The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have won at least six home games and 10 games total in each of the last four seasons. In order to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive and stretch that streak to five straight seasons by adding 2021 to the list, they'll need to hold serve against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who are winless in their last four games. The Yellow Jackets' last win — a 31-27 nail-biter at ACC cellar-dweller Duke — came back in Week 6 and also stands as their lone win away from Atlanta in 2021.
Notre Dame (9-1) has bounced back quite nicely from a Week 5 loss against CFP contender Cincinnati, winning each of its last five games in a blend of close calls and cruise controls. A three-point win at Virginia Tech and a 10-point escape against North Carolina pale in comparison to dominant home wins against USC and Navy and last week's 28-3 deposit of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Georgia Tech (3-7, 2-6 ACC) has a couple of chances to close the 2021 season by playing spoiler, heading to Notre Dame this weekend before hosting Georgia to round out the slate. To do so in their first opportunity, the Yellow Jackets will need to do something they have only done once in the last 60 years: beat the Fighting Irish inside The House That Rockne Built. Georgia Tech has only won six times against Notre Dame in program history, chalking up a dominant 33-3 effort in 2007 in South Bend — their first win inside Notre Dame Stadium since 1959.
Georgia Tech at No. 8 Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -17
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
The Yellow Jackets have been more pass-heavy now that they've transitioned out of the triple option, throwing for 221.1 yards per game while rushing for 180.1 per game in 2021. In fact, Georgia Tech hasn't passed for more than 200 yards per game over the course of a full season since 2002 and hasn't finished a season with a per-game rate this high since 2001, part of a seven-year run from 1996 to 2002 with at least 200 passing yards per game in each season.
The bulk of that production has come on the shoulders of Jeff Sims, whose 230 yards per game of total offense is a top-10 mark in the ACC entering the final two weeks of the regular season. But Sims missed last week's win over Boston College with an undisclosed leg injury, and his status for Saturday is unclear. In his place against the Eagles was Jordan Yates, who threw for one touchdown and rushed for another while Jahmyr Gibbs was his top counterpart out of the backfield. Malachi Carter brought in Yates' lone touchdown of the game, but it was Gibbs who led the way — on the ground with 96 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries as well as in the passing game with team highs in receptions (five) and yards (29).
The Yellow Jackets will be up against one of their stiffest tests all season, especially with how well the Fighting Irish have played defensively as of late. Notre Dame has allowed just nine total points across the last two weeks and has kept all but one of its opponents under 30 points, a threshold the Jackets haven't exceeded in a month. Notre Dame also collected seven sacks against the Cavaliers, tied with Alabama, Oklahoma State, Michigan and SMU for the second-highest total in Week 11.
Virginia entered its matchup with Notre Dame ranked fourth in the FBS at 7.2 yards per play, but the Cavaliers managed just 4.3 yards per play on Saturday. Linebacker Bo Bauer led the way with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks and will be a key force in the middle against Georgia Tech's run-heavy option portfolio. Ramon Henderson also played a big role in slowing down the Cavaliers, grabbing an interception and half a sack in his first start of the season while All-American safety Kyle Hamilton remains out with a leg injury suffered against USC.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Speaking of Saturday, Notre Dame outpaced Virginia by nearly 60 percent on a per-play basis. The Fighting Irish amassed 423 total yards for nearly seven yards per play in what was an impressive first half for coordinator Tommy Rees and Notre Dame's offense. Three touchdowns on four first-half drives (excluding the three-play sequence to close the second quarter) put the Irish in control at halftime with 264 total yards to Virginia's 92, along with a 21-0 halftime lead which they extended to 28-0 with just over a quarter left to play before a fourth-quarter field goal broke the shutout for Virginia.
The win wasn't Jack Coan's most prolific game of the season, but his trio of touchdowns to Michael Mayer, Braden Lenzy, and Kevin Austin Jr. gave him his second game of 2021 with at least three scores (Florida State, 4). Mayer led the receiving corps with 84 yards on seven catches, his fifth game of the season pacing the team in receptions while grabbing his first touchdown since hauling in a pair in Week 2. Kyren Williams rushed 14 times for 70 yards and the Irish's lone touchdown on the ground while protecting Coan numerous times as a pass blocker, further boosting his case for the Paul Hornung Award, which recognizes the most versatile player in college football. Meanwhile, freshman Logan Diggs continued his breakout surge with nine carries for a career-best 64 yards, including a video game-esque hurdle that will only accelerate the excitement around his rapidly ascending playing time.
The Irish aim to keep moving forward against a Yellow Jackets defense that has yielded 30 or more points in four of their last six games with at least 40 allowed in three of them. Georgia Tech has mustered just 16 sacks all season, a far cry from the Irish, who have doubled up the Jackets through 10 weeks with 32. And while only Duke and Virginia have allowed more yards than Georgia Tech among ACC peers, the Yellow Jackets' defense has grabbed 10 fumbles —paced by Quez Jackson and Myles Sims with two each — to trail only ACC-leading Wake Forest's 11. That total has grown substantially in the last two weeks, thanks in large part to a three-fumble tally in the three-point loss at Miami in Week 10.
In addition to Saturday marking Notre Dame's final home game of the season, it also presents an opportunity for the Fighting Irish to win their 41st straight game against unranked opponents and their 24th straight regular-season win against ACC teams. Notre Dame must stick to its strengths to avoid an unexpected setback in its final ACC showdown, but its momentum and postseason motivation ought to propel the Fighting Irish forward and keep their playoff hopes alive heading into the final week of the regular season.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Georgia Tech 20
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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.