Head to Head: Georgia Tech vs. Notre Dame
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, September 17, 2015
YELLOW JACKETS PASSING
With Georgia Tech relying on their spread option offense, redshirt junior quarterback Justin Thomas doesn’t drop back to pass very often. When he does, though, he is impressive. Last season Thomas led a Yellow Jacket aerial attack that ranked first in the NCAA in pass efficiency. This season, Thomas is 10-of-13 for 151 yards and three touchdowns, which would rank first again if he had enough attempts.
Thomas’s receivers, however, are unproven, as his top four targets from last season are gone. This year, Michael Summers leads Georgia Tech with just 64 yards on four receptions.
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame’s secondary struggled mightily against Virginia. KeiVarae Russell, Max Redfield and Cole Luke all got beat on deep balls, which could happen again with the constant threat of play action.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
YELLOW JACKETS RUSHING
Last season, Georgia Tech rushed for 342.1 yards per game, good for second in the country. So far this season, Tech is averaging 457.5 rushing yards per game. Granted, that was against Alcorn State and Tulane, but the numbers still speak for themselves.
Minus quarterback Justin Thomas, who ran for 1,086 yards a season ago, the Yellow Jackets lost their top four backs from 2014. In their spread option system, however, it is just plug-and-play with running backs. B-back Patrick Skov leads the way in terms of touches, carrying the ball 23 times for 122 yards and four touchdowns so far. Fellow B-back Marcus Marshall has totalled 221 yards on the ground, averaging 15.8 yards per attempt. Outside of that duo, Tech relies on Thomas (101 yards, two touchdowns) and top-returner Broderick Snoddy (86 yards), among others.
The Notre Dame front seven, for their part, has been stout against the run so far this season, holding opponents to 93.5 yards per game on the ground. The option is obviously a different animal, but Irish assistant Bob Elliott has been prepping for it all season. Look for a back-and-forth battle in the trenches.
YELLOW JACKETS OFFENSIVE COACHING
Although running the option play after play may seem mundane, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson finds a way to get creative.
The Georgia Tech football Twitter handle seems to agree, as it recently mentioned that Tech had two of the ACC’s top five trick plays in 2014, according to the ACC Digital Network. Johnson has always added a little ingenuity to his offense, so he will certainly have a few tricks up his sleeve against the Irish defense.
Brian VanGorder will be tasked with stopping the option, something he couldn’t do last year when Navy put up 39 points and gained 336 yards on the ground. His 4-3 base defense has always been blitz heavy, but he’ll have to alter his philosophy against a potent Tech rushing attack. If Navy can pound the football and average 5.2 yards per carry, look for a more talented Tech team to be even better.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
YELLOW JACKETS SPECIAL TEAMS
With Georgia Tech blowing out its first two opponents, it did not attempt a field goal in either game. Kicker Harrison Butker was, however, perfect on extra points during the first two games at 18-for-18. The last two seasons Butker has been the main kicker and gone a combined 21-for-32.
Punter Ryan Rodwell has been less than stellar, averaging 40.7 yards on three attempts.
In the return game, Jamal Golden is the starter at both positions. Golden hasn’t done much returning kickoffs but has been impressive returning punts, where he has three returns for 89 yards with a long of 44 yards.
Between a kicker that hasn’t seen the field in important situations and a returner that has the ability to break one, this one is a toss-up.
This might be the most intriuging part of the game, considering sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer is making his first start.
Kizer struggled with accuracy early when he came on in relief against Virginia, but stepped up on the final drive, making a gutsy 39-yard pass to receiver Will Fuller that gave Notre Dame the win.
Brian Kelly will have had an entire week to make a plan for Kizer, and Kizer will have recieved invaluable first team reps. On the other hand, the Georgia Tech defense will have had an entire week to prepare for Kizer and figure out how to fluster the young quarterback.
Kizer has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, although he will miss starting tight end Durham Smythe, out for the season with knee and shoulder injuries. The line in front of Kizer has been stellar in its own right, not allowing a sack while keeping pressure off the quarterback. Kizer should be able to simply get the ball in his receivers’ hands and let them make plays, but playing his first game against a ranked foe with a veteran secondary will be very challenging.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
The Irish are without their top five leading rushers from last season, yet they’ve looked just fine on the ground so far in 2015.
Senior C.J. Prosise in particular has been fantastic, carrying the load while running for 253 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Josh Adams will back up Prosise, although he didn’t play much against Virginia. Adams had an impressive debut against Texas, scoring two touchdown on five carries.
The most interesting aspect of the Notre Dame rushing attack will be quarterback DeShone Kizer. Malik Zaire was more of a natural runner and someone Kelly said could be utilized 10 times per game. Kizer is a bigger body but can still move the chains with his feet when asked.
Tech doesn’t have anyone with more than eight tackles on defense, but that can be atrributed to their blowout wins. Defensive tackle Adam Gotsis leads a solid front, but they’ll have their hands full with Prosise.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
It will be very interesting to see how Kelly adapts, creating a gameplan that utilizes Kizer’s strengths. Kelly said after the Virginia win that Kizer is very deep into the Irish offensive playbook. Furthermore, each quarterback has their top 10 running and passing plays that they are comfortable with.
With roughly two quarters of expeirence, including a game-winning drive, Kizer is not necessarily being thrown into the fire. Still, the Irish will keep it simple for his first start and not make him win the game all by himself.
Because of the change in quarterback and the repercussions of that, look for Georgia Tech to have the edge here.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
Although it didn’t even involve the kicker, the Notre Dame special teams unit made headlines last weekend with its fake field goal touchdown in the first quarter.
That won’t be common week-to-week; instead, freshman kicker Justin Yoon will look to add to his 3-for-5 start. Yoon has a strong leg, but missed a 34-yarder last week.
Punter Tyler Newsome was a bright spot for the Irish last week, avergaging 55.8 yards per punt. Kelly was pleased with his performance but wants Newsome to focus on his coffin corner kicks and preventing touchbacks.
On the return end, Amir Carlisle hasn’t seen success yet, averaging just 15 yards per return. Punt returner C.J. Sanders has made some questionable decisions, but also has showed flashes of brilliance, including a 30-yard return against Virginia.