 3 games. The only other 3-game stretch where this has happened in the Kelly Era was in 2013 against Air Force/Navy/Pitt. That Notre Dame has done this against 3 teams from Power 5 conferences ain't half bad.
I still wish we'd get a little more diverse within the spread. We finally saw a jet sweep go for positive yardage when Torii Hunter scampered for 8 yards but it's still not something we do with any regularity. How we're not giving it to Prosise on the jet sweep, or more importantly faking it to him from time to time, is amazing to me.
Although I will say, the Irish are getting better with their 'heavy' packages and running the ball with a H-back helping out in the backfield. I just wonder how effective this will be against some tougher defenses because the 'fake' read option offense is going to get pinched against better athletes.
Once again, the pass protection was among the best you'll see in the nation. Georgia Tech was credited with 6 quarterback hurries but they must have been really liberal with that stat. Kizer was uncomfortable once in a while on his drop-backs but the aggressive Tech defense only finished with 1 sack on a redshirt freshman who was laboring at times to get through his progressions.
I know this is weird to say for a team that has opened the season with 200+ rushing yards in 3 games (first time since '96 by the way) but the run blocking is inconsistent. I don't want to credit Prosise for everything out there. Still, his big play ability (91-yard touchdown runs kind of help out, you know?) is really making this a lot prettier than things are on a consistent basis. For example, Prosise had a Kelly Era-high 198 rushing yards but still had 9 runs (41% of his carries) go for 3 yards or less. I think you can be happy with the grinding out ability as long as you get the long runs, however, it's something to keep an eye on against Clemson, USC, or Stanford down the road.
The defensive line was stellar against the triple option. Limiting Skov to 66 yards and under 4 yards per carry is a big win and fantastic job by the front clogging things up. Overall, the whole unit did a great job making life difficult in between the tackles while also getting off blocks and into the backfield on pass attempts by Tech.
Question: If you totaled Notre Dame's 3 opponents rushing in between the tackles this season would they combine for 100 yards yet?
Nose guard Jerry Tillery and tight end Alize Jones picked up their first career starts on Saturday. Tillery finished with 3 tackles--and one off-sides penalty. Jones hauled in his first 3 career passes for 19 yards but lost an almost costly fumble on his last catch. Freshmen mistakes!
Six more freshmen saw action: Linebacker Te'von Coney, WR C.J. Sanders, K Justin Yoon, CB Nick Coleman, S Nicco Fertitta, and RB Josh Adams.
Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and running back Dexter Williams played against Texas but sat out again for the second straight game. They are technically still able to redshirt, although it'll be very unlikely they'll stay off the field for much longer--especially Dexter Williams.
- Let's hope next week against UMass is a bit of a breather because Prosise needs a rest and the youngsters need some work. We already mentioned Dexter Williams hasn't even played since Texas and Josh Adams, while getting a few snaps here and there, is only sitting at 10 carries through a quarter of the regular season.
- I'm not sure if it was due to scheme or something else but DE Andrew Trumbetti didn't play against Georgia Tech. The Irish got away playing just 6 defensive linemen on Saturday!
- There was this guy from the you-know-where Notre Dame site who, before the season, took every opportunity to tell the world how Jaylon Smith regressed as a sophomore, he's being misused by Brian VanGorder, and Jaylon's the most overrated player on the Irish roster. I bet he feels really stupid right now. Imagine just how terrible you have to be to ever say things like that about Jaylon Smith.
- I know many will talk about the blocking on kick returns but I feel like we're essentially giving up with Amir Carlisle running the ball out. The sea has to part by 15 yards on each side of him before he gets more than 20 or 30 yards. That's never happening so why not try something else? This feels like something Notre Dame can exploit because the Irish kickoff coverage has been stellar so far this season.
- I hope not a single Irish fan complains about this defensive performance. Georgia Tech led the nation in 2014 with fewest 3 & out drives and started this game with 2 of them, to go with 4 total on the day. The Yellow Jackets punted on 3 out of their first 4 drives and only scored 7 points up until 48 seconds left in the game. At halftime, Tech was sitting on 143 total yards, 48 of which came on one run. That was only 99 yards surrendered on 30 other plays in the first half. Up until the 6:58 mark in the 4th quarter, Georgia Tech had amassed only 231 yards on 57 plays--just 4.05 yards per play. Even after the 2 garbage time scores Tech finished the game with only 4.7 yards per play. This was the Jackets lowest YPP of the Justin Thomas era and their worst since the 2013 bowl game against Ole Miss.
- Want a weird stat from this game? Notre Dame did not have a single third down attempt from 2 yards of fewer, just two attempts from 3rd & 3, none from 3rd & 4, and all other 9 attempts were 3rd & 5 or worse. That kind of points out that the offense, while getting things done, really wasn't on schedule a whole lot especially in the run game. A bright spot from all of this? Kizer was 7 of 9 for 130 yards on the 3rd down & long throws. That does include only 4 throws for first down, plus the interception, but it's a pretty encouraging stat to see plenty of positive plays in key moments.
- This was almost certainly one of the best wins of the Brian Kelly Era, maybe among the top few non-2012 victories. The team needed this for their confidence and now I believe the odds of going at least 10-2 shot up significantly. I said last week that a goal moving forward would be to win both games against the triple option offenses and this was a significant step in that direction.
- We'll see how Georgia Tech reacts to this loss the rest of the season. I don't think there's a huge worry they'll struggle this season (8 wins or fewer I think would qualify as struggling) but their schedule is not easy the rest of the way. They still have 3 games against ranked teams left (Clemson, FSU, Georgia) and other upset candidates against the likes of Duke, or Virginia Tech, or Miami. This was Brian Kelly's 6th game as a home underdog and in the 2 prior losses (Stanford 2010, Oklahoma 2013) the opponent finished ranked but in the 3 prior wins (2010 Utah, 2013 BYU, 2014 Stanford) the opponent did not finished ranked.