ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Thomas #5 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets scores a second quarter touchdown against the Tulane Green Wave on September 12, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

And in that corner… The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


With two triple-option opponents in Notre Dame’s first six games, head coach Brian Kelly knew he and his defensive staff needed to spend a large portion of the offseason game-planning for an offensive attack that’s traditionally given the Irish fits. Come this Saturday, we’ll see how his staff did, with Paul Johnson’s high-powered Georgia Tech team coming to South Bend.

A match-up of Top 15 opponents, Johnson’s Yellow Jackets are a super-powered version of his former Navy teams. And while we’ve seen Ken Niumatalolo and the Midshipmen continue to make things tough on Notre Dame, Saturday is the first meeting between the Irish and Georgia Tech since the Yellow Jackets kicked off the nightmarish 2007 season with a one-sided shellacking of Notre Dame.

This game has major ramifications for both teams. And to get us prepared for what Georgia Tech plans on bringing to South Bend, Benjamin Tankersley of From the Rumble Seat was kind enough to answer some questions for us before the afternoon showdown.

I hope you enjoy.


When we chatted back in June, there was some talk that Georgia Tech’s offense wasn’t necessarily going to be as scary as the unit that took the ACC by storm in 2014. That was before the Yellow Jackets started the season putting up 69 and 65 points. Obviously, Alcorn State and Tulane aren’t the toughest opponents, but have you learned anything about this offense in the season’s first two games?

The major thing that the Jackets have learned this season is that our A-backs and B-backs are a lot further along than anybody thought. Coming into the season, we had virtually no experience coming back so needless to say, everyone was worried. Two games in, though, we’ve seen glimpses of brilliance from the B-back position with the combo of Patrick Skov and Marcus Marshall. A-backs have also been pretty impressive, specific redshirt freshman Qua Searcy.


Justin Thomas has attempted a whopping 13 passes this season (coincidentally the same amount as DeShone Kizer, now the starting quarterback for the Irish). Thomas ran just twice against Alcorn, but did carry the ball 10 times for 72 yards against Tulane in the 55-point victory. What have you seen from him this season? How has his game changed since 2014?

Justin Thomas has shown himself to be flexible and efficient no matter what the defense gives him. In the opener against Alcorn State, the Braves did what they could to key in on stopping Thomas, allowing him to just hand it to Skov or Marshall. Conversely, against Tulane, the Green Wave keyed in on stopping the dive which gave Thomas more opportunities to keep the ball. The only way his game has changed is that he is bigger and stronger and smarter in how he runs the offense.

Passing the ball is never something that Tech is gonna do much while Paul Johnson is the coach. That’s evidenced in Thomas’ 13 passes this season. However, his completion percentage is sitting at 76.9 percent (51.3 percent career) with 151 yards and three touchdowns. It’s just Thomas showing that he is becoming more efficient.


So Notre Dame’s already gotten bit by the injury bug, losing their starting nose guard, starting running back, starting quarterback and starting tight end before the end of the season’s second game. How healthy will Georgia Tech be when they come to South Bend this weekend?

For the most part, Tech is healthy. Their biggest loss so far this year has been the knee injury to redshirt senior backup quarterback Tim Byerly. Mostly used in goaline situations and mop up duty, Byerly’s injury leaves the Jackets without much experience behind Justin Thomas. His replacement, Matthew Jordan moved back to quarterback after giving starting the season with the A-backs.


Georgia Tech’s defense welcomes back nine starters and Jabari Hunt-Days from academic ineligibility, making the Ramblin’ Wreck defense awfully similar to Notre Dame’s from a returning personnel perspective. Again, it might be hard to gather much in the two games you’ve seen, but can you give us an update on the defense’s improvement?

So far the aspect of defense that looks the most improved is the defensive line, something that was expected by a large portion of the fanbase. Ted Roof has been able to get good pressure on opposing quarterbacks, whether it be with the blitz or just four. We’ll get a real idea of just how good this seemingly improved pass rush is this weekend against the Irish.


Paul Johnson did his best to downplay his rivalrywith defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who pulled the option offense from Georgia Southern in his brief time as head coach there. But between his time at Navy, his disdain for VanGorder’s decision and the importance of this game, do you get the sense that this game means more for Johnson than most?

