Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish(2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS)
College Football Week 3
Date/Time: Saturday, September 19th, 3:30PM EST
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
by Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND +2/GT -2
#14 Georgia Tech heads to South Bend to take on #8 Notre Dame in a Saturday afternoon showdown of two undefeated teams playing each other for the first time since 2007 when Georgia Tech won 33-3 led by running back Tashard Choice and featured freshman wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in his first collegiate game.
Last week Notre Dame beat Virginia 34-27 when backup quarterback Deshone Kazier hit Will Fuller on a 40-yard touchdown strike in the games final seconds. Irish fans have tepid excitement though, as the team lost their offensive leader quarterback Malik Zaire to a gruesome broken ankle that will cost him the remainder of his season.
The way the game started it definitely didnt appear like it would be anywhere close at the end as Notre Dame dominated the first quarter, scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal on their first drive and than converting field goals on two more to end the first frame up 12-0. That may seem like a good start, but it should have been more as the Irish threw away a golden opportunity to put the game away early due to some very conservative play calling. After scoring on the fake field goal Notre Dame went for a two points conversion and failed, and from that point on their calls turned bland and cautious, especially in the initial quarter when they had a chance to deliver a knockout blow as they had all momentum on their side but had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. This immediately came into effect as Virginia scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second quarter to grab a 14-12 lead at half.
Notre Dame scored twice in the third quarter, but it on was the drive for their last touchdown in the third that Zaire was injured. They lead 26-14 going into the fourth, and were pushing the spread, but the offense took too long to adjust to Kazier at quarterback and managed just one first touchdown until the games final drive when the backup stepped up big time, going 5-7 passing and picking up an enormous 4th and 2 with a minute left on a four yard run before throwing the eventual game winner to Fuller.
Zaire is now the third expected starter lost for the season for the Irish offense along with star running back Tarean Foster who was injured his ACL against Texas, and it was announced Tuesday morning that starting tight end Durham Smythe, who caught the touchdown pass on the fake field goal in the first quarter against Virginia, is also gone for the year due to an ankle injury. Thankfully C.J. Prosise has filled in exceptionally well for Foster, stepping up big last week rushing for 155 yards and a touchdown on seventeen carries, but there is only so much star power a team can lose. How quickly Kazier can acclimate himself to the offense will be crucial in deciding just how shattered some believe Notre Dames title hopes are after the Zaire injury. Unfortunately he has little time to prepare as this week he will be going up against a Yellow Jacket squad that returned eight defensive starters including linebacker P.J Davis, who led the team with 119 tackles last year and will be focused on making the freshmans first start as forgettable as possible.
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After starting off the 2014 season unranked in the polls Georgia Tech surprised many with an 11-3 record (their three losses by only thirteen points combined) and ended the year strong with a 49-34 Orange Bowl win against Mississippi State as a six point underdog. A large part of their success was due to their running game which ranked #1 overall in the nation and the big question entering 2015 was how they would replace all the offense they lost to graduation, including five of their top six running backs and their four best wide receivers. Thankfully for Tech they returned their 2nd Team All-ACC quarterback Justin Thomas, who leads their prolific triple option attack after rushing for 1,086 touchdowns and passing for 18 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2014 and will does so again this year behind four returning offensive line starters, missing only Shaq Mason who now starts for the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
In a small barometer considering the competition, Alcorn State and Tulane, it appears all should be well in Atlanta as Georgia Tech has steamrolled through their opponents in the first two weeks. They beat Alcorn State 69-6 in a game that Justin Thomas only played the first quarter and then beat Tulane 65-10 last week. Whats most impressive is the backfield depth, their expected weakness, as ten different players have scored rushing touchdowns through only two games. While the wins may not be notable due to the lack of talent on the other side, but they did give an inexperienced offense a chance to fine tune their game to get ready for what should be a physical battle in South Bend on Saturday.
While its never a good idea to base your wager on recent trends, it should be noted that Georgia Tech has covered the point spread in nine straight games and have done so in strong fashion, beating the spread by an average of over 21 points per game more than what was expected. Conversely, Notre Dame has covered just twice in their last ten games, week one against Texas and last years 31-27 defeat at Florida State when they lost because of a horrible offensive pass interference call at games end but did make the ten point spread.
An interesting side story to the game is the history between Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson and Notre Dame defense coordinator Brain VanGorder. Johnson was the head coach at Georgia Southern from 1997-2001, a time in which the team appeared in three Division-1AA National Championship games, winning twice, thanks in large part to the success they had running the triple option. In 2006 VanGorder took over as head coach at Georgia Southern and removed the formation from the playbook which infuriated Johnson, who was then coaching at Navy, so much that he demanded that Georgia Southern be put on Navys schedule because I want to beat the hell out of Brian VanGorder. By the time that chance came around both coaches were already gone from their respective schools, so now nine years later Johnson will have his chance at playbook removal revenge.
Notre Dame has struggled the last two years in defending the triple option against Navy, narrowly escaping with victories in both games despite being large favorites in each. In the two games against the Midshipman the Irish gave up 87 points while letting up 667 yards rushing on 130 attempts, an average of over 5 yards per carry. While Georgia Tech is lacking experience at running back, Justin Thomas is one of the better option quarterbacks in recent years and his additional ability to pass accurately and effectively is a quarterback variable that most teams dont have to plan for as much when going up against the formation. While many factors will play into the outcome of the game, none will be as important between the Georgia Tech rushing attack vs. the Notre Dame front seven. The Irish have shown an exceptional ability at tackling in space throughout the first two games and have dominated against the run, allowing just 60 yards in week one against Texas and 88 yards last week against Virginia for a total of 148 yards on 58 attempts, an average of just 2.55 yards per carry. How they go about carrying that ability into the game Saturday against Paul Johnson and Ramblin Wreck rushing attack will go a long way in determining which team will be starting the year with a 3-0 record.
It is difficult to go against Notre Dame at home, especially when they are getting points at home and you are a biased fan of the team, but with the sudden and significant losses to injury and their struggles against defending the option that Georgia Tech runs so well, I am going with the Yellow Jackets to win and cover on the road in South Bend.
Mikes Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Georgia Tech -2.