Two very good football teams squared off on Saturday night in Athens, Georgia. The nature of this type of arrangement is that one of them is required to win and one is required to lose. In the end Georgia won. The rest is sort of academic for now.
As someone who picked Georgia to prevail by three earlier this week, I don’t think this was a surprising outcome. Much of this Notre Dame roster played in the College Football Playoff eight months ago, going toe=to-toe with national champion Clemson for most of a half. These guys aren’t stiffs. They’re in the top ten for a reason.
Several of them, actually. One is quarterback Ian Book, who brought the Irish back into this one by sheer dint of will in the fourth quarter. Book threw two interceptions that appeared to take the visitors out of the game but then came barnstorming back with a series of scrambles to get the Irish back in position for him to throw a touchdown to Chase Claypool with 3:42 to draw within a touchdown. Book would finish the night 29 of 47 passing for 275 yards, with two touchdowns and those two picks.
Another reason was junior tight end Cole Kmet, who I never, ever want to see again. Kmet’s 9 receptions for 108 yards made up almost a third of Notre Dame’s 321 yards of total offense on the night. It’s no stretch at all to say that if he wasn’t on the field the Irish likely never would have gotten their offense out of neutral and this one never would have been as close as it was.
As it is, Kmet’s night creates a mildly disturbing blueprint for others looking to attack the Bulldog defense. The fact that he was held to only two catches in the second half, and none before the 6:24 mark of the fourth quarter was some solace. Still, I will have nightmares of Tae Crowder helplessly trailing him down the field for the next week or so.
Coming into this game the prevailing narrative was that Georgia would simply run it down the Irish’s collective throats. That actually happened, but it took over a half of football for the story to start. The Red and Black finished with 152 rushing yards on 33 attempts, a respectable 4.6 yards per carry. D’Andre Swift didn’t start slow, per se, but there was little in the early going to indicate he’d finish the night with 18 carries for 98 yards.
Brian Herrien likewise contributed a solid 42 yards on 8 carries. Hopefully Kirby will address why Zamir White was utterly invisible on the night during his postgame remarks, if he does we’ll let you know.
As Gary Danielson noted repeatedly however, this Notre Dame defense tackled very, very well. As well as they have all season. This was one of the things they had to do to stay in this game, keeping 5 yard games from becoming 25 yarders. Truly, this veteran Irish defense, from the athletic edge rushers up front to the veteran secondary that got away with a bunch of contact by doing it savvily, was likely as good as we may see in the regular season.
No matter what your allegiance, you weren’t paying attention if you didn’t gain some respect for this Fighting Irish team, which didn’t play scared in an intimidating environment and managed to execute in spite of the raucous crowd. I wasn’t exactly sure if the Irish were a top ten team headed into this one, but I’m now comfortable that they’d beat the brakes off the likes of Florida and Auburn on a neutral field. Beating them has the potential to be a real springboard for this UGA squad. Beating them after your best cover corner and All-SEC guard went to the locker room with injuries is something else entirely.
You’re not required to have any respect for Brian Kelly though. He remains a hack who called for two flops to slow the UGA offense and probably would have started a grass fire to do the same if he’d remembered to bring his matches. In a sport filled with unscrupulous, holier-than-thou millionaires, Kelly remains a standout cutthroat.
Kirby Smart on an unrelated note deserved that sort of apology from Gary Danielson late in the game. Forcing Notre Dame to score two touchdowns with no timeouts was precisely the right call. In a close game in which your defense has at least a 50/50 shot at making a stop you don’t turn down points. And the end of that game likely plays out much differently if the Irish have the option of dinking and dunking down to the 25 for a tying field goal. Kirby 1, Gary, I dunno, let’s go with -17.
Gary I didn’t go to Notre Dame, but I think the difference is that 13 points takes two touchdowns and 10 takes a touchdown and a field goal.— Dawg Sports (@dawgsports) September 22, 2019
And while we’ll get to the MVD’s shortly, one of them should be the Sanford Stadium crowd. Notre Dame jumped offsides seven times and called a couple of timeouts they would have liked to have back because of the crowd noise. You may say what you like about the assembled masses at Dooley Field, but you absolutely cannot say that they didn’t affect this game in a major way.
On a related note, can you imagine being a recruit in that stadium on this night and not wanting to play in that atmosphere? Is there a single eighteen year old on Earth that dead inside? I doubt it. I’m not saying we’re getting all the recruits. But we definitely made all of them think long and hard.
The ‘Dawgs now move on to a well-deserved bye week during which they will look to rest up before a pivotal showdown with the third place team in the SEC East, the Tennessee Volunteers. Until later . . .