Monday, September 04, 2006

Post Mortem: Notre Dame 14, Georgia Tech 10

Better. Not great, but better.

That's the Irish defense I'm talking to. The offense turned out to be a whole 'nother story.

The Irish 'O' was flustered all night on Saturday, sweltering in the heat of Bobby Dodd Stadium and a jacked-up home crowd that defended their turf better than anybody expected. I know I personally was predicting Irish fans would achieve Nebraska 2000 levels of attendance for this game, and while it was an impressive turnout for the road team, the crowd in Atlanta still made their presence felt.

So did Georgia Tech's defensive mastermind, Jon Tenuta. He had Quinn rushed and popped and blitzed and confused through most of the game, but his unit never was able to get the key mistake the Yellow Jackets needed to turn the game back in their favor. Quinn finished 23 of 38 for 246 yards and no touchdowns, but he had a number of key runs and audibled for a daring QB draw TD at the end of the first half after Notre Dame had burned its last timeout. Weis schemed out enough plays in the final 35 minutes of the game, with the Irish posting consecutive TD drives of 14 plays (80 & 64 yds., respectively).

Then it was the defense's turn to make a statement. While nobody will be forgetting about the Fiesta Bowl just yet, as a unit they look much more in-tune with the speed of the game. Lee Corso crowed in the buildup to this season that while the Irish had made efforts to improve their "pure" speed, there would still be a glaring deficit in the "game speed" department. How soon would they react? How well could they communicate? And how on Earth would they contain Calvin Johnson?

While there were some cringe-worthy whiffs on tackles and a noticeable difficulty in pressuring QB Reggie Ball, the Irish neutralized his favorite target after being burned for 5 catches, 95 yards and a TD in the first quarter and a half. The biggest head turner was Travis Thomas at his new position of outside linebacker, who was displaying exactly the type of "fly-all-over-the-field" style that Weis envisioned when he proposed the switch. Chinedum Ndukwe looked a lot more comfortable (and far more agile) at strong safety. In a nod to conditioning coach Reuben Mendoza, his reputedly hellish workout routines seem to have paid off as the Irish were easily outpacing and outhitting the Yellow Jackets as the game wore on in the Southern night, despite being the Yankees from up North.

And then there was the kicking game. Geoff Price? Check-plus. Bobby Renkes? Check-plus. Carl Gioia? I'll get back to you.

While I think we all would have enjoyed another 500-yard, 42-point performance in the opening road win, fact of the matter is the Irish are 1-0 and survived the first tough test knowing they can play much better. The story shouldn't be so much about how everybody overestimated Notre Dame, but rather how unappreciated Georgia Tech is. Maybe Chan Gailey won't be able to get that team into the ACC title hunt, but his staff prepares for big games as good as anybody (see upsets over Auburn and Miami last season, both on the road, and five wins over ranked opponents the last two seasons).

It got the job done against Tech. Now Penn State and JoePa come-a-callin'.



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