Five keys for Notre Dame against Georgia Tech: Irish need to be sharp before facing Clemson
Here are five keys for No. 4 Notre Dame (5-0, 4-0 ACC) when it plays Georgia Tech (2-4, 2-3) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC) at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
With top-ranked Clemson coming to South Bend next Saturday, Notre Dame should look to leave the Georgia Tech game without any major injuries. From wide receivers Ben Skowronek, Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy to safety Kyle Hamilton, among others, the Irish already have seen plenty of their key players suffer injuries. Entering the matchup as 19-point favorites, Notre Dame should down the Yellow Jackets handedly. Doing so and giving backups significant playing time would help mitigate injuries.
BOTTLE UP GIBBS
The biggest challenge Georgia Tech will present Notre Dame’s defense should be with a true freshman in running back Jahmyr Gibbs. He leads the Yellow Jackets in rushing (69 carries for 308 yards and two touchdowns) while also being a threat in the passing game (15 catches for 206 yards and three scores). The Irish have been stout in run defense, ranking No. 14 among the 101 teams that qualify nationally with 94.8 rushing yards allowed per game. They have held all but one opponent, Florida State (153 rushing yards), to under 110 rushing yards. Only one player, FSU quarterback Jordan Travis (96 rushing yards), has tallied more than 70 rushing yards against Notre Dame this season.
BRING THE HEAT
Notre Dame struggles to sack the quarterback at times. No Irish defender has at least three sacks this season. The group ranks No. 50 nationally with 2.40 sacks per game. That Notre Dame’s offense has dominated the time of possession and game flow this season has played a role in those middling numbers. But the fact remains that the Irish will face a Yellow Jacket offense that comes in at No. 1 in the ACC with 1.67 sacks allowed per game. Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims has been elusive with his dual-threat ability. Notre Dame has an opportunity to prove its mediocre sack total is more of a mirage.
Irish quarterback Ian Book broke through against Pittsburgh last week, connecting on his deep ball and completing six passes of at least 20 yards. He finished 16-of-30 for 312 yards and three touchdowns with eight carries for 40 yards. Book will need to continue progressing before the showdown against the Tigers next week. Austin (foot) and Lenzy (hamstring) being out should be an obstacle for this offense. Georgia Tech should not be too imposing, though. The Yellow Jackets come in at No. 77 in run and pass-efficiency defense.
ASSESS JORDAN JOHNSON
With zero catches across 14 snaps to date, wide receiver Jordan Johnson has had an anticlimactic start to his career. The former five-star recruit brought a pedigree that compared to that of fellow true freshmen tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Johnson not seeing the field had more to do with academics and traits than ability. Now the former five-star recruit, per Rivals, should finally receive his opportunity with Austin and Lenzy out. Johnson had a strong practice this week and is now the backup to Skowronek at the outside receiver position on the wide side of the field. Notre Dame needs to see what Johnson can bring before determining how many opportunities he should receive against Clemson.
At Bobby Dodd Stadium (11,000), Atlanta
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EDT
Series history: Notre Dame leads 28-6-1
Betting line: Notre Dame by 19