Tech On Offense:
Chan Gailey has spent time in the NFL as an offensive coordinator as well as a NFL head coach, but I have to admit I'm not exactly sure what he's trying to do on offense. Maybe that's his genius, the offense is so confusing (bad) that you don't know what to expect. Since Gailey arrived in Atlanta the Tech offense has finished No. 57 ('02 -pre Reggie Ball), No. 94 ('03), No. 80 ('04) and No. 78 ('05) in total offense. In four seasons Gailey is 28-22 with his best record being 7-5 ('04 and '05).
The strength of the Tech offense has to be the running game. Lucky for the Irish, the strength of their defense is their rush defense. Gone for Tech is P. J. Daniels, but with former Adrian Peterson back-up Tashard Choice stepping in there shouldn't be much a drop-off. Reggie Ball can create issues for the Irish if they lose contain. Because Ball isn't going to beat you with his arm, I suspect Notre Dame will assign a player to watch him.
Calvin Johnson might be the best wide receiver in the country, and maybe James Johnson is the second best wide receiver in country, but if Tech has to rely on Reggie Ball to win the game through the air... well, I'm don't think there is any reason to discuss that, either he shows up or he doesn't.
A portion of the offensive struggles in '05 can be attributed to breaking in three new players on the offensive line. The line did manage to squeeze out a respectable 153 yards on the ground per game and they only surrendered 10 sacks on the season. This is the strength of the Yellow Jacket offense and it will be matched against the strength of the Irish defense.
Key match-ups: Everyone will point to Calvin Johnson against the Notre Dame secondary as the key match-up, but as most know, I rarely go to the obvious. My key match-up is the experienced Georgia Tech offensive line against the experienced Notre Dame defensive line. Notre Dame will not be easy to run against and I don't care who is playing right tackle, Victor Abiamiri will make his plays. The fact that they have a converted defensive tackle, Mansfield Wrotto, playing his first season on the offensive line is going to be interesting to watch all night. Derek Landri will make plays on the interior as well. The key for the Notre Dame defense is the other defensive end where Ronald Talley and Chris Frome will go heads up against Andrew Gardner . If they are disruptive then the Irish defense will be able to contain the Georgia Tech offense. If they are MIA, I hope you took the over. Watch for Travis Leitko on the interior, he could emerge as a player. Also watch for Notre Dame to mix things up along the line. ND might use three defensive ends at some point.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.
Reggie Ball will run the offense under center as well as out of the shotgun. 51.7, 49.7 and 48.0 percent. Those are Ball's completion percentages from 2003, 2004 and 2005. 37 touchdowns against 41 interceptions. He has averaged 124 rushing attempts and 365 yards per season.
Ball is listed at 5-11 which could be a reason why he struggles in the passing game. There was a quarterback competition over the summer, but obviously Taylor Bennett was not the answer.
Tashard Choice will play his second season in a Yellow Jacket
uniform after transferring from Oklahoma. Choice is a very solid back. He has
good size and decent speed. He can run between the tackles and he has enough quickness
to work to the outside. That being said most of his yardage will come between
the hash marks. If he gets going behind the solid offensive line, he'll open
things up in the passing game. The Notre Dame front must slow him up at the
Gailey hasn't looked to the fullback in the past, so I doubt
either player will be a huge factor. The fullback will be used to open holes for
Choice and to keep Victor Abiamiri off of Ball.
Calvin Johnson is the man. There have been comparisons between
Johnson and Maurice Stovall, but I'm not sure they are similar. Johnson is a
true junior so he's just reaching his prime. He catches everything he should and
most of the balls that he shouldn't. He's a big physical receiver that uses his
hands very well in order to gain some separation. On top of all that, he has good
speed. He has everything the top wide receiver in the country needs...except a
quarterback. While no receiver is like Johnson, the Notre Dame secondary has
been going against big physical receivers every day in practice. Johnson will
get his catches, but he will need help.
Like the fullback, the tight end will be used as a blocker. I don't
expect to see double tight ends very often. Gailey might look more to the tight end, because ND will pay so much attention to Calvin Johnson. If he does it will play into ND's hands.
This is a solid group of players, and I believe they are the strength of the Tech offense. They have been dinged up during fall practice, but come on... these are offensive linemen, they'll be ready to go come Saturday.
