Containing Ball

Which Reggie Ball is going to show up Saturday? Will it be the quarterback who is very dangerous with his legs, the three-year starter who has guided Georgia Tech to a few big upsets over the course of his career? Or will it be the guy who struggles to complete passes, throws interceptions and costs his team the game?

You can't ask Ball about which guy will show up. The senior isn't talking to the press until Saturday night's game against Notre Dame is over. Who knows if he'll talk if the second-ranked Irish get the best of him in his house.

One things for sure, the Notre Dame defense is expecting Ball's best.

"I'm getting ready for that Reggie Ball who is on, because I think he's prepared himself like our guys prepared themselves," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said. "I expect that he's expecting to have a big game on Saturday."

If the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Ball is on and has a big game, the Irish could be in trouble. Dual-threat quarterbacks having standout performances has been common against Notre Dame defenses the past few seasons. Last year it was Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Ohio State's Troy Smith that wreaked havoc. Both made several game-changing plays when it seemed like the Irish had each guy wrapped up.

We keep hearing that the Irish are playing faster on defense. They'll have to be against Ball.

"You saw it in the Bowl game; it would be third and eight, third and nine, we'd stop (Smith) on first or second down, but he'd find a way to scramble, either throwing for the first down or running for the first down," safety Tom Zbikowski explained. "We've got to be on our toes, and hopefully the speed improvements that we made and the linebackers with Travis (Thomas) coming over is going to pay off for us."

Unlike Stanton and Smith, you never know what you are getting with Ball. His numbers aren't very good. Ball completed just 48 percent of his passes for 2,165 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He had 12 passes picked off, yet Ball helped lead the Yellow Jackets to its ninth-straight bowl appearance and a 7-5 record that included wins over No. 3 Miami and No. 15 Auburn. Against the Hurricanes, Ball scored the game-winning touchdown on a 16-yard draw play.

Ball will occasionally make a play through the air, usually to Heisman candidate receiver Calvin Johnson. But the one thing Ball does well consistently is run. He was the team's third-leading rusher last year, gaining 381 yards and scoring four touchdowns. He was only sacked eight times. If Ball, who is the only Yellow Jackets freshman to ever start a season opener, ever found away to get his completion percentage up, he'd be compared to 1999 Davey O' Brien (presented to the nation's top signal caller) award winner and former Tech standout Joey Hamilton.

Weis said you "pick your poison" when preparing for Ball.

"There's about four different things you could do, okay. What you have to do is decide when you're going to do 'em," Weis explained. "What you can't do is you can't just pick one train of thought. You have to have multiple ways of disrupting what he does, and then make sure you tackle well."

The Irish defensive line will look to contain and swarm Ball from all sides of the pocket. That will be tough to do against a veteran offensive line. Weis could use a spy on Ball and mix in several different blitz packages. The spy could be either a linebacker or a safety. With Ball's career completion percentage of 49 percent, and his 41 interceptions to 37 touchdown passes, Notre Dame is hoping that Ball puts the football in the air a lot more than he tries to run with it.

Ball has had some success as a passer but the negatives probably outweigh the positives.

The defensive linemen have to be a lot more conscience of staying in their position rather than getting excited about making a sack.

"For the most part you have to stay true to your responsibilities whatever defense is called," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "You don't have as much freedom to roam about or wander out of your certain place of the defense. You have to stay true to your gap and not do too much. You have to worry about him moving and if he moves into your gap or vacates the pocket in your gap it's your fault."

"In a way you have to stay disciplined, but I think you can still be aggressive and disciplined at the same time," defensive end Victor Abiamiri stated.

When Ball does drop back to pass, guys in coverage can't only think about the man they're covering or the zone they are responsible for.

"You are always kind of alert. You have your job that you're supposed to do and you kind of have to be alert that he can break containment and get out of the pocket and scramble," linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. explained. "So through doing your job, in the back of your mind you have to check the backfield and make sure he is still there."

If he is still in the backfield often, the Irish likely have done their job and probably will have luck taking the elusive Ball out of the game.

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