Notre Dame did enough to get the win, beating Georgia Tech by a 31-13 score, but the Irish offense did not have the kind of performance that was expected against a subpar Yellow Jacket defense.
It was a disappointing performance in many ways, but mainly because it was a missed opportunity. Notre Dame seemed to finally break out on offense against Pitt last week, and this game was a chance to take the next step. Georgia Tech is just not good on defense, and it gave up a combined 121 points in the last two games against Clemson and BC, and it gave up 49 points earlier in the season to UCF. Syracuse even scored 30 offensive points against Georgia Tech.
Instead of being aggressive and taking it to Georgia Tech, the Irish seemed to be content just grinding out a win and moving onto next week. That’s one way to go, but it’s completely antithetical to what the best teams do, and completely antithetical to what head coach Brian Kelly talked about last week.
This was an opportunity for the Notre Dame offense to work on some stuff, to expand its collective of playmakers and to really go into next week’s showdown with Clemson with some real momentum, but the offense did not take advantage of that opportunity.
Here’s my instant analysis of the victory.
*** There were some good things from the Tommy Rees game plan, at least early. Prior to the game I wrote about wanting to see an expanded role from freshman running back Chris Tyree, and I wanted to see more from the screen game. We got both of that in the first half, and both resulted in big plays. In the second half the game plan was far more dry and methodical, as the Irish looked to just grind the clock out, knowing Georgia Tech couldn’t score on their own defense.
*** Notre Dame’s issue in the first half was a lack of explosive plays and red zone issues, something that’s been a problem all season. Notre Dame got into the red zone four times in the first half. The Irish got two touchdowns, but fumbled once (it was returned 93 yards for a score) and had to settle for a field goal in another. Both red zone trips in the second half red zone production was better, but the offense only got into the red zone three times (the final red zone trip ended because the game clock ran out).
*** Notre Dame dominated statistically, but it just couldn’t put the Yellow Jackets away and move the ball the way most good offenses have against this defense all season. The game plan was far too short/intermediate oriented with the pass game, which made it easier for Georgia Tech to keep everything in front of them, and it kept the run game from really taking off as well. It also allowed the linebackers to jump the tight ends and over the middle routes.
*** Quarterback Ian Book was erratic in this game in regards to his reads and progressions. He made some quality throws (a third-quarter back shoulder to Javon McKinley, the bootleg touchdown to McKinley), but by and large he simply took the easy throws far too often. There were opportunities to push the ball downfield, but he either missed on those throws or just didn’t take them.
*** Book also had a tendency to focus on one read and then take off, although I did like the patience with which he waited to take off. One example, in the third quarter he made a bad pre-snap read and look at the middle of the field high-low, and instead of looking outside to Skowronek on a stop route (which is where his read should have taken him), he threw a cross route that fell incomplete, forcing an Irish punt. Another example, in the fourth quarter he had Keys wide open up the seam on a third-down throw, but Book just wouldn’t pull the trigger and instead checked it down and got his tight end clobbered.
*** The Irish quarterback did not show the same playmaker skills we saw last week vs. Pitt. The one time he did, he found McKinley working back across the field on a scramble, and the result was Book hitting him for a 34-yard gain.
*** It wasn’t a bad performance by Book, but it was a conservative performance, and one that limited the opportunities to be more dynamic against what has been a very poor defense all season. This was a step back after last week’s performance.
*** Sophomore running back Kyren Williams had a solid performance, but like Book, it was unspectacular. Williams ran hard, but his reads were inconsistent he had a couple of big mistakes. The fumble was a game-changing play, and against a better team could have had a great impact on the game. He also had a big miss in pass protection. Williams finished with 76 yards on 15 carries.
*** Freshman Chris Tyree looked impressive in his limited carries. He had a 21-yard gain on a reverse and showed good vision and toughness on limited carries as a running back. I liked how Notre Dame used him in the first half to not only create plays for him, but also to open up other opportunities. For example, Notre Dame motioned Tyree outside in the red zone, and Georgia Tech overreacted, which opened up a huge run lane up the middle for Book on a scramble. The issue I had is that went away in the second half, as the Irish looked content to simply grind it out and milk the clock instead of going for the kill. Tyree had had 47 yards on five carries.
*** If you’ve ever met C’Bo Flemister you’d know he’s not very big, at all. He’s on the skinny side and just not someone you’d look at and thing, “Physical runner.” But that’s exactly what he is, a very physical, tough runner. Flemister plays like a back with a much, much bigger body. He’s a nice complement to the shiftiness of Williams and speed of Tyree. Flemister finished with 58 yards on 15 carries.
*** Veteran wideout Javon McKinley had an impressive performance for the Irish and was one of the standouts on offense. McKinley led the offense with five catches for 93 yards, and he made big plays. He made a diving catch over the middle to get the offense into the red zone early, he had an impressive back shoulder catch for 31 yards, and he worked himself open on a Book scramble before finding room to turn it into a 34-yard gain.
*** None of the other wideouts did much, or at least they weren’t given a chance to do much. There were opportunities at times, but the ball just didn’t come their way much.
*** Not getting Lawrence Keys III into the game until the fourth quarter was a missed opportunity to get a playmaker some experience heading into next week’s game. He got wide open on a seam route during his first series, but Book never looked for him.
*** Not getting a single snap for Jordan Johnson or Xavier Watts against one of the worst defense in the ACC is also yet another huge missed opportunity to develop them and expand the possible weapons for the important November stretch run.
*** The Irish tight ends were quite active in the first half, especially early in the game. They were targeted often on short routes, and the blocking was mostly good. Michael Mayer got beat on the backside of a zone play that resulted in a stuff, and Brock Wright gave up a sack, but other than that the blocking was solid. There was very little in the way of using the tight ends to stretch the field, something that continues to puzzle me when you consider the talent at the position and the inability of the wideouts to do that this season.
*** Veteran right tackle Robert Hainsey had what I believe is his best game of the season, by far. Hainsey had a battle on his hands against the Pitt ends last weekend, and he bounced back from an up-and-down game with a dominant performance against the Yellow Jackets. His pass blocking was sound, but it was in the run game that Hainsey was at his best. He got a strong outside push on the stretch runs all game long, widening the run lane and opening up huge cut back lanes at times. If you go back and watch most of the big runs in this game, they were right behind Hainsey, who also showed excellent push on down and drive blocks.
*** The play of the interior blockers was not nearly as good in this game. Right guard Tommy Kraemer bounced back with a solid second half, but he struggled in the first half. Kraemer gave up a sack on and did a lot of catching in the run game. Outside of one strong reach block in the second quarter, Kraemer just got very little movement in the run game and didn’t come off with the same force we’ve seen in recent games.
*** Left guard Aaron Banks also had an up-and-down performance. He had more impressive drive blocks, but he too got caught catching far too much in this game. Center Jarrett Patterson was a bit up-and-down early, but as the game went on I felt his blocking got much better.
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