The growing pains from last season are over and this group should give a number of teams trouble. They will win battles throughout the day, but I don't think they are an extremely powerful group. That doesn't mean that they aren't effective though.
The biggest question will be if Mansfield Wrotto will be able to handle Victor Abiamiri in his first start. I'll give you the answer -- No, at least not by himself. Abiamiri demanded double-teams from the best offensive tackles last season, which means a first year guy is going to need help as well. Ultimately this reduces the options for Ball in the passing game, not that he needs additional limitations.
Overall I'm not sure this is a spectacular offensive
line. They might be by the end of the season, but right now I'm not sure they
will dominate the Irish front. They only allowed 10 sacks in 2006, so don't
expect ND to be in the Tech backfield much.
Tech On Defense:
The good news and the bad news. Georgia Tech should have a very stout defense. The strength of the defense is going to be the front seven. Tech has experience and they have depth up front, but they will have three new players in the secondary. Let me note that again. Three new starters in the secondary.
On the surface the 2005 defensive numbers for Tech look very good, but they only faced two teams that were in the top 50 in the nation in total offense (Georgia No. 49 and Auburn No. 37). That doesn't mean that they weren't very good, it's just that they weren't tested often. Notre Dame on the other hand faced six teams that were in the top 50 in total offense last season. I expect Notre Dame's offense to struggle mightily to get the ground game going. It is likely that Weis will attack Tech in a similar fashion that he went after Purdue last season. Get the ball outside to the wide receivers and let them go one-on-one against the secondary.
Key mach-ups: Sam Young against the Georgia Tech defense end (likely Adamm Oliver). It is likely that Young will make the start at the right tackle spot for the Irish. Ryan Harris played very well when he was asked to do so in 2003, but that wasn't until the middle of the season. Notre Dame will need to provide Young with an extra body from time to time. I expect Georgia Tech to blitz the Irish from this corner.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +
Darryl Richard is a player Notre Dame fans wanted to have on
their sideline, but he ended up in Atlanta. Notre Dame certainly could use him
now. Richard missed last season due to injury, but he played very well as a true
freshman. It might take Richard a full year to get back to where he was but he
won't be pushed around on Saturday. he's a very solid player.
Much like the defensive line, the linebackers are very solid and they have experience. Guyton is technically a new starter, but he's seasoned enough to not be considered a new guy. Hall and Wheeler will clean up anything that gets past the line, which probably won't be much. The linebackers willbe test in the short zones, but also look for the Irish offense to look for the tight end in the LB seams.
Weis has proven he won't be stubborn and force the running game. If he has to, he'll put the ball up 50 times and this is where Weis will look to attack the Tech defense. Kenny Scott was consider one of the top cornerbacks in the country coming out of high school, and like Darryl Richard, Notre Dame recruited him heavily. Scott is the class of the secondary, but I'm not sure he has lived up to all the expectations. I do think he is an outstanding player. He has very good size and plenty of experience. He is capable of being one of he best cornerbacks in the country.
After Scott is where the questions emerge. Tech may play a number of people in the secondary in order to find a group that plays well together. Pat Clark will likely get the start opposite of Kenny Scott. Clark was a wide receiver last season. Is he going to be capable of matching up with Jeff Samardzija or Rhema McKnight? Jamal Lewis has experience at corner, so he will bring speed and coverage ability to one safety spot. Since the Yellow Jackets are strong upfront this is a potential strong area of the secondary. Djay Jones doesn't have much experience. I expect Notre Dame to attack him as well.
Final Thoughts: Georgia Tech has the ability to give Notre Dame trouble if Reggie Ball can get outside of the pocket and if he can find other targets besides Calvin Johnson. Defensively they will give the Irish offensive line fits. They might have one of the best defensive lines Notre Dame will see all year.
Georgia Tech will need to make this an ugly game and they will need to control the ball on offense. If they can establish a running game, Notre Dame will struggle to keep Calvin Johnson under wraps.
The problem for Tech is that Notre Dame's defense is improved, and with Abiamiri facing a rookie offensive tackle he will be disruptive.
With the success of Maurice Stovall and Samardzjia last season, people have forgotten about Rhema McKnight. Quinn will get the ball in the hands of his receivers early and often. Eventually Weis will call on Walker. In the end, Notre Dame is too strong offensively.
Notre Dame 34 - Georgia Tech 17
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