What To Look For: #4 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech

Breaking down what I'll be looking for early from Notre Dame when it takes on Georgia Tech
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Notre Dame is a 20.5-point favorite over Georgia Tech, and the Irish have all the matchup advantages they need to dominate in this contest. This game isn’t as much about Notre Dame doing what it takes to come away with a win as much as it is about the Irish doing what they need to do to head into next week’s matchup against Clemson with the momentum needed to pull off that upset.

To that end, what I’ll be looking for in this game - especially early - is whether or not Notre Dame is doing what it needs to do to dominate, build momentum and put itself in position to be at its best against the Tigers.

OFFENSE

1. Ian Book Cleans Things Up But Stays Aggressive — If quarterback Ian Book plays all season with the same aggressiveness and poise he showed against Pitt he’ll put up much better numbers and perform at a much higher level than he did in the first four games of the season.

If Book does that while improving his accuracy and decision making he’ll play the best ball of his career. That is the Ian Book Notre Dame needs to beat Clemson and North Carolina, and the Book it needs to win an ACC title.

2. RPOs, Screens and Pass Game Nuance — One of my biggest beefs of the offense from the first four games of the season was its lack of RPOs (Run Pass Option). I’ve explained in the past why RPOs are a must in the offense, so seeing the Irish use that against Pitt was a welcome site. Was that a one-week addition for Pitt, or is the staff finally waking up their need in this offense? Hopefully they are here to stay.

Notre Dame has had good success with its screen game this season, and seeing it expand would be a welcome addition to the offense. Increasing the overall nuance of the pass game is still needed. That means continuing to use the tight ends and backs more, more diversity from an alignment standpoint and doing more to build around the specific skill set of the wide outs.

3. Run Game Gets Back On Track — I was impressed with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ willingness to keep pounding the ball last week, even when the success wasn’t always there. By not abandoning the run, Rees forced the Pitt defense to keep the box loaded, which set up the big play opportunities in the pass game.

Against a Georgia Tech team that struggles to stop the run, it will be good to see the run game get back on track from an effectiveness and production standpoint heading into next week’s matchup against Clemson.

4. Expanded Weaponry — Freshman Jordan Johnson needs to play, and he needs to be targeted; see what he can do. Chris Tyree needs an expanded role, especially in the pass game. Get Michael Mayer and Tommy Tremble rolling in the pass game at the same time. Get Lawrence Keys III back into the mix. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Avery Davis get a few more touches in the slot.

The more weapons Book has to work with against Clemson the better, and the more players/concepts Clemson must prepare for the better, but you don’t want to break those concepts and players in against the Tigers. Seeing how they work out against Georgia Tech could give the offense the confidence it needs to thrive next weekend.

DEFENSE

1. Shut Down The Run — Notre Dame’s ground attack has been rolling all season, and it must continue against the Yellow Jackets. The defense needs to avoid the pitfalls that come from playing an inferior opponent: lack of focus, sloppy technique, missed assignments. Notre Dame needs to dominate the trenches, play clean football, shut down the Yellow Jacket ground attack and put this game away early.

2. Pass Rush Gets Rolling — Notre Dame’s pass rush just hasn’t been where it needs to be for much of the season, and the front four has been especially ineffective getting consistent pressure, at least compared to what we’ve seen the previous two seasons.

The Irish need to get more pressure on Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims, and a big day from the defensive line would be a very good sign.

3. Play Clean, Stay Healthy — This builds on point number one; don’t develop any bad habits that need to get worked out next week. Play smart, play clean (no big mistakes), play fast and overwhelm the Yellow Jackets.

Of course, coming out of the game healthy would be a win in and of itself.

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