How does No. 6 Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech? By following these four keys to the game.
These keys to the game will likely decide if AP No. 6/CFP No. 8 Notre Dame (9-1) can beat Georgia Tech (3-7) on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium (2:30 p.m. EST on NBC).
Keep Coan confident
Three touchdown passes at Virginia made for a scoring explosion for Jack Coan. The Notre Dame quarterback hadn’t thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game since Sept. 18 against Purdue. Even though Coan only threw 20 passes, he took advantage of his opportunities.
The Irish should let Coan rip it against Georgia Tech’s porous pass defense. The Yellow Jackets have one of the worst passing efficiency defensive ratings (166.78) in the country by allowing 22 passing touchdowns and only intercepting three passes. A confident Coan could improve Notre Dame’s effectiveness in the red zone and lead to more points.
Let safeties roam
Don’t say this too loud, but Notre Dame seems to have found safety depth in the past few weeks. Sophomores Ramon Henderson, a former cornerback, and Xavier Watts, a former wide receiver, have adjusted nicely to new roles on the back end of the Irish defense. Notre Dame should continue to increase their workloads with seniors DJ Brown and Houston Griffith offering experience to help them.
With Notre Dame’s offense likely to score frequently against Georgia Tech, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman should be able to put Henderson and Watts in positions to test themselves even if it backfires. Giving them the freedom to make plays could pay dividends on Saturday and beyond.
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No breaks on kickoffs
If Notre Dame’s offense has the kind of success it should have, Georgia Tech’s Jahmyr Gibbs should have plenty of opportunities to return kickoffs. The Yellow Jackets lean on him to give them good field position in addition to being the focal point of the offense. Gibbs, who averages 26 yards per kick return, scored his first kickoff return touchdown of the season last week against Boston College.
The best solution for Notre Dame could be kicker Jonathan Doerer booming his kicks into the end zone for touchbacks, but the graduate senior has been hampererd by a right groin injury that’s taken away some of his power. If Doerer can’t get the ball into the end zone, it’s up to Notre Dame’s coverage unit to chase down Gibbs without losing contain.
Keep Thomas occupied
The most disruptive player on Georgia Tech’s tame defense is linebacker Charlie Thomas. The junior leads the Yellow Jackets in tackles for a loss (10) and sacks (3). He’s accounted for nearly one-fifth of the team totals in both of those categories.
It’s paramount for Notre Dame’s offensive line to get a body on Thomas whenever possible. He can’t be left unaccounted for in the running or passing game. Forcing him to try to cover tight end Michael Mayer or any of Notre Dame’s running backs out of the backfield might not be a bad way to keep him occupied.
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.