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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Opponent Preview | Georgia Tech

July 1, 2024
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Geoff Collins was one of those hires that looked great on paper. In reality it turned out to be a disaster for Georgia Tech.

Paul Johnson led them to nine bowl games in 11 seasons. Collins won 10 games in four years before being fired a third of the way into his fourth season.

Brent Key took over as the interim in 2022 and won more games than Collins did in any full season. That earned the former Georgia Tech offensive lineman the full-time gig and he had immediate success with a 7-6 record in year one.

He’s still an offensive lineman/offensive line coach at heart, which is why it’s not surprising that their identity was rooted in being physical and running the football. The success running the ball under offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner helped propel them all the way to 40th in OF+ (combined FEI and SP+ ranking) from 114th the previous season.

They have a great shot at going to a bowl again, but will have to navigate a difficult schedule in the first half of the season and be better on defense than they were last fall.

Post-Spring SP+ Ranking

They are 63rd in the post-spring SP+ projections. They are 35th on offense, 99th on defense, and 68th on special teams.

Key losses

S Jaylon King is out of eligibility. He was one of the lone brought spots on defense and finished 2nd team All-ACC.

Former Notre Dame linebacker Paul Moala led the team with 16 havoc plays and is also out of eligibility.

Edge Kyle Kennard transferred to South Carolina. He was their top defensive lineman last season and led the team in pressures and sacks. They also lost edge Eddie Kelly to Missouri. He got jumped on the depth chart by other players, but was in the rotation in 2023.

They lost two starting defensive backs to the transfer portal as well. Former Notre Dame safety KJ Wallace was their starting nickel last season and was solid for them. He’s off to UCLA. CB Kenan Johnson is also headed out west to Utah.

The only notable loss on offense is OT Jakiah Leftwich (UNC). He played over 300 snaps at right tackle last season and would have provided depth up front.

Key additions

TE Jackson Hawes (Yale) had a big spring and is in the mix to start for them. He was second team All-Ivy league in ‘23. TE Ryland Goede (Mississippi State) started seven games last fall after not playing much in his first four years at Georgia. He’s more of an in-line blocking option at 6-6 260.

Those two and true freshman Luke Harpring, who arrived this summer, are the likely core group at tight end for Georgia Tech. Harpring has a shot to play because of his receiving skills.

G Keylan Rutledge (MTSU) missed the spring with an injury, but is expected to compete to start at right guard. He was a two-year starter and first team All-Conference USA.

RB Anthony Carrie was a 4-star prospect with a shot to be the second option in the backfield as a true freshman. He was offered by Notre Dame.

They didn’t add any certified studs on defense, but they are bringing in several who should make them better on that side of the ball.

CB Syeed Gibbs (Rhode Island) is competing to start at nickel and CB Warren Burrell (Tennessee) is a potential starter as well. Gibbs was a FCS freshman All-American as a redshirt freshman last season. Burrell had 22 career starts at Tennessee, but only played 301 snaps the last two seasons because of injury.

CB Zachary Tobe (Illinois) started three games a true freshman and had five pass breakups. He’s got good size and showed plenty of promise.

DT Jordan van den Berg (Penn State) arrived this summer. He was in the defensive line rotation at PSU and he should be in the rotation for them at GT as well. DT Thomas Gore (Miami) is one of the more intriguing additions. He only played 167 snaps for The U, but had four TFLs and was All-Sun Belt at Georgia State.

LB EJ Lightsey (UGA) redshirted and then missed the entire ‘23 season with an injury. He was the 2A Defensive player of the year in Georgia. He should be in the mix at linebacker.

Edge Romello Height (USC) had 6 TFLs last season and with a team that is desperate for edge rushers, he may be an answer for them this season.

Top returners and returning production

They are 44th in returning production (8th on offense and 108th on defense).

QB Haynes King had an exciting debut after transferring from Texas A&M. The former elite recruit finished 28th in QBR and his ability to run was a huge reason why. He ran for 737 yards, 10 touchdowns, and had 10 rushes of 20+ yards.

He was hot and cold as a passer, though. He completed 50% of his passes or less against UGA, Clemson, Miami, and Boston College as well as throwing 16 interceptions.

RB Jamal Haynes ran for over 1,000 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. He’s a great fit in their zone running scheme and can break one if he gets a crease. He had 10 rushes of 20+ yards.

Their offense finished 12th in EPA (expected points added) per rush and those two were big reasons why, but the line was also a pleasant surprise. As mentioned above, Key is an offensive line guy and this group played well.

They have four starters returning, led by C Weston Franklin (2nd team All-ACC in the pre-season) and RT Jordan Williams. Williams is going to be the rare five-year starter.

WR Eric Singleton was a freshman All-American. He led the team in receiving with 714 on 14.9 yards per reception. He’s their main deep threat. 35.1% of his targets were 20+ yards down the field.

Slot Malik Rutherford made plays in the spring game like he did last season too. He had 46 catches and four touchdowns in ‘23. He also averaged 7.4 yards after the catch per reception.

LB Kyle Efford is back after leading them in tackles last fall. He's instinctive, but undersized.

NT Zeke Biggers is 6-6 333 and finished with seven havoc plays. That includes three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. He can push the pocket. DT Makius Scott is also back beside him (4.5 havoc plays).

Edge Sylvain Youndjuen is in his sixth year. He missed the spring and played only one game last season. He had 20 pressures in 2022.

CB Ahmari Harvey was their best cover corner. The Auburn transfer has NFL potential and led the team with three interceptions.

S LaMiles Brooks played hurt most of the season and struggled in coverage. He allowed a passer rating of 135.0 when targeted, but did compile 7.5 havoc plays.

Two big questions

Do they have enough talent to be better on defense?

They could have been better than a seven win team if the defense handled their business. They brought in defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci, a Mike Elko protege who ran the defense at Duke last season. That should help a group that finished 87th in DF+ that also finished 107th in points per drive.

They were 129th in EPA per rush and 117th in EPA per dropback. Giving up the big play was a problem and the pass rush was putrid. A 23.6% pressure rate was sixth worst in the country.

Santucci should do a good job, but they might not have enough talent who can consistently get after the passer and it’s impossible to be good on defense without a pass rush.

Can King improve as a passer?

It would be one thing if King only struggled against good defenses, but Boston College didn’t play close to good defense last season. They were 94th in DF+ and yet they picked off King three times. His adjusted completion percentage in that game was 50%, so it wasn’t like he was killed by drops either.

They’ll need the best version of King to show up when Notre Dame visits Atlanta in October if they want to have a shot at winning.

How they’ve recruited

They’ve only signed eight blue-chips in the last four recruiting cycles.

The previous staff took a bunch of chances on transfers who were highly ranked back in high school, but very few of them worked out. King is the only who has worked out really well for them.

It’s never going to be an easy place to land recruits despite the location. There is too much competition going into Georgia to take recdruits and they can’t get everyone into school as easily as the programs they are competing with.

Key had success as a player at Georgia Tech when George O’Leary was his coach. He went on to coach with O’Leary at UCF and was at Alabama for three years working for Nick Saban. Faulkner was a great hire to run the offense and adding Santucci was the right move after seeing the defense struggle in year one. The staff has a solid foundation.

Things are ticking up with recruiting overall, but it’s going to be about development for them. The roster should be in much better shape in a couple of years.

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