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FOOTBALL: Dynamic duo highlight G-Tech attack

Chris Khorey | Friday, August 31, 2007

Last season, as Notre Dame prepared to face Georgia Tech in the opening game of the season, Irish defensive coaches had one name on their minds – Calvin Johnson.

But the Yellow Jackets’ All-American wide receiver, who caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame last fall, has moved on. Johnson was the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, selected by the Detroit Lions in April.

Into his place step two players that were on Georgia Tech’s roster during the game last September in Atlanta but were hardly household names – running back Tashard Choice and quarterback Taylor Bennett.

Choice was the Yellow Jackets’ starting running back against the Irish last year, but he carried only 14 times for 58 yards.

Bennett was the back-up to then-starter Reggie Ball and had only seen action in three previous games. He did not play against the Irish.

Fast forward to a year later and Choice and Bennett make up a backfield duo that has Yellow Jackets fans excited about their offense.

Choice came into his own late last season, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his last seven games, including a 169-yard performance in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia.

“Obviously the mainstay of their running game is [Choice],” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “The thing about this kid, that I always admire with running backs, is he’s very, very durable.”

Choice said he felt like he could have run for more than 100 yards in last season’s game against Notre Dame, but then-offensive coordinator Patrick Nix decided to concentrate on the passing game.

“We didn’t run the football as much, we didn’t convert on that many third downs,” Choice said. “Last year we had a chance to win the game but we came up a little short. We knew that we could compete with anyone. This season we want to show people that we can go into a hostile environment and win games like that and do that for the course of the season.”

Bennett can point to his performance last year against the Mountaineers as proof that he can play well in big games. He threw for 326 yards on 19-for-29 passing and two touchdowns.

“[The Gator Bowl] helped him tremendously,” Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey said. “I think it helped everybody tremendously. The more experience you have, and the more positive experiences you have, it helps you.”

For his career, Bennett has completed 45 percent of his passes for 668 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions.

But Weis said what impressed him most on film was Bennett’s composure.

“The thing that stood out about this kid is he shows very good poise,” Weis said. “He has a strong arm. I think he’s a very good athlete.”

Bennett will have to be poised coming into a hostile environment at Notre Dame Stadium against the new defensive scheme of the Irish under defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. But Gailey said his quarterback will be up to the challenge.

“I think that our guys can make the adjustments that are necessary,” he said. “The experience factor really plays a big part into that.”

Although Bennett has yet to start a true road game for the Yellow Jackets, Gailey said Bennett will be unfazed by the mystique of Notre Dame.

“You can’t let the situation get to you,” Gailey said. “Our guys have been in some pretty tough places to play in and have been successful, so I don’t think I have to go make a long speech about the Four Horsemen or anything.”