4 items on Georgia Tech to-do list

If Georgia Tech hopes to celebrate following its game at No. 8 Notre Dame Saturday, the Yellow Jackets must remain focused in advance of one of their biggest games of the season. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

If Georgia Tech hopes to celebrate following its game at No. 8 Notre Dame Saturday, the Yellow Jackets must remain focused in advance of one of their biggest games of the season. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

After winning its first two games by a combined 134-16 score, Georgia Tech will begin practice to ready for a much sterner opponent this Saturday: No. 8 Notre Dame. One of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season, the No. 14 Yellow Jackets will need a focused week of practice to give themselves their best chance at coming out of South Bend, Ind., with an upset. Here are four things that will be important this week.

Learn more about DeShone Kizer

With Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire out with a broken ankle suffered in the Irish’s 34-27 win over Virginia on Saturday, coaches and players will have to get ready for his backup, redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer. As far as his game video goes, Tech coaches have 13 collegiate passes to study, including his 39-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds of Saturday’s win.

An oft-repeated comment is that teams prepare for schemes more than a particular player. Regardless, Irish coach Brian Kelly told reporters after the game that Kizer is not as strong a runner as Zaire, but is “very physical.” It won’t be a surprise if Tech coaches go back and look for clues in Kizer’s recruiting video, which helped prompt Alabama and Michigan State, among others, to also make scholarship offers.

Tackle better

Following the win over Tulane Saturday, coach Paul Johnson said that the defense “missed a ton of tackles,” particularly failing to bring down the Green Wave’s running backs.

“Those backs are kind of big — thick legs — and we bounced off a lot,” he said.

Wrapping up and swarming to the ball will likely be points of emphasis. Notre Dame is down to its No. 3 running back, but C.J. Prosise isn’t to be taken lightly. In two games, he has 253 rushing yards and a 6.8 yards-per-carry average. With Prosise and others, Notre Dame will challenge the Tech defense in a way that Alcorn State and Tulane simply couldn’t.

With Tech’s emphasis on stopping the run and Notre Dame’s likely determination to keep pressure off Kizer, the pressure is on Jackets defensive linemen KeShun Freeman, Adam Gotsis, Jabari Hunt-Days and Rod Rook-Chungong.

Keep heads on straight

The team moved up to 14th in the Associated Press poll Sunday. Players will be hearing nothing but sunshine from fellow students, family and fans this week, excited to be a part of the team’s roaring start. NBC will send its Notre Dame broadcast crew to Atlanta this week for interviews with Tech players and coaches.

On top of that, the heady anticipation of playing in a game with national attention and in one of the game’s legendary venues may make it more difficult to keep a business-as-usual focus on the details of practice and position meetings.

It won’t be the easiest week to keep a level head and the potential false sense of security provided by Zaire’s injury can’t help. The Jackets went through this last season with their back-to-back losses to Duke and North Carolina after their 5-0 start. The danger might be especially real for freshmen who are experiencing this mania for the first time. It might be a good week for players to forego social media.

Brace for star defenders

Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith are both potential first-round NFL draft picks. Day has quickness and an ability to blow up blocks, two qualities that come in handy when disrupting Tech’s option game from the inside.

Smith led Notre Dame in tackles last season as a sophomore and is moved around the defense, which may make it more difficult for the Tech offense to keep tabs. They may be two of the best defenders that Tech faces this season. The Jackets line will have to focus on firing off the line, using the proper footwork and giving full effort on each play to keep them from bogging down the offense.