We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents, and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment section, and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in depth.
Game 11 — Notre Dame VS Georgia Tech
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: November 20th at 2:30pm ET
How to Watch: NBC
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech enters 2021 in the third year of its exit from the Paul Johnson/triple-option era, having struggled in the last two as head coach Geoff Collins worked to rebuild the program. It was a brutal 2020 for the Ramblin’ Wreck, who went 3-7 and whose struggles were frequently of their own making (Tech committed 89 penalties - 41 before the snap - while quarterback Jeff Sims threw 13 interceptions and the offense averaged 1.2 fumbles per game). While these results were no doubt disappointing for GT fans, they were unsurprising. The ongoing transition from the triple-option era forced Collins to play with an incredibly young and inexperienced team, with shortages and mismatches at key positions, and growing pains were to be expected.
Despite their recent struggles, there is a lot of promise for the Yellow Jackets moving forward. Collins has done a good job bringing in quality talent as he takes the program in a new direction, bringing in the #27 overall class in the country in 2020 - no small thing for a program whose offensive scheme made it radioactive to many recruits for the better part of a decade.
Players from Collins’ first two recruiting classes now have multiple years of experience and will start to gel as a team. On offense, they have dynamic athletes at skill positions and have brought in transfers to fill in some of the previously gaping holes on the offensive line left behind by Johnson’s offense. If that line can shore itself up, Sims can be a dual-threat playmaker and running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason can be quite dangerous.
On defense, the theme across the board is a need for consistency. The Yellow Jackets will look to develop some talented young players up front to create a stronger pass rush, supplemented by a couple key transfers in Kevin Harris and Keion White. Linebacker Quez Jackson will also be joined by a transfer in Ayinde Eley. The secondary looks like a massive vulnerability; safeties Juanyeh Thomas and Tariq Carpenter are both talented players but struggled majorly in 2020, and Tre Swilling is the lone returning starter at corner. However, if these players develop and gain consistency in their starting roles, they could form a decent back end.
Overall, we should expect to see some improvement from Tech in 2020. How much remains to be seen. With the Irish, the Clemson Tigers, and the Georgia Bulldogs on the schedule, the ceiling for the Yellow Jackets is probably nine wins. Getting close to that number will depend on whether they improve enough to play with the likes of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Miami Hurricanes. Even if they only get a couple more wins than last season, I think you will see an improved team that plays cleaner games and is far more competitive than a year ago.
Notre Dame-Georgia Tech All-Time
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech have developed kinda-sorta rivalries during a few different eras, playing each other frequently in the 1920s, 1940s and 1960s-70s. The series never really turned into anything major, perhaps because it was so thoroughly dominated by the Irish. There have been notable moments for both sides though, including:
- A 69-14 obliteration of the Yellow Jackets during Notre Dame’s 1977 championship run.
- Chinedum Ndukwe’s jaw-dropping hit on Calvin Johnson in 2006.
- An infuriating Irish loss in the Gator Bowl to future Notre Dame coach-for-two-seconds George O’Leary.
- The game that summed up the entire 2007 Notre Dame season on opening weekend.
And, of course, this:
Yellow Jackets Hype
The Top 3 Players
Jeff Sims - The prized recruit at quarterback in in 2020, Sims comes into 2021 having spent a year learning the college game. In that year, he showed impressive dual-threat ability, passing for 1,881 yards and 13 touchdowns and running for 492 and 6. Sims also had plenty of growing pains, with a 54.9% completion rate and the aforementioned 13 picks, but that is to be expected of a true-freshman starter. If he is able to work through those kinks, gain consistency and get some protection, Sims could be a star for the Yellow Jackets.
Tre Swilling - This nod could also go to starting safeties Thomas and Carpenter, but I’ll give it to Swilling as the lone proven player in the back end for the Yellow Jackets. The back end of Tech’s defense could be a gaping hole in 2021 if they don’t improve elsewhere, in which case Swilling’s efforts in covering top receivers will be all the more important. His winning or losing key matchups could be a major difference in how games go for Georgia Tech in 2021.
Jahmyr Gibbs - Another early top recruit by Collins, Gibbs is coming off a strong 2020 showing in which he racked up 968 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns in a rotating role. Named a preseason all-ACC earlier this week, Gibbs could take the next step in 2021 and form a powerful 1-2 running punch alongside Sims.
The Yellow Jackets are hard to predict this year, as a team with a lot of talent but not a lot of experience, with unproven players at many positions. They have explosive players on offense and should be able to score a lot of points against many of their opponents, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough in this game, on the road on Senior Day against an Irish team that will have had nearly a full season to come together.
The offensive front for the Yellow Jackets is still a massive question mark that could cripple them against a solid Irish front seven. If the Irish can shut down the run and make Sims a one-dimensional threat, he may still be able to get some points on the board against a vulnerable Irish secondary, but I don’t think the firepower is there to outscore the Irish. Notre Dame’s powerful offensive line should have no problem clearing the way for Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree and co. against a patchwork defensive front. I also expect a big game from Michael Mayer, who is an absolute matchup nightmare for a Georgia Tech team that is shaky at both linebacker and safety.
All told, I expect Tech to show some fight in this game and score some points, but I have no doubt that the strength and experience of the Irish on both sides of the ball will carry the day in a comfortable 3-possession win.
Difficulty 1-10: 4
Early win or loss prediction: Irish win