Battle in the Trenches Key for Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech

There is a ton of talk about Calvin Johnson causing the Notre Dame secondary to have fits this weekend against Georgia Tech. In fact, because of him, this has become a popular upset pick for ESPN and college football websites. I’m not here to disrespect Calvin, but in all honesty, he should not be a problem as long as Notre Dame takes care of business. I’m sick of hearing the “Calvin Johnson will gets his” argument, because if a couple of players on the Notre Dame defense do their job, mister top ten will be eating humble pie on Saturday Night.

Oddly enough, the players that are key in stopping Johnson don’t play cornerback or safety; they are all up front on the defensive line.

Despite what everybody is saying about Calvin running circles around the Irish’s “slow” defense, the Irish will control whether Johnson shines or is shut down.

Tech has experienced something this off-season in which Notre Dame has been lucky enough to avoid, and that is the dreaded injury bug. And while the bug didn’t fully inject the Jackets with it’s venom, it has left them banged up. Starting guards Matt Rhodes and Nate McManus left practice last week due to injures, and even before that their starting right tackle Mansfield Wrotto was sidelined as well. While all three players are expected to play Saturday, I highly doubt any will be fully 100 percent and at the top of their game. If there was one position that Tech cannot afford injuries, it is on the offensive line. Granted, when healthy, Tech sports one of the top offensive lines in the game. Quarterback Reggie Ball could not ask for better protection, he was sacked just 10 times last year, which is less than 1 sack a game. When a scrambler like Ball comes away with a clean jersey that would make a mother proud almost every game, they are doing something right. Four of the linemen from last year’s dominating bunch are returning with the new starter being the injured Wrotto.

However, once you get past those linemen, depth is extremely limited. They have two players moving from the defensive line to protect the quarterback, and very few of them have any experience what so ever at the college level. Needless to say, most of the offensive line for Tech is very banged up and fragile at this point, and if one of them would have to leave the game on Saturday due to injury, they are in a world of trouble.

Let’s shift gears now and go on the other side of the ball, the Notre Dame defensive line. Unlike Tech, they went through summer workouts and training camp virtually unscratched, healthy, and burning with energy waiting for Saturday. Left defensive end Victor Abiamiri is primed for a breakout season in which he solidifies himself as one of the top pass rushing threats in the nation. He will be going up against Mansfield Wrotto, and right off the bat we have a mis-match. Wrotto will be starting his first career college game at the Right Tackle position; he was a defensive tackle the previous three years. This definitely works in Notre Dame’s favor, as Abiamiri is a guy who has shown the skill to dominate. Mansfield is being thrown into the fire here, and going up against one of the better defensive ends in the game can be unsettling for him. This is definitely a match up to watch, as I believe that Victor should be able to handle Wrotto and make a ton of plays. Honestly, I don’t see why this match up is ever mentioned when talking about how Reggie Ball is going to sit back, eat a salad, and play pitch and catch with Calvin Johnson, because I see #95 living in that Tech backfield disrupting the timing between Ball and Johnson all night long.

Trevor Laws and Derek Landri will face the middle of the Tech line in left guard Matt Rhodes, center Kevin Tuminello, and right guard Nate McManus. Obviously all 3 of these guys are terrific players, as they were a part of that great Tech line last year.

Creating pressure up the middle is another key in this game, and Laws and Landri must do that in order to expose the possible mismatch between Victor and Wrotto. Victor can fly by Mansfield all he wants, but if Ball is able to just step up in the pocket, it will mean nothing. Laws and Landri don’t have to rack up sacks in this game, they will just have to collapse the pocket and create a push to help the ends out. All Irish fans know that Derek and Trevor are very good players, but still, all I hear from Tech fans and ESPN junkies is how this Tech line will dominate. Once again, I see Landri and Laws being very effective in these matchups.

Matt Rhodes weighs in at 280 pounds, Kevin Tuminello at 285, and Nate McManus at 300. None of these guys are overly huge or can overpower many defensive tackles. Landri and Laws are both somewhere near 280, give or take a few pounds. Rhodes, Tuminello, and McManus all have great technique, use their hands well and are quick on their feet, that is why they are successful in protecting Ball so well. However, if Derek Landri and Trevor Laws use that leverage that has made them starters the past few years, and are able to get a good push on those three in the middle, that will be a very effective day. As I stated before, I don’t expect a number of sacks from these two, but if they collapse that pocket and make Ball start running for his life, everything will fall into place like a domino effect.

Facing Ronald Talley will be Andrew Gardner, the Tech left tackle. Gardner is a guy in which I have not seen a lot of, but from the little that I have seen, he is a swift moving tackle and uses the great technique that makes the GT offensive line as good as it is. This match up is a total toss up, and it could go either way. Ronald Talley has shown flashes of brilliance, especially last season when he got extended playing time, but his speed his been a huge question mark, and he will need to shut off all running lanes to the outside against Ball so he can’t buy time. Talley has improved since last year, and even beat out last year’s starter Chris Frome for the starting spot this off-season. If you want to be pessimistic, you could say Frome was slowed by a knee injury and will be back starting by mid-season. Or, you could be optimistic and say that Talley is on his way to becoming a quality defensive player at the college level. Look at it as you will, but just like the other linemen, Talley plays a huge role in getting pressure on ball.

Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson have been a deadly duo in the past, and that is because the offensive line has been so good to them. I mean, you can put a senior citizen behind a great offensive line and he will tear it up (which is why I don’t see Jeff George and the Raiders working out.) However, if you can somehow get to the Tech offensive line, Ball will be exposed as the mediocre throwing quarterback that he is. He will have trouble getting the ball downfield to Johnson and when Ball and Johnson don’t go, the Tech offense doesn’t go. Many have doubted the ND defensive line in the past, but you know what? If you ask me about the match up between the question mark Notre Dame defensive line, and the proven, dominant Tech offensive line, I say…

Advantage: Irish.

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