The Good – The Defense Settled In
It was touch and go in the first couple of defensive series as Georgia’s offense looked dangerous and appeared to be able to move the ball at will and make big plays. Coming into this game, there was always the fear that the athletes on Georgia’s team, especially that deep stable of running backs led by the 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, would burn Notre Dame’s defense. That was not the case. By halfway through the first quarter, Notre Dame’s defense settled in and had Georgia’s offense under control.
Notre Dame fans had to have been proud of this defensive performance, there was a lot to like. Notre Dame showed toughness and swarmed to the ball carrier. The linebackers did a great job reading the running game and getting to the running backs often for either a loss or a very short gain. We even saw open field tackles form Nick Watkins and Nick Coleman in the secondary. They were very assignment sound. The defense tightened up in important situations, allowing Georgian to only covert 4 of 17 on third downs, for a 24% conversion rate, and stiffening up in the red zone.
What’s more on defense, they weren’t just good, but they were great. If you didn’t know better and weren’t aware of the defense’s struggles last year, you would be forgiven if you thought this was a top 10 defense. The defense didn’t just do their job, but excelled at times. The pressure on true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, made it difficult for him to move the ball. The defense recorded a pair of sacks and forced Fromm out of the pocket often in third and long situations to end drives. Not just that, but Notre Dame also forced a pair of turnovers in the form of a Daelin Hayes fumble recovery and a Drue Tranquill interception. The defense held their own against Georgia, making the game very winnable, and have a lot to be proud of.
The Bad – The Passing Game
It would have been expected that the Georgia defense would sell out to stop the Notre Dame running game. After running for 400 yards against Temple and starting a new quarterback in his first major game, it would be expected that the Georgia defense would want force Notre Dame to beat them in the air. Georgia held the Irish to 55 yards rushing on 37 attempts for roughly a 1.5 yard average. With the Georgia front seven known to be stacked with elite NFL talent and coached to be aggressive, the running game being shut down wasn’t a surprise. What was surprising was the offense’s inability to open up the run with the pass game.
With Equanimeous St. Brown being shut down for much of the game, the other receivers needed to step up and take some of the pressure off him. That did not happen. Instead, there were several key drops that would have otherwise moved the chains. Also, with the talent at tight end, there should have been more mismatches that should have been exploited for quick hitches and short passes that would have burned the Georgia defense for applying so much pressure. Instead, the passing game was mediocre on the night, coupled with a running game that was non-existent, which was a formula for disaster.
The Ugly – The Offensive Line
Now for the 1,500 pound elephant in the room: the offensive line play was atrocious (to borrow one of Kelly’s catchphrases from last year). For what is perceived to be the greatest strength of this Notre Dame team, and regarded to be among the best position groups in the country, the Notre Dame offensive line play was a disaster against Georgia and were probably the biggest culprits in the loss.
The offensive line was clearly out-muscled in the trenches. There is no reason that an offensive line that is expected to produce two first round draft picks should not be able to move the ball on the ground. For as much bluster as Kelly showed last week, proclaiming that he’ll run it to the left every time regardless if the defense knows it, the offensive line failed to reward his confidence and were only able to average one and half yards per run. The line was equally poor in pass protection, which allowed Wimbush to be pressured throughout the game and unable to make his reads and go through his progressions. Wiimbush was under pressure all game and didn’t have the time to allow the deeper routes to develop as he was sacked three times and hurried seven. It gave Wimbush very little time and space to be effective with the quarterback run. As much as the receivers need to step up and become legitimate targets for Wimbush, the offensive line needs to do a significantly better job in pass protection to create a better pocket and give Wimbush the time to make his reads and make a play.
The offensive line play as a unit was bad enough, but the individual errors that were made on the night compounded the issues. Senior Mike McGlinchey’s performance did not warrant the first round grade that many have given him. He was often slow on the edge and was easily beat by the Georgia pass rush. This was epitomized on the last offensive play where McGlinchey was beat for a strip sack on Brandon Wimbush which sealed the loss. There were multiple instances where the center was assisting the left side and three offensive linemen were blocking two defenders, allowing another defender elsewhere to go free and untouched into the backfield.
Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Heistand decided to use co-starters at the right tackle position, rotating Tommy Kraemer with true freshman Robert Hainsey. As impressive as Hainsey is as a true freshman, the coaching staff needs to make a decision on who the starter will be. Hainsey, in limited snaps was already responsible for a pair of false start penalties against Temple and tacked another on third and 4 at the Georgia 14 yard line. Aside from creating a costly penalty in a critical situation, the offensive line needs to settle on a starting five in order to build the chemistry required to be effective. More than any other position group, the offensive line is built on chemistry and working together as a unit in order to be effective. Heistand needs to be able to make a decision on who will be the answer at the right tackle spot and develop the cohesiveness on the offensive line, or else this will be another year where the line fails to live up to its collective individual talent.
The image in this article is used with permission from IrishSportsDaily.com.