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Party like it’s 1996: Irish thrash Yellow Jackets for biggest win in 25 years

| Sunday, November 21, 2021

Despite being 3-7, Georgia Tech had lost just one game by more than 11 points this season. Ahead of Saturday’s clash, head coach Geoff Collins noted that the Yellow Jackets had had chances to win in the final minutes of all but one game. 

Make that two. 

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior linebacker Jack Kiser took off with an interception to turn it into a pick-six in Notre Dame’s 55-0 home win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Notre Dame came out needing to dominate and pass the eye test. They did just that, scoring on all six of their first-half drives, notching a pick-six and absolutely thrashing Collins’ Yellow Jackets by a final score of 55-0, the biggest blowout in the Brian Kelly era. It was the biggest Notre Dame win since Nov. 23rd, 1996, when the Irish beat Rutgers 62-0.  

“It was a terrific day — what’s not to like about what happened today? Guys executed at a high level,” head coach Brian Kelly said.

The Irish had plenty of standouts in the box score: Graduate transfer quarterback Jack Coan finished 15-20 for 285 yards and only played one series of the second half. Eleven different receivers recorded receptions for the Irish. Junior running back Kyren Williams had two touchdowns and 87 all-purpose yards, nearly all of which were accumulated in the first half. Freshman running back Logan Diggs only touched the ball three times, but he gained 26 yards and notched a pair of touchdowns as well. Senior receiver Kevin Austin paced the Irish with 89 receiving yards on two catches, while sophomore tight end Michael Mayer caught three passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. 

Sophomore running back Chris Tyree started things off strong for the Irish with a 51-yard kickoff return. A 38-yard pass to Austin followed, but two sacks derailed the drive and limited Notre Dame to a field goal. 

The Irish defense set the tone early and often. On Georgia Tech’s first play from scrimmage, junior linebacker JD Bertrand brought the heat and was centimeters from forcing a fumble — the play was ruled an incomplete pass after junior linebacker Jack Kiser scooped up the loose ball. However, Kiser got his revenge a few plays later. With Georgia Tech at midfield, sophomore vyper Isaiah Foskey brought pressure and quarterback Jordan Yates tried to throw it away. Kiser was there and had the easiest interception of his life, taking it back the other way for his second pick-six of the season. 

Foskey delivered a big hit to Yates as he released the ball — a big enough hit that he didn’t even realize the pass had been picked off.

“I didn’t even know he caught it. I was just trying to wrap [Yates] up and heard the crowd go and realized something definitely happened,” Foskey said,. “That was a cool experience to see Jack Kiser running into the end zone. It’s fun to see that and to contribute to it.” 

After that, the defense allowed 16 yards on two Yellow Jacket drives before the Irish offense put two touchdowns on the board. A methodical 9-play, 65-yard drive did the trick, with a fourth-down conversion from just outside the red zone being the highlight of the drive. Williams polished it off with a nine-yard run, waltzing into the end zone untouched. The second scoring drive was a little flashier, as the Irish ran a tricky end around out of a power formation on third-and-1. This one went to Austin, which is the first time he’s gotten the ball on that play this year. 

Kelly commented on the different looks created by the end arounds.

“We hadn’t shown Kevin as a guy that we run the handoff sweep too — he mostly has been blocking the safety,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to get out on the perimeter, get those tough yards and be creative to pick up one or two yards to keep the chains moving.” 

The end around set up a 52-yard pass to Mayer, who was completely uncovered. That was enough for a comfortable 24-0 edge at the end of the first quarter.

“We have one of the best tight ends, if not the best tight end, in the country,” Kelly said, praising the sophomore after another big game. 

The rout rolled on into the second quarter, as the touchdown pushups continued in a furious frenzy across the Irish student section. Notre Dame poured on 21 points in the quarter. Chunk pass plays of 19 and 16 yards — plus a 12-yard gain on another reverse — motored Coan and co. into the red zone. This time, Diggs provided the finishing touches, with a powerful 5-yard run into the end zone. 

The running backs were further glorified as Notre Dame piled on the points. On the next Irish drive, Williams ripped off a 26-yard run on the edge to kickstart the drive. Three plays later, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees dialed up a fake screen that worked to perfection. Coan faked to Tyree on his left, turned right and dumped it to Diggs, who took it 20 yards to the house. Offensive lineman Josh Lugg delivered a thundering block to clear the way for Diggs. On their final scoring drive of the half, Notre Dame started on their own 11-yard line. Coan immediately hit Austin for a 52-yard gain to jumpstart the possession. Williams and tight end George Takacs got some work in, taking short passes for 18- and 19-yard gains on the drive. From a yard out, Williams bulled his way in for touchdown number three. Notre Dame took a 45-0 lead to the locker room.

“We’ve found our offensive identity,” Mayer said after the game, referencing a press conference from after the Cincinnati loss when he said the Irish were still searching for one. “It’s late in the year, but our offense is really coming together.” 

Although the second half was a formality, it was not devoid of highlights. Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner sprinted 68 yards to spark a drive that resulted in a field goal for the Irish. Then, Foskey created another defensive touchdown with a strip-sack that was picked up by graduate defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. The 268-pound senior glided — or rumbled — down the field for the scoop-and-score. Foskey and senior defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola had key blocks to help Tagovailoa-Amosa score in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium. 

“I was blocking the quarterback because I knew that was the guy that could maybe stop the whole play,” Foskey said of his block, before commenting on his sack on the play. “I tried to go for the tackle, went for the ball and got Myron a touchdown.” 

The Irish didn’t notch an offensive touchdown in the second half, but they certainly did not need it. They passed the eye test and then some, running out the clock en route to finish off the victory. The biggest storyline was keeping the shutout — the Irish had held their previous two opponents without a touchdown.

“Defense always wants to pitch a shutout. Finally got the complete shutout today — no points on the board. So great to see that at the end of the year,” Foskey said. 

Notre Dame’s defense has given up 11.8 points per game over the past five contests since their bye. Excluding the North Carolina shootout, that number is 6.25 points in the four other games. Saturday’s victory was their first shutout over Power Five competition since 2014 when they beat Michigan 31-0.

Notre Dame will likely move up at least one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, after slotting in at No. 8 this past week. No. 7 Michigan State was blown out by Ohio State, allowing for another small jump for the Irish. The victory is a big one for the Irish, who have just one game left to impress the committee.

Kelly offered a slight side comment that seemed aimed towards the Committee in his postgame remarks: “For those of you interested in style points … I covered that one today.”

The Irish play at Stanford next week — kickoff time has not been announced.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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