SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — On a day when No. 6 Notre Dame did little wrong in a 55-0 shutout of beleaguered Georgia Tech on Saturday, coach Brian Kelly made a pitch for his team’s postseason aspirations in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s an improving team that continues to do the little things the right way,” Kelly said.
Jack Coan threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than a half and the Fighting Irish (CFP No. 8) had two defensive touchdowns for the second time this season in winning their sixth straight game since a 24-13 home loss to No. 3 Cincinnati Oct. 2.
Coan, a grad transfer from Wisconsin, completed 15 of 20 passes. He had first-half touchdown strikes of 52 yards to Michael Mayer and 20 yards to Logan Diggs as the Irish took a 45-0 halftime. Coan exited after one series in the third quarter and was replaced by true freshman Tyler Buchner, who ripped off a 68-yard run on his first play.
With Coan directing the offense, and the Irish defense hounding Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates all afternoon, Notre Dame improved to 10-1, reaching the 10-win level for the fifth straight season by outgaining coach Geoff Collins’ Yellow Jackets (3-8) by a 514-224 yardage margin.
“That’s a really good football team,” Collins said “We got outcoached, out-executed and out-physicalled throughout the game.”
The shutout was the first at Notre Dame for first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and first by the Irish since a 52-0 whitewash of South Florida on Sept. 19 of last season when the Irish reached the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons. The Irish have now gone three games without allowing a touchdown.
“We’ve been in control of games,” Kelly said. “The quarterback is efficient and pushes the ball down the field, we have one of the best tight ends in college football and an improving running game. This is a really good football team.”
Linebacker Jack Kiser had a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Irish a 10-0 lead after the first of two field goals by Jonathan Doerer. The Irish then added a 9-yard touchdown run by Kyren Williams, his first of two rushing touchdowns, and Coan’s TD pass to Mayer for a 24-0 lead after the first quarter. Freshman running back Logan Diggs had two touchdowns in the second quarter, the second on a reception from Coan, as Notre Dame opened a 45-0 halftime lead.
Grad defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa returned Yates’ fumble caused by defensive end Isaiah Foskey 70 yards in the third quarter as the Irish led 55-0 after three quarters. Notre Dame had two interception returns for touchdowns in a 41-13 victory over Wisconsin earlier this season.
Yates threw for 96 yards on 14-of-28 passing as Foskey and company had six sacks, nine quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets couldn’t get out of their own way in the first half, totaling just 117 yards as Notre Dame harassed Yates and limited freshman running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who was second nationally in all-purpose yards at 168 coming into the game, to just 40 rushing yards in the first half. He finished with 58 rushing yards and 122 all-purpose yards.
“Obviously, that’s a hurting team in there,” Collins said. “That’s not the kind of football we’ve played the last couple of weeks. We’ve got to be better and it starts with me. We’ve got to find a way. We’ve got the No. 1 team in the country (Georgia) coming to town next Saturday.”
Notre Dame: The Irish couldn’t have played much better than they did in the first half, scoring on all six of their offensive possessions and adding the 43-yard interception return by Kiser, who had one of the two interception returns for touchdowns against Wisconsin. Kiser, however, left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury that Kelly didn’t think was serious.
The 45 first-half points was the most by the Irish since they scored 45 points against visiting Miami (Ohio) in a 52-17 victory in 2017. The Irish defensive line had seven of its quarterback hurries by halftime.
“The defense loves a shutout,” Foskey said after Notre Dame’s third straight game without yielding a touchdown. Navy had two field goals and Virginia one in the previous games. “After the last couple of weeks, it was great to see a zero on the board.”
CELEBRATING WITH MYRON
Defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa was one of several players who missed the 28-3 victory at Virginia because of a flu outbreak on the Notre Dame campus. But he wasn’t going to miss the final home game of his Notre Dame, and he went out in style with his 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“The entire defensive line jumped out of their seats immediately,” defensive tackle Howard Cross III said. “He’s a great role model.”
Mayer was one of 11 players to make a reception. His three receptions for 86 yards and one touchdown give him 55 catches for 663 yards and five touchdowns. The Irish finished with 514 yards in total offense, 302 through the air and 212 on the ground as Buchner led the way with 67 rushing yards, freshman running back Audric Estime had 61 yards and Williams finished 56 yards on the ground and added 31 receiving yards and 33 more yards on punt returns.
“I think we’ve definitely found our identity,” the 6-foot-4 1/2, 251-pound sophomore said. “Coan’s been throwing the ball great. Kyren’s been running the ball great. … Our offense is really coming together.”
Depending on the outcome of later games, Notre Dame likely solidified its No. 6 ranking in The Associated Press ranking and probably would move up a spot Tuesday in the College Football Rankings with Ohio State’s 56-7 thrashing of No. 7 Michigan State.
Georgia Tech: Host No. 1 Georgia on Saturday.
Notre Dame: At Stanford on Saturday.