Plamondon: Team win proves Irish are for real this season
Brian Plamondon | Monday, September 21, 2015
Not often does the No. 8 team in the country play as underdogs in their own stadium. It was no matter for Notre Dame, who quieted Georgia Tech on Saturday night in a win that was nothing short of impressive.
Two-and-a-half-point underdogs, Notre Dame handled Georgia Tech in what head coach Brian Kelly called a “program win.” Perhaps just as impressive as getting the win was the way in which the Irish did it, stopping a Yellow Jacket option offense that had been averaging 457.5 rushing yards over its first two contests.
Pegged by many as the make-or-break game of the young Irish season, Notre Dame looked confident in all facets of the game. Unlike last week, there wasn’t one position group that was a weak link. Although much credit should go to the coaching staff for their game planning for the Yellow Jackets, the majority should go to “Team 127” for executing that game plan to a tee.
Credit Will Fuller for hauling in big catch after big catch — many of which he had to adjust to mid-route — and finishing the day with 131 yards and a touchdown. Credit C.J. Prosise, consistently pounding the ball up the middle en route to a career day with 198 yards and three touchdowns.
But this was a team win in every sense of the word.
Notre Dame’s offensive line dominated its Georgia Tech counterparts, handily winning the battle in the trenches. With a quarterback making his first career start, the line paved the way for Prosise to find open holes and take some of the pressure off DeShone Kizer.
For his part, Kizer stuck to Kelly’s blueprint and didn’t try to do too much, relying on the weapons around him. Instead he played within his means and, as a result, limited his mistakes.
On defense, the Irish never deviated from their plan to contain Georgia Tech’s supposedly dynamic offense. The defensive front, led by strong play from Isaac Rochell and Jerry Tillery, clogged the middle nicely against Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas and B-back Patrick Skov, forcing the Yellow Jackets outside. The Irish defense was also confident in all the different looks it could throw at the Yellow Jackets as well, playing aggressive and constantly shifting from a 3-5 to a 4-4 to a 4-3 package.
What might be most impressive about this Notre Dame squad so far is that it doesn’t seem to have one star that shines brighter than the rest. Both sides of the ball are balanced, relying on a number of different contributors to make plays.
Although the Irish might not be the best team in the country, few can argue that they aren’t the most resilient. Already down five starters through the first two weeks, Notre Dame has adopted the plug-and-play mentality, confident that any of its players can step up and fit into the system.
Adversity can break a football team when it strikes this early in the season, but so far it seems like it Notre Dame is using it to fuel the fire. Last season, the Irish faced it in a heartbreaking loss to Florida State as well as losing on-field leader Joe Schmidt for the season, subsequently limping home after a No. 5 midyear ranking. The makeup of this team seems different.
After a textbook win against a strong Georgia Tech team, one thing is abundantly clear — Notre Dame is a player on the national stage. The Irish certainly have enough talent to compete with the best college football has to offer right now. But just a quarter of the way through the season, Notre Dame must continue to prove that games like Georgia Tech and Texas are not flukes.
Still, if the Irish coaches can concoct a plan for the top ranked rushing offense in the NCAA, and have their players execute on that plan, it shows this Notre Dame team can be special. It won’t get any easier, planning for the likes of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and USC’s Cody Kessler, but the Irish can certainly use Georgia Tech as a blueprint.
When they do, they won’t have to rely on one or two players to save the day — they can put their trust in Team 127, knowing this Irish squad is greater than just the sum of its parts.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.