This game absolutely means the world to Paul Johnson. Johnson can downplay it all he wants, and he will because that’s the guy he is, but I guarantee he’s had this game circled on his calendar for a while.


During the offseason, Notre Dame committed a veteran assistant (Bobby Elliott, a member of the past two coaching staffs and now one of the team’s analysts) to going out and studying the option. Brian Kelly recruiting a walk-on quarterback, who could pilot the scout team option so the Irish could get ready for Georgia Tech and Navy. Do you think it will help?

We’ll find out Saturday. I do think it’s funny that people will often refer to Tech’s offense as a “high school offense” and then things like this happen. One thing I do know is that even having a walk-on who played quarterback in an option offense in high school won’t be enough to adequately mimic the speed at which Tech runs their offense. There’s a reason that he’s a scout team quarterback. He’s not quite Justin Thomas.

The thought of committing a coach to study a teams offense to learn how to stop it scares me a little bit. Well it would if Paul Johnson wasn’t the head coach. This man knows his offense better than any coach in the country and is easily one of the best at making in-game adjustments.

You’ve watched a ton of option football. How have the defenses that slowed down the Yellow Jackets done it? What does Notre Dame have to do to slow down this Georgia Tech offense?

Different people do it different ways. It takes a good athletic defense that will play to their man and if Notre Dame wants to win, that’s exactly what they’re going to have to do.


We touched briefly on the critical injuries to the Irish. We’ve talked about the lack of challenges on Georgia Tech’s early schedule. How do you see this weekend playing out, and who do you ultimately think walks out of Notre Dame Stadium undefeated?

Coming into the season, I had this game down as a loss for Tech because I thought the offense would take a larger step back than they have. They didn’t and now Notre Dame has lost a ton of people to injuries. This doesn’t bode well for the Irish and I think Tech wins 38-24.

Redshirt off, Irish staff preparing Wimbush to play

The Opening - Day 1

The mystery surrounding freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush will be coming to an end. The blue-chip recruit is going to play.

Entering the 2015 season, the intentions of Notre Dame’s coaching staff were to redshirt Wimbush, hoping to get through the season with Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. But with Zaire done and Kizer moving into the starting lineup, Kelly is preparing to get Wimbush involved in the game plan, sooner rather than later.

“He’s going to have to play this year. So I haven’t decided yet, but he’s going to play this year,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Let’s try to get him as much experience as possible and we’re going to prepare him this week as if he’s going to play and go from there.”

That playing time could come this Saturday, even against a ranked team like Georgia Tech. And it certainly won’t need to be in mop-up duty, with Kelly understanding that it’s better to get Wimbush acclimated on his terms than on somebody elses.

(This is something Jac Collinsworth and I talked about during our most recent podcast.)

What Kelly and quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Mike Sanford can get out of Wimbush remains to be seen. But he’s an elite athlete with a really big arm, a high school sprinter who can do some things to help diversify the offense.

Kelly talked about some of the challenges they face preparing Wimbush for action, especially considering they’ll be working on the field with him for really the first time during today’s practice. Outside of teaching Wimbush to protect himself and how to handle the moment, Kelly actually thought he needed some more time to see what Wimbush can offer before giving an educated opinion on how he can help the team.

“I mean, there are great challenges. Now he’s a very confident young man. We’ll give him enough to handle and run our offense this week and this will be kind of the first opportunity that we get a good look at him a little bit. He’ll be diving a little bit deeper this week,” Kelly said.

But with the offense in desperate need to score points this weekend against a Georgia Tech attack that’s averaged nearly 47 points over their last 10 games (opponents that include Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State), the redshirt—not to mention the kid gloves—are coming off.

“He’s going to be in there and he’s going to be playing. I think we can add Brandon into the mix, and there are some things that he can do,” Kelly explained. “He’s got very good speed, he’s got a strong arm, he’s tough, and I think there are some things that could enhance our offense with him in the game as well.”


Video Round-up: Kelly talks secondary, Kizer and injuries


Brian Kelly met with the local media on Tuesday, moving Notre Dame forward into one of the biggest games of the season.

Below, you’ll find three video clips from his press conference, where Kelly talks about the need for the secondary to play better, his expectations for DeShone Kizer and what the Irish staff does to prevent injuries.

