Highlights: Notre Dame 55, Georgia Tech 0 — The Irish defense outscores the Wreck offense

7 Comments

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has been in the position before. Notre Dame’s fifth-year defensive end picked up a fumble two years ago against Virginia, then coming from defensive tackle and thus 17 pounds heavier, and rumbled toward the end zone only for Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins to track him down after outrunning Jamir Jones’ block attempt.

Tagovailoa-Amosa came within seven yards of scoring that day, and his teammates had never let him forget about that close chance at the end zone.

“He wasn’t quite fast enough,” current Irish junior defensive tackle Howard Cross said this Saturday. “We always made fun of him for that.”

So when Tagovailoa-Amosa scooped up a fumble against Georgia Tech and began rumbling — much quicker this time, despite about 20 more yards of ground to cover — toward the end zone, Cross had no doubt the captain would get to the goal line this time, providing the final score in No. 8 Notre Dame’s 55-0 rout of the Yellow Jackets and the only touchdown from a senior on Senior Day.

He might not have if not for the defensive lineman that spurred the whole sequence into action. Junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey not only strip-sacked Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates, but Foskey then also blocked Yates down the field, keeping him from reprising Perkins’ spoiler role. When Foskey spotted another Yellow Jacket coming around the outside of Tagovailoa-Amosa’s touchdown jaunt, he quite literally threw Yates at receiver Kyric McGowan, taking them both out of the play at the 30-yard line, some 30 yards after Foskey began blocking Foskey and 40 yards after he sacked him.

“I got [Tagovailoa-Amosa’s] back,” Foskey said after a day in which he created two defensive touchdowns. “I was blocking the quarterback. I knew that’s the one person that can probably stop the whole thing, the whole touchdown. He’s really fast.

“I saw the receiver, I tried to throw the quarterback into the receiver. I was trying to show [Tagovailoa-Amosa], I got his back, and he got mine with the touchdown.”

The only other possible Georgia Tech tackler was running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who Tagovailoa-Amosa unceremoniously discarded to the turf with a stiff arm.

“It was amazing,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Isaiah Foskey did a great job of taking care of the quarterback and the only other person that had the speed was the running back and thankfully he’s not a great tackler, that’s why he’s a running back.”

With all due respect to Foskey’s work — also gifting junior linebacker Jack Kiser an interception return for a touchdown off a quarterback pressure — and junior running back Kyren Williams’ two touchdowns as well as freshman running back Logan Diggs’ pair of scores, Tagovailoa-Amosa’s touchdown defined Notre Dame’s Senior Day in 2022, particularly the last seven yards of his touchdown.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
For the second time this year, Notre Dame (10-1) had multiple defensive touchdowns in one game, a season first since the 2002 season. As soon as the Irish sports information department trotted out that tidbit, beat writers knew the primary contributors from 2002: Vontez Duff and Shane Walton.

Whenever this next occurs, the name that will be quickly rattled off about 2021 will be Foskey’s. Largely thanks to him, Notre Dame has 38 sacks this year, the most of Kelly’s 12 years in South Bend and a number last topped by 39 in 2003.

As soon as that year was mentioned, Justin Tuck’s name came to mind, and in fact, that was the season he set the Irish record of 13.5 sacks, a feat still vaguely within Foskey’s reach with 10 thus far this year.

“You can watch the film for yourself,” Kelly said. “He’s a guy that you don’t want to leave him out there by himself.”

Notre Dame ended up with six sacks against the Wreck, giving that defense 13 in just the last two weeks. Foskey did not spend much of last week in the offensive backfield, but that was because Virginia was so focused on Foskey that the rest of the Irish defensive front could feast. This week, some specific play designs allowed Foskey to shine, forcing two fumbles and the Kiser interception.

“The pick stunts were great,” Kelly said. “[Defensive coordinator Marcus] Freeman and [defensive line coach Mike] Elston worked really well together today. They were on it. We had some good things going on up front. The design of some of those were — they were coming clean for us, and sometimes you hit them really well, some weeks you don’t. This week we hit a lot of those stunts right on.”

Six sacks for a loss of 52 yards, led by Cross’ pair, is how you keep a team to 5-of-11 on third downs. They led to Georgia Tech needing an average of 8.5 yards on those third downs, going 0-of-6 on third-and-longs.

EASIEST SCORE OF THE GAME
No, it was not Kiser’s touchdown, though he had no one to stiff arm on his 43-yard interception return to start the day. Rather, sophomore Michael Mayer’s 52-yard touchdown catch may as well have been a throw in practice from quarterback Jack Coan.

When did Mayer know he was going to be able to cruise into the end zone?

“Probably when that ball left Jack’s hand,” he said after finishing with three catches for 86 yards. “The safety was kind of one-high. They triple-teamed [senior tight end George] Takacs on that play, I ran up the seam and Jack did a good job of finding me, pretty easy touchdown.”

STAT OF THE GAME
This was Notre Dame’s largest shutout win since Lou Holtz’s last game in South Bend, a 62-0 drubbing of Rutgers, 25 years ago this week.

In recent years, the Irish had made a habit of winning these blowouts by the coincidental score of 52-0, be it against South Florida in 2020 or Bowling Green in 2019. Including those two, Notre Dame had managed eight shutouts in those 25 years, never having more than two within three seasons — 38-0 against Wake Forest in 2012 and 31-0 against Michigan in 2014 — though 2002 did feature a pair on its own, 22-0 against Maryland and 42-0 against Rutgers.

A FEW MORE STATS
— Notre Dame has now won five straight on Senior Day, by an average of 41.2 to 11.6.
— Notre Dame has won at least 10 games in five straight years, a first in program history, now at 53 wins in those five years, and counting.
— Notre Dame has not lost in November since 2017.
— Notre Dame has beaten 41 straight unranked opponents, a stretch dating back to 2016’s Senior Day.

QUOTE OF THE GAME
Kelly did not quite get into politicking after this victory, letting the lopsided score speak for itself, but he acknowledged that much …

“What’s not to like about what happened today? No injuries that I was informed of. The players played to their potential and we go three weeks now without giving up a touchdown. For those that are interested in style points — and you know you don’t like me for this, but I’m not — I covered that one, too.