Notre Dame turned in another stellar defensive performance, at least until they relaxed in a sloppy fourth quarter, as the Fighting Irish beat Georgia Tech by 31-13 on Saturday. The offense flexed its muscles when it was needed most, but Notre Dame’s performance had all the earmarks of a team looking ahead to next week’s game.
The Irish started fast by taking the opening kickoff and grinding out an 81-yard touchdown drive in just under nine minutes. Ian Book hit Joe Wilkins from eight yards out for the score.
It appeared the visitors would turn the contest into a romp when they quickly got the ball back and moved into scoring territory, but disaster struck. Kyren Williams was stripped of the ball inside the five yard line and Zamari Walton returned it 93 yards to tie the game.
Notre Dame quickly regrouped and Williams atoned for his mistake. His hard running put the Irish in the end zone this time as the game entered the second quarter.
While the defense continued to stifle the Yellow Jackets, Jonathan Doerer added a field goal before halftime to give his team a 17-7 lead at the break.
Tech took the ball in the third period with renewed energy. A 39-yard pass from Jeff Sims to Jalen Camp moved the ball into scoring range, but a strip sack and fumble recovery by Notre Dame stopped them cold. Once again, Book and the offense came alive and drove impressively down the field to open up a 24-7 advantage.
Georgia Tech’s next drive was also ended by a sack. Jude Kelly came on to attempt a field goal, but it was comically wide and short. Notre Dame came right back and stormed through the Tech defense for another touchdown. Georgia native C’Bo Flemister finished the drive with a three-yard run for a 31-7 lead early in the final stanza.
Once the outcome was no longer in doubt, Tech began to move the ball while Notre Dame’s defense lost its edge. A Jordan Mason run capped a long scoring march that was characterized by blown defensive assignments and sloppy tackling. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, leaving the margin at 31-13.
The Irish were further embarrassed when the Yellow Jackets recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the defense rose up one last time to stop them.
It was not an artistic display of football, but Notre Dame outgained Tech by 426-238. Coach Brian Kelly rightfully acknowledged in his post game remarks that his team could not afford to repeat the mistakes of this game next week.
Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions:
Can Notre Dame’s defense penetrate Tech’s mountainous offensive line? They didn’t make a dent in the first half, but Daelin Hayes and his mates caused plenty of havoc in the second.
Will Sims create problems for the Irish as did Florida State’s Jordan Travis? Not on a consistent basis. Sims is just not accurate enough as a passer at this stage of his career.
Can Kyle Hamilton treat his hometown fans to an interception? No, but he blew up a fourth down play by Tech when the outcome was still in doubt, and later stuffed a two-point conversion attempt.
Will Book find new targets and improve his passing efficiency? He made some good throws to McKinley and the scoring pass to Wilkins, but Book is still difficult to watch at times.
Can the Irish offensive line rebound after giving up 12 tackles for loss at Pitt? They were somewhat better but still allowed a few sacks and numerous pressures.
Will the Irish special teams have another strong performance? Another blown attempt to recover an onside kick, which is alarming. We all got a laugh out of the Georgia Tech field goal attempt.
Can Notre Dame play with high intensity and force Tech into key mistakes? The effort was there, but mainly in spurts. It was inconsistent, though, but enough to beat this opponent.
Will any Irish freshman receivers get a chance to have an impact? No, and that was a shame.
Despite the 6-0 mark, the Irish still exhibit several characteristics that make one less confident in their chances to keep their winning streak alive. There are too many head-scratching and wasted offensive possessions, red zone play calling is often horrid, and Book is still far too inconsistent. Defensively, there are holes at linebacker that good teams will exploit, and special teams are capable of a catastrophe every time they are on the field.
Kelly and his staff have a week to fix these issues. The giant asteroid that is heading to South Bend won’t have it’s usual pilot, but they are still good enough to obliterate the Northern Indiana landscape.
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