SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame put away any thoughts of looking past Georgia Tech early this afternoon.
The first play of the game was a 51-yard kick return from Chris Tyree. The first play from scrimmage was a 38-yard Jack Coan pass to a wide-open Kevin Austin Jr. After the Irish settled for a field goal (more on that below), Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates was hit as he threw and linebacker Jack Kiser picked off the resulting floater and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
The game has progressed from there. By the end of the first quarter, it was a 24-point Irish lead and at halftime, No. 6 Notre Dame has opened a 45-0 lead. The Irish are locked in on Senior Day and Georgia Tech is just not particularly good, especially on defense. It isn't sound in coverage and Notre Dame's athletes are just on a completely different level. For the second straight week, the Irish are just completely out-classing their opponent. Remember, they were unable to do so against Toledo in Week 2, so this is a pretty good example of how much this team has grown, even if today's game will tell us little about Notre Dame's overall place in the college football pecking order this season.
The most impressive part of Notre Dame's performance so far has been tight end Michael Mayer, who continues to make his case for the Mackey Award (given to the nation's best tight end). The sophomore has three catches for 86 yards today, including a 52-yard touchdown catch on a deep post. A blown Georgia Tech coverage left him 15 yards from the nearest defender when he caught the ball, making it maybe Notre Dame's easiest touchdown of the season. One little detail that made I'd like to Mayer's performance: on a Kyren Williams swing-pass reception, Mayer was the lead blocker and he pancaked a poor Georgia Tech defensive back. The play gained "only" nine yards, but it was a good example of Mayer's growth as a blocker. He's a more complete player this season.
Allow me one quibble about the way the first half has gone, however: Jack Coan is seemingly back to holding the ball for too long. I noticed this against Virginia last week, but it didn't matter because the Cavaliers couldn't really get much pressure on Coan. Obviously, you want your quarterback to hold the ball as long as he needs to make the right throw, as long as he has a pocket around him. But on Notre Dame's first offensive series today, Coan was sacked twice in three plays because he held the ball too long and let the Yellow Jackets close in on him. It looked like early-season Coan. The back-to-back sacks forced the Irish to settle for a field goal, the only real offensive blemish an otherwise pristine first half.
The good news is the Irish line stepped up and gave Coan more time the rest of the half and he helped out by moving a little bit outside of the pocket and even made a few nice throws on the run, including a fourth-down conversion to Braden Lenzy when the game was still in doubt. It's hard to complain about Coan's performance too much since he's 15 of 18 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but this is something to watch for going forward. If he's under consistent pressure like he was early in the season, what will happen? This could become extremely relevant if Notre Dame sneaks into the College Football Playoff and draws Georgia and its all-universe defense.
Anyway, Notre Dame is going to win this game and get to 10 wins for the fifth straight season, the first time the Irish have ever done that. They're going to do it in style and they seem to be getting stronger late in the season. Bring on Tyler Buchner in the second half.