I'm not sure if it's the pre-season optimism running through my veins, or if it's my stubborn ways that won't allow me to believe what the "experts" say. It appears nobody is picking the Irish despite the Irish being favored by the odds makers. So who is right?
On paper, this game would favor the experts. The Irish are inexperienced at a number of positions including quarterback. They have a brand new defense and just five starters returning on defense. Georgia Tech returns 17 starters including what is said to be one of the best defenses in the country this season. All signs point to a comfortable win by the Yellow Jackets. So why don't I believe that?
I told myself that I wasn't going to buy into the pre-season optimism. I'm made a resolution that I would no longer listen to my heart. For some reason though, I'm thinking the Irish have a chance in this game.
Every year ND fans look at the schedule and wonder how the Irish can possibly get through the first 6-8 games without a complete melt-down. What we usually quickly learn is some teams just aren't all they're cracked up to be. Much like the Irish last season when they entered the 2007 season ranked in the top 3 in everyone's pre-season poll. Maybe these opponents aren't as good as many expect they‘ll be…..or maybe I‘m just fooling myself.
What we do know is Notre Dame has what we believe to be an excellent head coach as well as some very good assistant coaches. What we believe we have is a up-and-coming defensive mastermind in first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. What we believe we have is some top shelf yet inexperienced talent. What we don't know is how quickly this group will grow up, and that's why nobody knows how good the Irish will be this year. It will all depend on how quickly this team matures. The growing up will have to happen quickly or the Irish will find themselves in a hole that may be difficult to crawl out of.
So why do I believe the Irish will win on Saturday? I guess I just believe in Charlie Weis and Corwin Brown. I believe both are top tier coaches and both will have excellent game plans. I also know that Weis teams don't usually turn the ball over, and that should be a big factor in this game. The team that wins the turnover battle will more than likely win the game.
Funnily, I also think the Irish will win the special teams battle--another big key in this game. Georgia Tech really struggled last season in return coverage, finishing dead last (No. 119) in kick return coverage last season, and I think the Irish have some return men that can and will make some big plays.
I don't expect either team to score many points even though I do think Georgia Tech will move the ball on the Irish. The key for Notre Dame is red zone defense. They'll surrender yards on Saturday, but if they force the Jackets into field goal attempts, they'll have a chance to win this game. I think they‘ll do just that.
For Notre Dame, it's likely going to have to be a game of big plays, so I expect to see a lot of plays designed to get the ball in the hands of some new faces (hello Armando Allen).
The big key to this game, however, is to limit mistakes. No matter who starts at quarterback, the difference between winning and losing will probably come down to how many mistakes the Irish quarterback(s) make. Notre Dame shouldn't need the quarterback to win the game for the team, and they have to hope he doesn't lose the game with poor decisions. Weis will be full aware of this, and I expect he'll give his quarterback plays he can be successful with.
Mike Frank Prediction
I see the Irish playing a very disciplined game. They won't wow anyone on offense, but they'll play sound, fundamental football. They'll allow some big plays on defense, but they'll also make some as well. The key will be winning the turnover battle and special teams. For some reason I believe they'll win both.
Notre Dame: 21 Georgia Tech: 17
Mike Frank Prediction
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