With the Irish offense in reverse, Choice was the story on Saturday, running all over the Notre Dame defense for 196 yards and two touchdowns to propel the Yellow Jackets to a 33-3 season-opening whipping of the Irish on Saturday afternoon. The loss is the first for head coach Charlie Weis in an opener and the third straight 20-point plus defeat for Notre Dame, dating back to last year.
The Irish (0-1) have to somehow regroup from the blowout loss and travel to Penn State next weekend, who dismantled Florida International 59-0 on Saturday. Kickoff for that contest is at 6:00 PM For all the talk about who the starting quarterback would be for Notre Dame, Georgia Tech (1-0) dominated both lines of scrimmage and Choice showed he's one of the nation's best running backs.
"Obviously you have to give credit to Georgia Tech because they are a good football team,' Weis said. "But the flipside of that is that when the team is not ready to go, okay, which obviously we weren't, who else are you going to blame but yourself? I'm the head coach. It's my responsibility.
"With that being said, I told (the players) that I wanted to refrain from making serious judgment on any one thing until after I've gotten a chance tomorrow morning to go ahead and watch it. And I said that we're not staying stagnant."
Sophomore Demetrius Jones took the first snap for Notre Dame, ending the quarterback drama that had dominated the team since Brady Quinn's departure to the NFL. By the time the contest had ended, all three signal callers had seen action but it wasn't under the best circumstances.
The Irish fans weren't expecting any of the explosiveness of the past two seasons, where Quinn and company rewrote the school's record book. But if Saturday was any indication, Weis has a lot to of work to do in figuring out a way to put points on the board. Notre Dame gained only 122 total yards in the contest and the three points scored is the lowest in a game since the Irish head coach took over in 2005.
Jones only put the ball in the air three times, completing one pass to junior wideout David Grimes for four yards. The plan was a heavy reliance on a ground attack through quarterback runs and handoffs. But Jones committed the ultimate sin for a quarterback, putting the ball on the ground twice. The second one led to the third Georgia Tech field goal of the day and increased the Yellow Jackets second-quarter lead to 9-0.
"We've been practicing this for multiple weeks," Weis said of Jones at quarterback and the package designed for the sophomore. "We established our mentality, what we were going to do weeks ago, and when I said to everyone that all of these guys were involved. They are all involved. We only worry about winning that one game and obviously that didn't play out too well."
Choice gave Georgia Tech a more comfortable margin two series later. After a Justin Brown personal foul call on third down extended a Yellow Jackets drive, which the senior defensive end was thrown out of the game for, Choice took advantage of the opportunity. The senior tailback took a direct snap and ran off right tackle for a 22-yard yard score to make it 16-0 Georgia Tech. For Choice, it was his eighth straight 100-yard performance.
The 16-point deficit gave way to Evan Sharpley at quarterback. Weis' game plan with Jones was a lot of runs. Sharpley's package was more targeted for the two-minute and passing game. The junior signal caller led Notre Dame on their only significant drive of the afternoon in the third quarter, with Irish facing a 19-0 hole. Sharpley connected on two third down passes and on the drive, preseason All-American John Carlson caught his only three balls of the afternoon. The march concluded with a 24-yard field goal by Brandon Walker to make it 19-3 Georgia Tech after Travis Thomas was stuffed on a 3rd-and-1 from the Yellow Jackets' two-yard line.
In correlation with that play, the Irish young offensive line was on its heals all afternoon long. Notre Dame allowed nine sacks, seven of which Sharpley sustained. Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta sent the kitchen sink after the junior quarterback and came away with sack after sack by nine different Yellow Jacket players. The negative plays lowered the Irish's per rush average to -0.2 yards for the game and -8 total for the contest. When Sharpley did have time to throw the ball, the junior was 10-of-13 for 92 yards. But most of time, Sharpley spent the afternoon running for his life and on his back.
"Outnumbered wasn't the issue," Weis said about the offensive line woes against the aggressive Georgia Tech defense. "I think that we didn't do a very good job of being ready for the speed of the game. And the sad part about it is the three criteria that I have assigned for last three days, speed of the game and ball possession were two of the three most critical factors and we didn't handle the speed of the game very well and we didn't take care of the football."
The humbling loss also was the debut for Corwin Brown's 3-4 personnel defense. In the first half, the Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to three field goals after the Yellow Jackets had excellent field position. It kept the Irish in the contest until the fourth quarter.
That's when Choice ended all hopes of a comeback. On a direct snap, one of many Georgia Tech employed with their senior back, Choice took the ball, juked to the right and ran through the left side of the offensive line for a seven-yard touchdown run for an insurmountable 26-3 lead. The Yellow Jackets ended the day with 265 yards on the ground while Choice averaged 7.5 yards per carry. Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett didn't have to do too much, completing 11-of-23 yards for 121 yards. It was all on Choice and the senior delivered.
"They didn't know because they had not been looking,' Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey said in response to a question of whether Choice had been overlooked nationally.
What's next for Notre Dame? Weis wouldn't name a starter after the contest. The Irish head coach wanted to first review the film of the lackluster performance. Freshman Jimmy Clausen becomes part of the quarterback starting equation after seeing action in the fourth quarter, completing 4-of-6 passes for 34 yards.
In seven days, this Notre Dame team will travel to Happy Valley and play a night contest in front of over 100,000 crazed Penn State fans. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Irish and Weis will have the toughest job of his short head coaching career trying to rebound his players for next Saturday.