Notre Dame Game Recap Week 2: Georgia

 

 

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Notre Dame fell to Georgia 20-19 Saturday night in yet another heartbreaker for the Irish. After losing so many close games last season, yet again, the Irish couldn’t come through in crunch time. With a chance to win the game in the final two minutes Brandon Wimbush was sacked by Davin Bellamy causing a fumble to end the game. It was a fitting end to a terrible night on offense for the Irish. Perhaps more tragic than anything about this game, though, were the number of Georgia fans in attendance. I understand that Georgia has a much larger alumni base than Notre Dame. I also understand that this was a once in a lifetime trip for many Bulldog fans. With that being said, the number of Notre Dame fans who sold their tickets was UNACCEPTABLE. Georgia fans made up at least 40% of the stadium, creating an essentially neutral atmosphere for a true freshman quarterback in his first start. How did a sea full of red look to the 30 recruits visiting for this game? It was an embarrassment. I had no problems with Georgia fans on Saturday, every single one was very kind and conversational. The issue is with Notre Dame fans selling their tickets to make a few hundred bucks. Where is the pride? I imagine tickets for Notre Dame’s return trip to Athens in 2019 will be very expensive, but I also imagine most Georgia fans won’t be selling them to Irish fans.

Our friends in the desert usually indicate that home field advantage is worth three points. That was gone on Saturday night. Kirby Smart said that Georgia was able to use verbal cadence, something they’ve never been able to do in an SEC game. Essentially, that means playing at Notre Dame Stadium is less intimidating than playing at Kentucky or Vanderbilt. Obviously, Notre Dame will never have the raucous fans of LSU or Alabama, but there was a time when going to Notre Dame was intimidating. Unfortunately, that time has come and gone. Rant over, let’s get on to how this game was played on the field.

Notre Dame Offense vs. Georgia Defense

Before this game, I pointed out two keys for Notre Dame’s offense. The first was for the offensive line to create a push and the second was for a receiver to emerge behind Equanimeous St. Brown. Neither key was even close to being accomplished. The Irish’s highly touted offensive line was manhandled by the Georgia front seven. In total, Notre Dame ran 37 times for just 55 yards, that’s less than 2 yards per carry. Many Irish fans are questioning why Dexter Williams did not get a single carry, but I’m not sure it would have mattered. There were no holes all night and the longest run for the Irish was 8 yards.
While the Irish were able to move the ball a bit more through the air, the passing game struggled as well. Wimbush faced pressure all night, and when he did have time, no one seemed to be able to get open. St. Brown was held to just 2 catches for 16 yards. There were multiple drops from a number of receivers including tight end Alize Mack. All around, it was long night for the Irish offense as they only got into the end zone once.
To give credit where credit is due, Georgia legitimately has a top 10 defense in the country. The front seven was relentless with 3 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback hurries, and 2 forced fumbles. It was no surprise that star linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy played well, but the secondary really showed up for the Dawgs. After the injury to Malkom Parrish, it was said that the secondary was a big weakness for Georgia. If that was the case, it didn’t show. In particular Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders did an outstanding job defending the Irish passing attack holding Wimbush to 19-39 for 211 yards. Perhaps this Notre Dame offense was overrated coming into the season, but Georgia deserves massive credit for holding this offense to just one touchdown and under 300 yards of total offense.
Notre Dame Grade: C-
Georgia Grade: A+

Georgia Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

The goal for the Georgia offense in this game was to dominate on the ground to put less pressure on true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. Although they did run for 185 yards, the Bulldogs certainly didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage. If you take away the three longest runs of the game, Georgia ran for 98 yards on 40 carries and 2.45 yards per carry. Normally, I don’t like to make those types of qualifications. Georgia created holes for big runs, which Notre Dame’s line could not do. However, what that statistic shows is that for the majority of the ballgame it wasn’t easy for Georgia to run on the Irish front seven. Had the Irish faced the Bulldogs last season, they probably would’ve been gashed for over 300 yards on the ground. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Deandre Swift made some big plays, but instead of long touchdown runs, the Irish made touchdown saving tackles. That’s a big difference from last year.
Jake Fromm didn’t have a great performance in his first collegiate start. He made some freshman mistakes including a fumble and an interception, but he was good enough for Georgia to win the game. His best play was putting the ball where only Terry Godwin could get it with his one handed touchdown catch in the 2nd quarter. In total, Fromm was 16-29 for 141 yards. Fromm’s main goal in that game was to make sure he didn’t lose it for the Bulldogs, and he accomplished that goal.
It is clear that Mike Elko has dramatically improved the defense from last season. The Irish forced two turnovers, sacked the quarterback twice, and had six tackles for loss. With 3:08 left in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame punted away with just two timeouts. If Georgia had gained one first down the game was over, and the defense held. In any season other than 2012, I would’ve had no confidence in a Notre Dame defense to make that stop, but this year is a different story. The defensive line is much improved. Jay Hayes, Jerry Tillery, and Jonathan Bonner all look like different players out there. Drue Tranquill is a perfect fit for the rover position and came away with an interception. Nick Coleman made some huge tackles at the safety spot and corners Nick Watkins and Julian Love played admirably. Georgia may not be a high powered offense, but make no mistake, this was a great defensive performance.
Georgia Grade: B-
Notre Dame Grade: A

Special Teams

Justin Yoon played the best game of his Notre Dame career. His 4-for-4 performance provided 12 of the Irish’s 19 points. It was a great response for Yoon after going 0-for-2 last week. Punter Tyler Newsome also played incredibly well. With the way Georgia’s defense played, Newsome was forced to punt 9 times for a total of 424 yards and an average of 47 yards, including a long of 59. His punts had plenty of hang time and he had a major impact on the field position battle. While the kickoff coverage left a bit to be desired, the Irish special teams unit played well enough to win this game.
For Georgia, Mecole Hardman made a couple of big returns, including a 38 yard kickoff return. The Bulldogs also had a kickoff return touchdown called back due to a holding call. Rodrigo Blankenship did miss one field goal, but was 2-for-3 on the night. Transfer punter Cameron Nizialek played well booting eight punts for an average of 44 yards. I was also very impressed with the punt coverage for the Bulldogs, which seemed to be all over Chris Finke the moment he caught the ball.
Notre Dame Grade: A-
Georgia Grade: B+

Final Thoughts

This was a great college football game. An old-style defensive slugfest between two blue blood opponents. At the end of the day it came down to the fact that Notre Dame’s offensive line couldn’t open holes or provide time against an elite front seven for Georgia. It was a commendable effort from Notre Dame’s defense, but the offense just couldn’t get it done for the Irish. Next week, it’s on to Boston College, where Notre Dame will look to keep the defense rolling and get the offense back on track. I know I said rant over near the top of this post, but just to take one more dig at the Notre Dame fans who sold their tickets, here’s a great video from SEC Shorts. Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine following a loss.