Notre Dame wrapped up their home schedule with a 55-0 blowout of Georgia Tech at home. In a game in which Notre Dame was likely trying to make a statement with the Georgia Bulldogs playing the same team this week, Brian Kelly’s team all but secured the win in the 1st Quarter. Follow along as we breakdown the game and try and find some insights into how this game played out.
Behold, the most boring Win Probability chart we’ve ever created since we started writing last year. This is what elite teams do to inferior competition, and hopefully we will start to see more of this in the coming seasons.
This was a perfect gameplan from Tommy Rees and basically followed how we said Notre Dame should attack Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had one of the worst secondaries in the country, ranking 129th in EPA/Pass Allowed coming into the game. Their Run Defense was solid but one that wasn’t consistent on a Play-by-Play basis. If you go back to our preview we said Notre Dame should lean heavily into Jack Coan early and take advantage of this woeful pass defense, but that the run game will have opportunities to succeed. And that’s exactly what happened. The Irish leaned heavily into the pass in the 1st Half with a 60% Pass Rate that led to 0.78 EPA/Play and a 62% Success Rate. Both numbers were season highs in the 1st Half for Notre Dame and led to a very efficient 0.33 EPA/Pass on Early Downs on the day.
They throttled down the passing in the 2nd Half when Tyler Buchner took the majority of snaps with multiple backups and walk-ons getting significant playing time. But that’s exactly how an elite program should operate against bad teams in blowouts. Buchner didn’t really look great at all, but playing with the second unit and players he quite possibly hasn’t worked with at all before, it’s not totally unexpected. Nonetheless, getting him comfortable in game situations is, in our eyes, critical when he is going to be competing to start the season at Ohio State. Is him simply playing against the Georgia Techs of the world going to directly lead to him outplaying C.J. Stroud next year? Not at all. But is him getting game reps on film going to help the coaches better understand what he needs to work on through Spring Practice and into Fall Camp? Absolutely.
Now on to Georgia Tech’s offense. We said coming into the game that without Jeff Sims the Yellow Jackets were likely to struggle offensively. Jaymyr Gibbs is a really good player but wasn’t all that efficient coming into the game, likely due to the Yellow Jackets propensity to run the ball too much. And Jordan Yates, as a True Freshman, is not a player that can overcome a lot of Third and Longs right now. He had a similar profile as Virginia’s Jay Woolfolk, a low-ranked recruit starting as a True Freshman who had flashed as a runner but was probably not ready to start as a passer. Seeing Marcus Freeman and the defense handle Woolfolk comfortably the week prior gave us confidence that we would see a similar performance from Yates.
And it basically played out how we expected. Georgia Tech threw as often as they ran on Early Downs, forcing many Third and Medium/Longs for Yates where he predictably struggled. Defensively, there isn’t much to takeaway from this game aside from the fact that Notre Dame was able to mostly contain Yates as a rusher. But there is a broader point about protecting Quarterbacks with your playcalling that we’d like to touch on. This is probably not as uncommon to hear these days, but the idea that you want to protect your young, inexperienced Quarterback by running the ball a lot early so he doesn’t have to throw as much often backfires. This is because defenses in these situations are more willing to take their chances with one safety or even Cover Zero looks and willing to yield one-on-one matchups in order to prevent the run.
We saw Notre Dame do this on Saturday, rarely conceding a numbers advantage in the box (32% of carries). When they did the Yellow Jackets had a lot of success rushing, but otherwise Marcus Freeman matched his personnel to what Georgia Tech showed. And when they did it’s clear Notre Dame won that battle, holding the Yellow Jackets to -0.02 EPA/Rush and a paltry 35% Success Rate. And Yates was unable to make plays on 3rd Downs, averaging -0.65 EPA/Play and only a 17% Success Rate. The point we’re trying to emphasize here, not really for Notre Dame but all coaches, is that if you want to make the game easier for your inexperienced Quarterback let him throw more often on Early Downs. The reason being the consequences of failing on a play is less severe and if you’re able to consistently make some plays you’ll force the defense to drop back more often in coverage, eventually freeing up space for your rushing attack.
But all in all, this was a masterclass performance from Brian Kelly and Notre Dame, and the exact type of performance we were hoping to see against Virginia last week. Kudos to him and Tommy Rees for being aggressive and putting this game away early.