Saturday's Keys

The closer it gets, the more the anticipation builds to see who exactly will run out for Notre Dame's first offensive snap at quarterback, and how first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown's 3-4 defense will look. All the anxiousness and excitement could quickly change to frustration at the hands of a talented Georgia Tech team invading Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

If the Irish do a few simple things other than the obvious (turnovers, getting off the field on third down, moving the chains, solid offensive line play), Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and his team should open the season 1-0 for the third straight year.

Here are the keys to the game.

***Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice is the name guy. He ran for an ACC best 1,473 yards last season, and comes to South Bend with a streak of seven games with 100 yards or more rushing. Brown has him up for the Heisman Trophy by season's end. On top of that, he was the Yellow Jackets third-leading receiver a year ago. He'll be the guy breaking in the middle of Notre Dame's new defensive scheme. You have to figure he'll get his, but the Irish have to make him earn every yard.

With that being said, if the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Choice is playing as advertised, the Irish defense cannot allow one of Georgia Tech's other running backs to get his name in the paper. Expect first-year offensive coordinator John Bond to get senior Rashaun Grant, sophomore Jamaal Evans and maybe freshman Jonathan Dwyer involved in the game plan. All three have good speed, and could factor in the short passing game, or be the guy that breaks a homerun.

Unlike last season against Georgia Tech, where Notre Dame's focus on defense was to shutdown All-American receiver Calvin Johnson, the Irish will now be more concerned with the rushing attack. The front seven will have its hands full. Notre Dame will likely rotate a lot of players on both the defensive line and at linebacker. Freshman Ian Williams will get his chance to make an impact at nose guard, and the inside linebackers Maurice Crum Jr., Joe Brockington, and Toryan Smith will be earning their scholarship money. Safeties David Bruton and Tom Zbikowski will also have to play a role in stopping the run, and limiting those short passes to the running backs.

***Get the first-time starting quarterback off to a good start. Another obvious one, but how do you do it? According to Weis, Georgia Tech sends the blitz 75 percent of the time, and they will for sure be licking their chops to rattle the young quarterback. Whether it's Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley or Jimmy Clausen, look for Weis to call the first 10-15 plays from a script so the new starter is comfortable.

Notre Dame will try to run the football with its bevy of backs in this game and all season. Georgia Tech's brilliant defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta knows that. Maybe the Irish sneak in a deep play action play on the first series, or some kind of gadget play that gets the offense rolling early.

***Brown compared Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett to Tom Brady and Chad Pennington on Wednesday. The junior has been heralded nationally after he filled in for Reggie Ball in the Gator Bowl last season, and completed 19-of-29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. It's amazing with the hype Bennett has coming into this game, people don't have him up for the Heisman.

Back to reality, Bennett picked apart a West Virginia defense that was among the worst against the pass. On top of that, Bennett failed to beat out a quarterback that struggled to complete 50 percent of his passes.

Bennett has seen action in 10 games over the last two seasons, including starts in that Gator Bowl and Connecticut in 2005. He has never started in an environment like the one he's going to be in on Saturday. Notre Dame hasn't been great at pressuring the quarterback over the last few years, but Brown will be creative and deceptive with his blitz calls. If the Irish can rattle Bennett, which shouldn't be tough to do, it could lead to a game-changing turnover or two.

Prediction: Notre Dame 17, Georgia Tech 16: It won't be pretty. The Irish defense will bend but not break, holding the Yellow Jackets to three field goals. The Irish quarterback and the running backs will make enough plays to get the job done. Zbikowski or freshman Armando Allen will have a big special teams play, setting up one of the Notre Dame touchdowns.


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