Senior safety and captain Tom Zbikowski, who was the team's leading tackler with eight stops, said Saturday's performance was a step in the right direction.
"They were going to come out and give us their best shot in the first half," Zbikowski said. "Holding them to 10 points wasn't all that bad and shutting them out in the second half was good. Our confidence is growing and the speed is really picking up.
"It's one game. We have a pretty good offense coming into town next weekend that we have to get ready for. The list goes on. We have to just keep playing this way week after week."
One of the major factors in the game was Notre Dame shutting down Tech receiver Calvin Johnson in the second half. The Yellow Jacket All-American candidate burned the Irish secondary for five catches and 95 yards in the first half, including a four-yard touchdown grab on a jump ball. But the Notre Dame defense buckled down, holding him to just two catches for 16 yards in the final 35 minutes of action. Total, the Irish held Tech to just 71 yards of total offense in the second half.
"The coaches did a good job of making sure we were doubling him and rolling safeties over to him to prevent the deep ball," Zbikowski said. "I think we did a good job of mixing it up. I don't they knew what we were doing most of the time and it showed."
"They made a few plays there in the first half," head coach Charlie Weis said about Georgia Tech. "We then started to roll into No. 21 and you better roll into 21 because he's pretty darn good. The problem you have when you roll extra guys into 21 is you open yourself up to the inside stuff and the quarterback and the option game. Fortunately, rolling into 21 and playing tough inside, they made minimal plays in the second half."
*It was quite a homecoming for running back Darius Walker. Back in his home state of Georgia, the junior rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries. It was slow going at first. Walker totaled just eight carries for 22 yards in the first 30 minutes of action. But as Weis called his number time after time in the second half, Walker produced big gains, including the winning 13-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter.
"It's lovely," Walker said after the game. "It's nice being home in the southern atmosphere and the Georgia atmosphere. I got to see some buddies and family and friends. It's all love."
"The more he touches the ball, the more productive he is," Weis said. "I try to keep him at 25 carries. That's his average. If you give him that, usually he's going to give you 100 yards. That's about what he got tonight."
There was a scary moment for Walker. In the third quarter, he took a swing pass from Brady Quinn in the left flat. Walker was immediately stopped hard by two Tech defenders. He laid on the field for a few minutes before trainers helped him to his feet. Apparently, all was fine because Walker came back into the game two plays later and scored a touchdown later in the drive.
"It was just a little stinger," Walker said. "It's just one of those things. It's part of football. It happens all the time."
*Rhema McKnight made a successful comeback in his first game back since last year's knee injury. The fifth-year senior wideout led the Irish with eight catches for 108 yards. It could have been more had McKnight not dropped a few passes that hit him in the numbers.
"It felt good," McKnight said. "It felt real good. At the same time, I'm a little disappointed. There were some balls I should have caught. But I'm still going to come back next week, work hard and get better. With this type of offense, you open things up. You keep teams off-balance. They don't know what's coming at them."
The biggest catch of the night came late in the game. With Notre Dame protecting a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter and facing a 3rd-and-9 from their 25-yard line, Quinn found McKnight over the middle for a 19-yard gain and a first down. A misconnection there would have given the Yellow Jackets the ball back with just under three minutes to go and a chance for the win.
"They were playing a lot of Cover 3," McKnight said. "We knew we could hit that route. They play was called. I went out and made the play."
*Special teams had its bright moments. Punter Geoff Price booted the ball five times for an average of 50.4 yards per kick. Sophomore David Grimes and freshman George West each had a solid kickoff return of over 30 yards to put the Irish in good field position.
The bad was Carl Gioia's two misses. The first one occurred in the second quarter with Notre Dame in a 7-0 hole. Gioia missed the 42-yard attempt wide left. In the fourth quarter, with a chance to increase a 14-10 lead, the senior place kicker misfired again wide left, this one from 36 yards. Gioia won the job over Bobby Renkes and freshman Ryan Burkhart by having a solid fall camp. After the game, Weis reassured everyone that Gioia is still his kicker.
"I told Carl, ‘Look, Carl, you missed two kicks,'" Weis said. "You're going to make the next one. I told him these are the stories this week: the improved defense, how we didn't get enough production on offense and you missed two field goals. Now they're not going to go to Geoff because he punted too good. Or to Bobby because he kicked off too good. They'll go to you because you missed the two. And that's what he has to do. You don't cut someone because they missed two field goals. He has to make the next one and go from there."
*Nine freshmen saw action for the first time in a Notre Dame uniform. Sergio Brown, Jashaad Gaines, Richard Jackson, Raeshon McNeil, Munir Prince, Morrice Richardson, Darrin Walls, George West and Sam Young all saw time at some point during the game.
"Some of the guys who we wanted to get their feet wet got their feet wet," Weis said. "Even with the mistakes on penalties, those young guys are playing themselves into the mix. It just bodes well for the future."