Saturday's Keys

Notre Dame opens the season as a seven-point favorite against Georgia Tech. If the second-ranked Irish are able to protect quarterback Brady Quinn, contain Yellow Jackets' signal-caller Reggie Ball and avoid early mistakes, the spread should be easy to cover.

1. Protect Brady Quinn

Head coach Chan Gailey said that the Yellow Jackets' down seven is the strength of the team. At the same time, the Georgia Tech secondary could be the weakness of the team. It's certainly the glaring problem on the defense.

The Heisman campaign could get off to a strong start for Quinn. If he has time to throw, expect huge numbers since he should be dropping back a lot.

Defensive coordinator John Tenuta always has his guys playing well against the run while putting pressure on the quarterback. He likes to use a confusing zone-pressure scheme, and changes looks frequently over four quarters.

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis will play to Georgia Tech's weakness and air it out quite a bit. Quinn, with time to scan the field, will show why he is the nation's best quarterback to the tune of three or four touchdown passes. Receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight will be too much to handle for the inexperienced secondary.

If Quinn is able to go off, the Irish will score too many points for a mediocre Georgia Tech offense to overcome.

2. Contain Reggie Ball

Receiver Calvin Johnson is Georgia Tech's best player, but his on-field success doesn't guarantee a victory. He could catch seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, and the Yellow Jackets could still get pummeled. However, if Ball has a good game, Georgia Tech could hang around and pull off the upset. Ball helped his team to upsets of No. 3 Miami and No. 15 Auburn last season.

Ball's career completion percentage is a miserable 49 percent. If the Irish are able to keep Ball in containment and not let him get loose and use his legs, Georgia Tech will struggle to move the football.

Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix has taken over the play-calling duties from Gailey, trying to improve an offense that averaged just 18.5 points per game (103rd nationally) last season. He'll probably roll Ball out of the pocket giving him the option to run or pass. The speed of the Irish defense will be tested quickly. If they can force Ball to beat them with his arm, Notre Dame is in great shape.

3. Avoid Early Mistakes

The old adage, don't let a team hang around too long or they'll think they belong. Or something like that.

This goes both ways, but without any preseason games, there isn't any time to work out the kinks. The Irish offense is experienced, but they can't let excitement get the best of them. A couple early turnovers could make for a 10-0 or 14-0 deficit. At home that might be nothing for the country's top offense, but on the road it's a lot more difficult to come back with a jacked-up crowd and a fired-up home team.

Georgia Tech will have at least one big play Saturday, but as long as it's late rather than early, it shouldn't matter. Yeah, last year Pittsburgh scored early and the Irish came back and routed them on the road, but lets not play with fire. The secondary needs to keep Tech receivers in front of them and not let Ball or running back TaShard Choice get loose for a big run.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Georgia Tech 22 Offensive Player of the Game: Brady Quinn. Quinn should absolutely destroy the Yellow Jackets secondary, picking them apart all evening. Defensive Player of the Game: Travis Thomas. Thomas will be everywhere on the field with his tailback speed, especially frustrating Ball, in his linebacker debut.


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