Atlanta, GA (UHND.com) – With a sputtering offense that was blitzed from all angles by an attacking Georgia defense, Notre Dame relied on its much maligned defense to hang on to an opening night victory. Despite scoring just 14 points, the least they have scored under Weis, the Irish leave Georgia with the win heading into a showdown with Penn State.
Brady Quinn and the Irish offense appeared to have it going out of the gate. After a great kick return from freshman George West, the Irish converted a third down with a catch by Jeff Samardzija who would add a big gain on a flare pass on the next play. The play would be negated however by an at best, questionable holding call on Rhema McKnight and the Irish would not be able to recover on the drive which became a familiar theme in the first half.
Jon Tenuta brought pressure from all angles at Brady Quinn for the rest of the first half and the Heisman hopeful could not get his offense going until the Irish were already down 10 points after a Calvin Johnson four yard catch. Johnson who had 7 catches for 111 yards was close to unstoppable in the first half with 5 of those catches for 95 yards coming in the first two periods.
With just over four and a half minutes left in the first half, all the Irish offense had to show for was a missed 42 yard field goal by new place kicker Carl Goia. Goia, taking over for DJ Fitzpatrick, missed both of his fields from 42 and 36 yards, in his starting debut.
Tenuta and the Yellow Jacket defense couldn’t keep the Irish off the scoreboard for the entire first half however. Quinn marched his team down the field as the second quarter came to a close converting two key third downs along the way to a five yard touchdown run. The first conversion came on a hot route to John Carlson when Tech had a jailbreak blitz called and the second came on a 16 yard scramble by Quinn to convert a 3rd and 12.
The Irish still had a zero on the scoreboard with 16 seconds and no timeouts left before a ballsy call by Weis got the Irish into the end zone. The Irish came out in an empty backfield with tight end John Carlson lined up in the slot with got the middle linebacker to adjust and leave the middle wide open for Quinn to sneak it in from five yards out. Quinn, who completed 23 of 48 passes for 246 yards on the game, had a run pass option and when the linebacker shifted, he went with the run and it paid off.
Tech took the lead into half time, but couldn’t get much going against a much improved defense from the Irish. After getting a first down on their opening drive, Reggie Ball and the Tech offense stalled giving the Irish offense the ball and the momentum.
Notre Dame gave the aggressive Yellow Jacket defense a heavy dose of Darius Walker on the ensuing drive. The Georgia native would run the ball 5 times for 38 yards on a 14 play drive that ate up just about five and a half minutes of clock the ended with his first touchdown of the year.
The drive was kept alive by a personal foul on Georgia Tech linebacker Phillip Wheeler that drew the ire of the crowd. Facing a third and 10 Brady Quinn dropped back and for one of the few times on the night, had plenty of time to throw. Quinn found no open receivers however and decided to tuck it and run. After about three yards Quinn took a helmet to helmet hit as he was about to go out of bounds after a three yard gain.
The hit drew a flag immediately and the official who threw it nearly got hit by a water bottle shortly after. Tech fans will complain about this one for a while but if you watch the replay, Wheeler lined up Quinn, who was on his way out of bounds, and then led with hit helmet and made helmet to helmet contact – which is a penalty last time I checked.
Two plays later, after a Notre Dame touchdown was called back for a block in the back on John Carlson, Walker raced around the corner from 13 yards out for what would be the game winning score.
Tech would be unable to get much going offensively for the rest of the game with only a handful of first downs coming on Reggie Ball QB draws.
The last chance Georgia Tech had to score ended abruptly with back to back sacks from Travis Thomas and Maurice Crum. A bad snap on a second and five allowed Thomas to come flying in untouched to stop Ball before he got going. On the next play Crum found an open lane to rush in and stuff Ball for a loss of 14 yards.
Georgia Tech pinned the Irish inside the five with a punt, but Quinn and the Irish offense would not leave the field again until the game was over. With just over five and a half minutes left on the clock Quinn led the Irish on an 11 play drive that would kill the clock. Along the way the Irish converted a 3rd and 9 with a reception by Rhema McKnight and a gutsy 4th and 1 from around midfield with 70 seconds to go.
McKnight, who caught 8 passes for 108 yards in his return, atoned for an earlier drop that would have set up a first and goal before Carl Goia missed his second field goal with the clutch grab on 3rd and 9.
The 4th down call was gutsy by Weis, but the faith he put in his offense paid off. Quinn lunged forward for the first down and the Irish killed the clock and escaped with a win.
It was a lot closer than most people thought it would be (myself included), but the Irish leave with a zero in the loss column and that is the most important stat of the game.