If Georgia’s much-anticipated road test against Notre Dame had been a graded football IQ test, the Bulldogs would have flunked with flying colors before the bathroom break in the middle. Every type of error that goes under the broad heading of “stupid play” was on parade on this evening, draped in red and black from head to toe. Facemasks. Hands to the face. Dropped touchdown passes. Late hits. A fumble. An interception. A tisket. A tasket. A false start. Just fantastic!
In the end, the Athenians made enough plays, and the right plays, to emerge victorious, escaping South Bend with a 20-19 win. It was never easy. But in the end it was sweet.
“They played hard. But we gotta clean some things up” Kirby Smart remarked afterward, in perhaps the understatement of the evening. The ‘Dawgs were in fact ticketed for 12 penalties which cost them 126 yards. But that’s only about half of the story.
Those penalties also gave Notre Dame third down conversions that the otherwise anemic Irish offense wouldn’t have sniffed. Brian Kelly’s team finished the night with 55 rushing yards on 37 carries. After pummeling Temple on the ground in a week one blowout, the Irish could not get the ground game going against a stout Bulldog front seven.
Were some of the penalties questionable? You bet your ascot they were.
But the majority were legitimate, if not flagrant. Things that could have been called, and were, even though in a tough, physical football game they probably shouldn’t have been. That will have to be fixed, because you can only win without discipline for so long.
Ditto the drops. Mecole Hardman flashed the hands that landed him at cornerback on what would have been a 53 yard touchdown pass. In fact, it was a quintessentially Georgia thing to force a big turnover, drop a touchdown pass, then false start on three consecutive plays. The killer instinct. So far, she is lacking.
Javon Wims also had one hit him in the bread basket and bounce harmlessly away. Jake Fromm wasn’t incredibly sharp on every single pass. But his final numbers would have been a lot better if his receivers had helped him out a little.
To be certain there were heroes. Lorenzo Carter will be picking shreds of Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush’s jersey out of his teeth for a week. Davin Bellamy showcased a killer power rush on the final defensive snap, clubbing Notre Dame’s All-American candidate tackle with a forearm then running right by him to the quarterback.
Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick bottled up Wimbush all night. The junior had 1 yard rushing on the night on 16 carries. One. Uno. Last week against Temple he had 106. The Bulldogs determined to keep Wimbush in the pocket and force him to beat them throwing from there. While he did pass for 211 yards, he completed only 48% of his passes, thanks in part to some choice drops by Irish receivers.
Jake Fromm’s stat line on the other hand looked a lot like it did last week, as the freshman completed 16 of 29 passes for 141 yards, a touchdown, and a first half interception. It was one of those bad, freshman picks, too. Fromm determined to throw in the flat to Isaac Nauta before he ever left the huddle and never saw the linebacker dropping under the route. That will likely get fixed, if not before Jacob Eason returns then before Fromm takes over the reins full-time.
Fromm certainly hasn’t done enough in my mind to conclusively hold the job once Eason is healthy. But he hasn’t stunk up the joint either, and looked preternaturally comfortable for his years and experience on this night. Georgia stil needs depth at the QB spot, but at the top of the rotation we’re likely to be as good as anyone in the long term.
Fromm was able to play within himself because Jim Chaney drew up a game plan that put the ball in the hands of 5 different running backs for 33 carries and 191 yards on the ground. There were times when he inexplicably went away from the run. And times when I was certain Nick Chubb was injured because there was simply no other logical explanation for his total absence.
Chubb led all ‘Dawgs with 73 yards on 13 carries, though Sony Michel was the workhorse who scored Georgia’s lone rushing touchdown. D’Andre Swift chipped in 42 yards on 2 carries, 40 of them on a jaunt that set up Michel’s score. I have the very strong sense that Swift may be on the way to passing Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield on the depth chart.
Jim Chaney’s performance was a work reminiscent of early Bobo, stupefying in specific instances but ultimately getting to where it needed to go. When Georgia had the ball on its last two possessions Notre Dame’s defensive staff was certainly expecting the run. But they couldn’t guarantee it. Chaney dialed up enough involvement for Fromm in the passing game to keep the Irish honest, which was about the best one could reasonably expect at this juncture. There will come a night when Jake fromm has the governor off and puts the hammer down. Tonight was not the night, but it’s likely coming.
Perhaps the low key hero of the evening? Punter Cameron Nizialek. The graduatetransfer averaged 44.3 yards per kick on nine punts and stuck Notre Dame deep again and again, including on the final series when he pinned them at their 19. Nizialek. Notre Dame’s average starting field position was at the 28.6 yard line. If you can do that and play solid defense, you’ll be in most football games. Notre Dame was an average-defying 1-6 in one score games in 2016. They’re now 0-1 in 2017. That regression to the mean can’t come fast enough for Fighting Irish fans.
Georgia was in this one all the way in spite of itself. So too were the Bulldog fans, who arrived loud, lit up the stadium for Krypton Fanfare, and got to celebrate a continued perfect record against Notre Dame.
It was maddening from the get-go, nerve-wracking all the way through, and was never far from plunging into disaster. But Georgia refused to lose this one, and will now move on to clean up what they must and get ready for the SEC schedule. How ‘bout them ‘Dawgs?