• Great credit to Brian VanGorder, his defensive staff and special assistant to Brian Kelly, Bob Elliot, for Notre Dame’s adaptation to Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack.
They say when defending the triple-option, you can’t take away all three phases of it. But Notre Dame proved that theory wrong by limiting Georgia Tech to 216 yards on 47 carries with 48 of those coming on one play.
The Irish held fullback Patrick Skov under four yards per his 18 carries and held quarterback Justin Thomas to 27 yards on 11 carries (2.5 per carry). A-backs Broderick Snoddy, Clinton Lynch, TaQuon Marshall, and Qua Searcy combined for 123 yards on 17 carries, again, with 48 of those coming on one of Snoddy’s attempts. Otherwise, it was 16 carries for 75 yards (4.4 per carry), which is phenomenal for what A-backs normally average per attempt.
Working from a variety of three- and four-man fronts – sometimes with three down, other times with four – the Irish did a tremendous job attacking the Yellow Jackets in waves with one of the inside linebackers (Joe Schmidt and Greer Martini) taking the fullback dive, the other one scraping or exchanging to the quarterback, and then Drue Tranquill (prior to his injury) and Jaylon Smith taking the pitch man on their respective sides. Matthias Farley – whom Joe Schmidt called the expert against option football – filled in admirably and effectively for Tranquill in the second half.
The cornerbacks pinched the edges, forcing the action back to the middle of the field, and instead of working with a single safety, it was two, which Kelly said was one of the most significant changes from previous times when the Irish played triple-option attacks.
First and foremost, however, the defensive line featuring predominantly Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, Jerry Tillery, Romeo Okwara and Daniel Cage (particularly the first three) was nothing short of outstanding. That’s where it all started and Kelly definitively declared the Irish defensive front as the clear-cut winner versus Georgia Tech’s offensive line, which returned four starters from last season.
Knockout, Notre Dame.
• Notre Dame held Georgia Tech without a third-down conversion through the Yellow Jackets’ first nine attempts. That is nothing short of astonishing against an offense that led the country in third-down conversions last season, was humming along at a 60 percent clip this season, and hardly ever succumbs to a three-and-out. Georgia Tech had just 11 three-and-outs all of 2014 and none in 2015 (albeit against inferior competition).
As astonishing as Notre Dame’s 0-of-10 on third down against Virginia was, this performance trumped it because Georgia Tech simply does not go 0-of-9 on third down against anybody, let alone a defense that has stumbled through many a triple-option attack as if they’ve never seen it before.
Four of Georgia Tech’s 14 drives were three-and-outs. The Notre Dame defense did a great job – particularly as the game wore on – of putting quarterback Justin Thomas in 3rd-and-long situations, which are the bane of a triple-option’s existence over the long haul.
• Will Fuller, you are ridiculous. Everybody knows they’re throwing to him and he just keeps making plays. Allowing him to run up the sideline in man coverage without safety help is detrimental to the health of a defense. But it’s still Fuller against the world and the world continues to lose.
Whether it’s one of those slip screens (which defenses have caught up to recently), those one-on-one deep balls, or a jump ball in which he leaps, reaches up with two hands and lands on his back, Fuller is an unstoppable force.
In the first half alone, he caught four passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. He would add just two catches for 19 yards in the second half when Chris Brown took over to finish with a career-high eight receptions.
On the easiest pass thrown his way, Fuller let it slip through his hands, which is the only thing that can prevent him from making a lot of money right out of the gate in the NFL. When it comes to big plays, it’s child’s play for Fuller.
He now has 20 touchdowns in his last 16 games and at least one score in 14 of those 16 games. He also became the first Irish player to gain more than 100 yards through the air in the first three games of a season since Thom Gatewood did it in 1970.
Fuller went through last season dazzling opponents and couldn’t garner All-American notice. Wake up, America, this guy is phenomenal, and he’s catching the ball better than ever.
• DeShone Kizer played with, all things considered, great poise in his first career start. Watching him during pre-game, he moved around the field very free-and-easy. He seemed relaxed, comfortable and confident, and it carried over to the game. In his first 30 minutes as a starter, he completed 13-of-19 for 159 yards with a 46-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller as well as his first interception (and first Irish turnover of the season).
Brian Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford devised a relatively safe game plan for him – particularly early on – as Kizer took advantage of an ACC trend (according to Kizer), which is an additional man in the box, allowing for a steady stream of quick-out patterns to keep the chains moving. (Eight of his 13 first-half completions were for 10 yards or less.)
With C.J. Prosise complementing Kizer with 198 yards on the ground, Kizer did not look like a player making his first collegiate start at quarterback. Kelly said they tweaked his footwork during the week, which impacted his throwing “platform” (where the ball ended up at the receiver). A few passes were off target.
Kizer had an intentional grounding call and does have a tendency to hold on to the football for quite a while in the pocket, which will cost him against a quality pass rushing team (which Georgia Tech is not).
Another positive Kizer trait: he took full responsibility for the interception in the end zone, which was intended for Corey Robinson. Robinson was “bracketed” by two Georgia Tech defenders, which creates an illusion to the quarterback that has gotten many a signalcaller in trouble before. Kizer has now seen it and will be a better quarterback for experiencing it.
It would be hard to ask for more from a first-time starting quarterback than what Kizer provided for the Irish against the Yellow Jackets.