Durham Smythe suffers season-ending injury

Durham Smythe

STORY UPDATED: Notre Dame has lost another starter. Tight end Durham Smythe is reportedly done for the season. Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated broke the news Monday evening. Brian Kelly will likely confirm it on Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

It’s another hard-luck injury for the Irish, who are already without starting running back Tarean Folston and quarterback Malik Zaire. And Sampson reports that multiple injuries are plaguing Smythe, who reportedly injured his shoulder against Texas and then suffered an ankle injury against Virginia. Both will reportedly need surgery.

The tight end position has plenty of depth, though all of it (Smythe included) is unproven. Expect freshman Alizé Jones to be the beneficiary, likely deployed as a pass catcher while Tyler Luatua and Chase Hounshell could get the attached reps as a blocker. Nic Weishar, who had a strong camp, is also in the mix.

Smythe did not play his freshman season, saving a year of eligibility. He caught one pass last season as the primary backup to Ben Koyack. Before he was injured, he scored a touchdown on the fake field goal, his first scoring reception. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Tuesday AM update: Notre Dame released the following statement confirming Smythe’s season-ending surgeries, both a shoulder injury and MCL tear.

Johnson downplays rivalry with VanGorder

Paul Johnson

Of the many interesting subplots that we’ll be tracking this week heading into Notre Dame’s showdown with Georgia Tech, the rivalry between Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson and second-year Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder may be among the juiciest.

Johnson rose to prominence at Georgia Southern, where his triple-option offense helped win back-to-back FCS championships before he left for Navy in 2001. VanGorder, hired as head coach of the Eagles in 2005, got rid of the option, favoring a pro-style attack.

Among those reportedly unhappy about that change? Johnson.

Last November, USA Today’s Dan Wolken dug up the decade-old beef when writing a profile on Georgia Tech’s head coach in the days before the ACC Championship game. And while the intent of the story was to provide a look at the hard-charging ways of Johnson, who finally had the Yellow Jackets operating at maximum efficiency, it also revealed just another interesting storyline to follow heading into Saturday’s showdown.

From Wolken’s piece:

Paul Johnson had already been at Navy for four years when he placed a call to Roger Inman, his old do-everything man from Georgia Southern. They had known each other since their early 20s when Johnson was starting his long climb up the coaching ladder and Inman was doing whatever the program needed from driving buses to selling tickets, from looking after the equipment to even patching up injured players.

So when Johnson called in 2006 — by then, more successful and wealthier than ever — ranting and raving about how Georgia Southern’s first-year coach Brian VanGorder was trying to undo the triple option offense that had lifted the program to prominence, Inman knew it had wounded Johnson’s football soul.

“VanGorder had made some comments that he didn’t think too highly of the offense, and Paul called me up and said, ‘I need to talk to (athletics director) Sam (Baker) and get Georgia Southern on the schedule,'” Inman said. “I said, ‘Why do you want to play us?’ And he said, ‘Because I want to beat the hell out of Brian VanGorder.’ “

When asked about the grudge today, Johnson did his best to downplay any animosity, trying to keep the focus on the big picture.

“I don’t know where everybody got that,” Johnson said, according to ESPN’s David Hale. “I’ve never coached against the guy. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a conversation.”

(Uh, the USA Today, Paul. And that sounds like a classic non-denial, denial, right?)

Johnson’s history with Notre Dame is well chronicled, with the former Navy coach breaking the Midshipmen’s 43-game NCAA record-long losing streak in 2007 in a wild triple-overtime 46-44 victory. And after some very close calls against the Irish, back then Johnson did his best to downplay his team’s achievements in South Bend that weekend in the moments after the game.

“I’m just so happy for our players, especially our seniors because, you know, it is a big win for our program,” Johnson said back then. “It is a big win for the Academy, and I’m happy that I don’t have to answer anything else about a streak every time we play.”

For now, we’ll turn our attention away from the Georgia Southern connection. But come Saturday afternoon, you can’t help but think that two NBC cameras will be focused on Johnson and VanGorder, especially with Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator tasked with finding a better answer to the triple-option than the Irish had last season against Navy, VanGorder’s first attempt to stop it since officially removing it from the playbook as a head coach in 2005.