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Notre Dame maintains undefeated record with 31-13 win over Georgia Tech

| Monday, November 2, 2020

In their second-straight road game, Notre Dame traveled to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech for the first time since 2015. While the Irish were the heavy favorite over the Yellow Jackets, this 31-13 victory came down to game management and discipline. On one end, the Notre Dame defense, led by graduate student defensive lineman and captain Daelin Hayes, held Georgia Tech to 238 total yards and only two red zone attempts. On the other end, graduate student quarterback Ian Book, sophomore running back Kyren Williams and graduate student wide receiver Javon McKinley led the way for the Irish offense.

Taking the field at the 22-yard line, graduate student quarterback Ian Book immediately made a point to silence his doubters, connecting on five straight passes. Book ran and threw for two more downs before handing the ball over to Williams who struggled to find a gap through the Georgia Tech defensive line. A quick 11-yard pass to senior tight end Brock Wright followed by 23 yards from Williams brought the Irish into striking distance. Book, Williams and freshman running back Chris Tyree all chipped away at the distance between the line of scrimmage and the goal line. Starting from the eight-yard line, Book found junior wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. in the back of the end zone to put the Irish on the board. This was only Wilkins’ fifth catch on the season and his first career score.

Following senior kicker Jonathan Doerer’s successful extra point, the offense returned to the sideline for a brief rest while the defense handled the Georgia Tech offense in a mere two minutes and 41 seconds. With true freshman Jeff Sims under center, the Yellow Jackets made it clear they wanted to keep the ball on the ground. Sims has struggled with ball security early in the season, throwing 10 interceptions — eight of which came in the first three games of the season. While he managed to escape today’s game unscathed in that category, the run game failed to materialize the points the Yellow Jackets needed.

The Irish offense returned to the field for the final three-and-a-half minutes of the quarter and moved the ball 50 yards, highlighted by a 15-yard catch by McKinley. Returning for the second quarter, the Irish were poised to take a two-touchdown lead before Williams was stripped of the ball along the left sideline. Georgia Tech redshirt sophomore defensive back Zamari Walton scooped up the ball and was off to the races, bolting 93 yards past the entire Notre Dame offense to tie things up at 7-7.

Despite the swing in momentum, Kelly said he wanted to ensure that Williams and the entire offense didn’t let that one play dictate the outcome of the game.

“You’re just re-emphasizing the things that he needs to deal with,” Kelly said. “In that situation, he’s trying to get extra yardage. This is a defense that’s trying to rip at the ball. But also that we trust you.”

Hyosub Shin | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Irish quarterback Ian Book prepares to hand the ball off to junior running back C’Bo Flemister during the 31-13 Notre Dame victory against Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Irish didn’t dwell on that turnover for long. No less than four minutes later, Williams barreled through the offensive line for two yards into the end zone. However, none of that would have been possible without the 15-yard facemask penalty by Georgia Tech and the 21-yard rush by Tyree that put the Irish in scoring position.

“It’s hard sometimes to overcome a 97 or 93-yard return for a touchdown, but we were able to,” Kelly said of the Irish response. “… You can’t do that too many times and hope come out on the winning end of things. You just try to be positive with them. Mistakes are made, we’re not perfect. But next time in there, you’ve got to do a great job of holding on the football.”

For much of the remaining of the half, both teams exchanged possession with neither able to string together more than two first downs in a drive. Ultimately, the Irish found a breakthrough at the foot of Doerer who knocked in his three points from the 32-yard line to put the Irish up 17-7 at half.

Returning from the locker room, Georgia Tech looked to cut into the lead, but this time it was the Notre Dame defense with the response. As defensive coordinator Clark Lea sent more pass pressure, Sims struggled to make it out of the pocket before eventually getting sacked just outside of the red zone by Hayes and fumbling the ball.

“He was he was at a different level of play,” Kelly said of Hayes’ performance on Saturday. “If he can continue to play at that level with a Kyle Hamilton and the other pieces to this defense, then we’re going to get to where we want to be.”

The Notre Dame offense made sure to capitalize on this turnover, moving the ball quickly downfield with the help of McKinley and his 31-yard catch. In the end, it came down to Williams with back-to-back rushes to extend the Irish lead to 17. McKinley lead all receivers with 93 yards, and Kelly said he’s proving to be a favorite target for Book in deep yardage.

“This week, Javon made some big plays for us,” Kelly said. “And that’s the nature of what we’ll probably see most of the year. We’ve got two big receivers on the outside that are also very capable of catch-and-run.”

Kelly said the wear-and-tear of the game started to show throughout the third quarter as both teams struggled to move the chains and their defenses got caught committing unnecessary penalties.

“We made some critical errors in the second half that we really don’t make. Too many 15-yard penalties,” he said. “…There’s some things that we’ve got to clean up going into next week against a better opponent.”

However, both teams managed to get on the board one more time at the opening of the fourth quarter. This time, the Irish turned to junior running back C’Bo Flemister to wear down the defensive line. Flemister registered his second score of the season and Doerer connected on the extra point for good measure. Jeff Sims responded with a few precise throws of his own and then a series of runs by redshirt junior running back Jordan Mason to put another six points on the board for the Yellow Jackets.

The Irish will return to Notre Dame stadium for the first time in three weeks for a highly-anticipated matchup against No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 8. Kelly and his staff will rely on that same versatile offense and disciplines defense to keep them competitive.

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