Sept. 1, 2007
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Tashard Choice helped Georgia Tech fans forget about the loss of Calvin Johnson.
Choice rushed for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns and the Georgia Tech defense had little trouble with Notre Dame’s new passers, forcing two fumbles by Demetrius Jones, sacking Evan Sharpley seven times and keeping Jimmy Clausen from doing any damage in a 33-3 victory Saturday.
“I did not see this coming,” Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. “I thought we would play pretty well defensively. I did not know we would run the ball as well as we ran it today.”
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis didn’t see it coming either. He said one of the biggest problems was the Irish weren’t ready for the speed of the game, and blamed himself for not having the team prepared.
“Who else are you going to blame but yourself? I’m the head coach,” he said. “It’s my responsibility.”
It was just the 15th season-opening loss in Notre Dame history and the most lopsided, surpassing the 31-10 loss to Pittsburgh to start the 1976 season. It’s also the first time the Irish failed to score a touchdown in a season opener since a 20-12 loss at Michigan in 1985.
The three points are the fewest points scored by the Irish under third-year coach Charlie Weis. The previous low was in a 14-10 win in the season-opener against Georgia Tech last season.
Weis said after the game he couldn’t remember the last time an offense he coached had failed to score a touchdown.
“We’ve had some rough games in the past, but it’s been a while,” he said.
Weis kept his choice of starting quarterback secret until game time, hoping that preparing for three quarterbacks would make it tough on Georgia Tech’s defense. It didn’t work. In fact, it almost looked as if Georgia Tech knew what was coming.
Gailey said the Yellow Jackets focused on stopping the run.
“We’re going to blitz you. We don’t care who you are,” he said. “We thought the challenge was to stop the running game to see if they could throw the ball well enough to beat us.”
Choice, the leading rusher in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season with 1,473 yards, rushed for more than 100 yards for an eighth straight game, breaking the school record set by Eddie Lee Ivery in 1978. He scored on a 22-yard run on a direct snap and set up his other 7-yard TD — also on a direct snap — with a 45-yard run.
“We just wanted to make a statement and come here to Notre Dame and let everybody know that Georgia Tech is going to be a team to reckon with this year,” Choice said.
The only disappointment for Georgia Tech (1-0) was it was forced to settle for four field goals by Travis Bell, who had another one blocked. Jonathan Dwyer added a 7-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Taylor Bennett played solidly, completing 11-of-23 passes for 121 yards.
“He did some really good things, and he missed some throws that I had seen him make 50 times in practice,” Gailey said. “The great thing is, he didn’t have to go play great today. He could play good and we could still win.”
Georgia Tech had 386 yards total offense and held the Irish to 122 yards — the fewest yards for Notre Dame since it had 109 yards in a 44-13 loss at USC in 2002. Jones, Sharpley and Clausen were a combined 15-for-22 for 122 yards. Clausen, the celebrated freshman, was 4-for-6 for 34 yards.
Notre Dame tried to come out and play smash-mouth football — a stark departure from the aerial attack it used the past two seasons behind Brady Quinn.
“We were going in there determined to try to run the ball, make sure we didn’t have negative plays, to make sure we played close to the vest early and got used to the speed of the game with the number of people that were relatively inexperienced,” Weis said. “And when it all played out, all of a sudden a couple of bad things could happen, you turn the ball over a couple of times, and they make a couple of big plays.”
The Georgia Tech offense repeatedly took advantage of good field position. The only long scoring drive for the Yellow Jackets was a 13-play, 63-yard drive in the third quarter that started on their own 16 and ended in a 39-yard field goal.
Weis said he’s not sure who the starter will be next week against Penn State, but said he will announce his decision by Tuesday.
“I have to wait to see how many of those errors are quarterback related and how many of them are protection related, how many of them are route related,” he said. “There’s a whole litany of problems right there that we have to fix.”