The general vibes of the Georgia Tech fan base going into the matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday seemed to be hopeful and excited.
For the first time in awhile, there were talks of championship contention surrounding the Yellow Jackets, and this was the game that was going to push Tech into the picture.
Unfortunately, this game did the complete opposite for Georgia Tech.
Offensively, the Jackets came into the game on a complete roll dating back to last season, and Paul Johnson's attack was getting as much national recognition as it ever had. On Saturday, Notre Dame put that talk to rest for now with a dominant defensive performance. Tech was held to 216 yards rushing on 47 carries in the game for a 4.6 average.
It seemed even lower than that. Every time the Jackets needed to pick up some much needed yards on crucial plays, the Fighting Irish defense was in the backfield wreaking havoc. This was more than true on third down conversions, which is where Tech typically makes a living. They didn't convert on a third down until the fourth quarter after failing on the first nine tries. In the end, they finished 3-15 in the game, which I would imagine is one of the lowest conversion rates during Johnson's tenure.
Despite the bad day running the ball by Georgia Tech standards, the passing game was even worse. Justin Thomas had no time in the pocket before needing to scramble away, and the wide receivers created very little separation. Thomas finished 8-24 through the air for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers were even worse before he threw both of his touchdowns and a few completions in the final minute as Tech made the final score look respectable.
Unbelievably, Georgia Tech was an onside kick away with 20 seconds left from having the ball with a chance to tie the game. Harrison Butker had a bad day kicking, but his two onside attempts were as perfect as you could ask for - with Tech coming up with the first one.
Notre Dame never trailed in the game. Will Fuller caught a deep touchdown pass with Chris Milton covering to take the early lead. After Patrick Skov rumbled in from five yards out in the second quarter, Fuller once again made a big play on a screen pass as he eluded Milton's tackle and got the Irish in the red zone. C.J. Prosise ran it in from 17 yards out to give Notre Dame a 13-7 lead at halftime.
The Jackets forced two turnovers in the half. The first was an interception by D.J. White in the end zone that was a huge turnaround. Tech took the ball down the field for its only score in the half. The second was a fumble recovered late in the second half that put the Jackets in scoring range. The drive stalled, and Butker missed his second field goal of the half - this one from 43 yards out.
The second half start was as bad as you could ask for and set the table for how bad the half would be. Justin Thomas fumbled as he attempted to dance away from Notre Dame defenders. The Tech defense held the Irish to a field goal to make it 16-7. That was the story for much of the game as the Tech defense held ground for the majority of the game while the offense couldn't gain any momentum and gave Notre Dame good field position often.
Two more Prosise touchdown runs in the fourth quarter basically put the game away even though Tech did make it look close in the end and had a small opportunity to make it interesting. Prosise's second one was the dagger - a 91-yard touchdown run - but Tech fans have a legitimate gripe for an obvious hold on Jabari Hunt that allowed Prosise to run free through the middle.
It wasn't the only gripes from Tech fans toward referees. Holds seemed to go unnoticed for Notre Dame throughout the game, but a phantom hold was called on Errin Joe in the third quarter by a ref who was looking in the opposite direction when the block was made. The flag negated a long touchdown run by Justin Thomas that would've brought Tech within two points. The drive stalled and ended with Johnson electing to go for 4th-and-16 with no success. There were some smaller complaints including pass interferences on both sides of the ball by the Irish, but that was the one that was fairly obvious and really halted any momentum for Tech.
The season is only three games old. While there are some huge red flags after this game including terrible blocking and the lack of playmakers offensively outside of Justin Thomas, it's important to try to step back and relax this early. It was a bad loss. A really ugly, bad, terrible, and deflating loss. But Paul Johnson was able to pull things together last season after two bad losses to opponents much worse than Notre Dame. I'm sure it won't be a fun week in practice, and we'll hope to see a much different looking team take the field next week against Duke.