SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s defense pulled off a magic trick. In broad daylight, with 80,000 fans watching intently, Brian VanGorder’s defense took the power out of Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack.
The Irish moved to 3-0 on the season, beating the Yellow Jackets 30-22, a game that only got close after Notre Dame’s players started planning how to best use their 24-hour celebration window. Kicking off the game as home underdogs a week after escaping Charlottesville with a last-second victory, Brian Kelly’s team made a very loud statement on Saturday afternoon, winning with a first-time starting quarterback, a significant (and growing) body count, and by conquering a offense that had torched just about everyone it had faced.
“It was a program win today,” Kelly said in his postgame comments. “You can sustain some injuries, some key injuries, and still play at a high level. I think that’s what is for me most revealing.”
Powering their way through one of the schedule’s toughest games, Notre Dame moves to 3-0, thanks to a complete team performance. Let’s find out what else we learned.
Hat’s off to Brian VanGorder and company. All that work studying the option paid off.
There probably wasn’t a happier man in Notre Dame Stadium than Brian VanGorder. The second-year Irish defensive coordinator slayed the dragon on Saturday afternoon, with his defense dominating George Tech’s triple-option attack.
After putting up video game numbers against Alcorn State and Tulane, Paul Johnson’s offense came to South Bend and got shut down. Notre Dame’s front seven pummeled Georgia Tech’s front, aggressively attacked quarterback Justin Thomas, and dominated third down.
“I think our defensive plan was outstanding,” Kelly said. “I think our team executed it up until maybe the last couple of minutes where we probably lost a little bit of our focus. But all in all, just a tremendous performance by our football team.”
Joe Schmidt paced the Irish will ten tackles. A reconfigured starting lineup, with Drue Tranquill taking Max Redfield off the field, Jerry Tillery starting at nose guard, and Greer Martini starting over James Onwualu, pushed the Irish into a larger, more physical unit. It’s also a group that took the challenge of Justin Thomas and the Yellow Jacket’s offense head on.
“We wanted to be very aggressive. I think we were probably as aggressive as any defense that we had watched on film,” Kelly said. “Being very aggressive was an important element within the plan itself.”
That aggression likely contributed to a nightmarish start for Tech, with Paul Johnson forced to burn two early timeouts. It also made things tough on Thomas, who only gained 29 yards on 10 rushing attempts and completed just three of 12 passes. Outside of a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, the Irish went toe-to-toe with Georgia Tech and won a fist fight.
And that’s a victory that this coaching staff should cherish.
In his first start, DeShone Kizer did his job well enough to win.
Quarterback DeShone Kizer was not the story on Saturday afternoon. And that’s a very, very good thing. Kizer did a very nice job piloting the Irish offense, completing 20 of 28 passes for 238 yards, including hitting Will Fuller for a 46-yard touchdown pass.
And while he threw the Irish’s first interception of the season, Kizer executed the game plan designed for him and didn’t allow Georgia Tech’s pressure schemes to derail the offense.
“I thought he did great. He did exactly what we expected him to do,” captain Nick Martin said after the game. “He’s a very poised and intelligent quarterback. He did his job.”
Kizer talked about that job, speaking candidly after the game about the game plan the coaches installed, and how Kelly, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford made things easy on him.
“It was a very safe game plan. There wasn’t much that Georgia Tech could do that we didn’t have an answer for,” Kizer said after the game. “We had a really safe game plan and obviously that was great for me in my first start to be completely comfortable and ready for anything they could throw at me.
Kizer made a rookie mistake, locking on Corey Robinson in the red zone and throwing a bad interception. But he shook it off, owned the mistake and moved on to the next play.
“What I liked about him is he immediately takes ownership. He’s not a guy that’s looking to say, ‘Well, it’s his fault,’ or, ‘I didn’t know this,'” Kelly said. “I love the way he is able to move on and process it and get back to playing the game.”
C.J. Prosise is not just settling into a starting job, he’s producing at a historic pace.
Earlier this week, Blue & Gold Illustrated’s Lou Somogyi mentioned that C.J. Prosise’s 253 yards were the most of any Irish running back in the season’s first two games in over 50 years.
And that was before he ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
Prosise broke the game open on Saturday, his 91-yard touchdown run the longest ever in Notre Dame Stadium. It was the type of knockout punch Irish fans hoped Prosise could deliver, especially after watching him lead the Irish in yards per catch last season and look promising in spring practice when he was still moonlighting at the position.
Prosise is learning on the job, a scary though considering how quickly he is piling up yards. And with 22 carries, he’s also earning Kelly’s trust, with the Irish head coach leaning on the senior to carry the offense down the stretch.
Notre Dame ran for 215 yards, very nearly topping Georgia Tech, who the Irish held to 216 yards on the ground. And behind a strong performance by the Irish offensive line, Prosise is on pace for a monster season.
Another week, another game-breaking performance by Will Fuller.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Will Fuller torched another secondary. Notre Dame’s junior receiver is a touchdown scoring machine.
Fuller scored for the fifth time this season in the first quarter, inexplicably getting behind the Yellow Jackets secondary and sprinting into the south end zone. He very nearly scored again, taking a quick screen and zig-zagging his way through the Georgia Tech defense for a big gain, his first big play in the screen game.
Even as he becomes one of the nation’s most prolific pass catchers, Fuller is still finding a way to beat opponents. And that’s after they’ve probably game-planned for the junior all week.
“He’s just an unbelievable player,” Martin said after the game. “He’s so fast and when you see the ball is thrown to him, you know the play is about to be made.”
Fuller had his first drop of the season, costing the Irish a third-down conversion. But his six catches for 131 yards makes that three-straight games going over 100 yards, with Fuller now having scored 20 touchdowns in his last 16 games.
Brian Kelly’s game plan tells you everything you need to know about this football team.
First-time starter at quarterback. A defense that just gave up 27 points to Virginia. And an opponent that could’ve forced scoreboard operators to make room for a third-digit. You couldn’t have blamed Kelly if he managed the game hoping to avoid risk.
Instead, Notre Dame’s head coach went the opposite direction. An all-out defensive attack on the triple-option. Using his timeouts on defense to keep the clock alive. And never blinking when things didn’t go as planned.
This was a football game that could’ve been lost. Red zone interceptions likely had fans wondering if the sky was falling. Justin Yoon clanked one extra point off the upright and missed another. The clock-saving measures back-fired when freshman Alizé Jones coughed up the football giving Georgia Tech another shot to score. And the devastating knee injury to Drue Tranquill, robbed the Irish a key element in their defensive game plan.
But the Irish didn’t panic. That’s not Kelly, nor is that this football team. Even as Notre Dame likely exits Saturday with their season-ending injury list growing to a half-dozen, the mental strength of this football team and the depth that Kelly has accumulated has turned this group into one that has the ingredients to be special.
There are no statues resurrected for a strong first quarter of the season. And the 2014 edition of the Irish were halfway to an undefeated regular season when the bottom fell out.
But the resolve of the head coach was matched by that of his players. And after the game, linebacker Joe Schmidt said it best when he talked about what it means to him to be playing with this group.
“I’m so proud. I love being a member of this defense. I love being a member of this football team. Before this football game, you look in the next guy’s eye and you know that he’s going to fight for you…It’s a powerful thing, and I’m proud of each guy on this team and I love just being a member of this team.”