SOUTH BEND — No. 8 Notre Dame looks to get to its fifth-straight season with double-digit wins this Saturday on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Fighting Irish (9-1) will matchup with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-7) at 1:30 p.m. on NBC. This will be the 37th all-time meeting between the two programs, with the Irish winning 29 of those contests. The last time Georgia Tech beat Notre Dame was in 2007 when the Yellow Jackets dominated the Irish 33-3 in South Bend.
Last season, Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech handily, 31-13, in Atlanta. If the underdog Yellow Jackets somehow beat the Irish on Saturday afternoon, the victory would erase their current four-game losing streak that spans back to October 23.
“You look at their record, and you just kind of scratch your head,” said Kelly of the Yellow Jackets. “We were looking, and I believe we saw that there were six times that they had an opportunity to go ahead during their last (offensive) possession. This is a talented football team, and certainly a number of their games could’ve gone the other way.”
For Georgia Tech, its offense is the strength of head coach Geoff Collins’ team. The Yellow Jackets average nearly 29 points per game and have scored 40 or more three times this season.
The most dangerous weapon Georgia Tech has on offense is freshman Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs is a pure athlete who can burn the opposition on the ground, in the passing game and on special teams. The Dalton, Georgia, native leads the team in both rushing and receiving yards. He has 734 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and 35 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He also has a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown listed on his resume as well.
“He’s the Player of the Year in the ACC,” said Kelly of Gibbs. “To me, he’s a breakout player. He can return kicks, and out of the backfield, he’s had at least 200 yards of total offense in a number of consecutive games. He’s a weapon, and just an outstanding player.”
At the quarterback position, the Yellow Jackets have used a two-quarterback system pretty extensively this season. Jeff Sims and Jordan Yates each see a healthy amount of snaps throughout the game, but Sims is usually the starter. He has 1,468 passing yards and 12 touchdowns compared to Yates’ 739 passing yards and six touchdowns. In the run game, the pair have combined for 675 yards and six touchdowns.
“They have a dynamic quarterback,” said Kelly of Sims. “And his replacement in Yates is pretty darn good as well. This is a team that has really good football players. I know their record doesn’t indicate that, but this is a classic team that if you don’t pay them their due respect, they will beat you.”
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets have had their fair share of challenges this year. During its four-game losing streak, Georgia Tech’s defense has allowed 37 points per game in losses to Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College.
They give up nearly 450 yards of total offense per game, which is a dreadful 114th in the country. The Yellow Jackets have given up so many points and yards this season at a pretty high rate because they simply can’t get off the field. Opponents are converting on 45% (64-of-141) of their third-down plays against Georgia Tech.
One area on Georgia Tech’s defense that has seen quite a bit of success stands in the middle. Linebacker Quez Jackson is undersized — 6’1”, 215 pounds — but his athleticism has made him difficult to contain. He leads the team with 97 tackles and has seven tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Ayinde Eley is bigger and more physical than Jackson, but that doesn’t hinder his ability to run down wide receivers and running backs in the open field. He’s second on the team with 86 tackles.
In the secondary, defensive back Juanyeh Thomas is very active. He has 68 tackles to lead all defensive backs. He also leads the team in pass breakups with five.
While the Yellow Jackets do have some talent at the second and third levels of the defense, the first level hasn’t quite done enough this season, and the results have shown. Notre Dame’s offensive line should have a field day against a defense that has only produced 16 sacks (tied for 104th in the NCAA). Expect the Irish offense to have yet another productive day, similar to its performances in each of the last few games.