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The “Dog Days” of Fall – Notre Dame vs. Georgia Preview

The most anticipated matchup on the Notre Dame football schedule has arrived.  As the second game of the home and home series, the Irish travel down to Athens, Georgia to take on the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend in primetime.  With the average ticket price now up to $611 to get into this game, Saturday’s matchup will draw a lot of eyeballs and will carry a great deal of playoff implications for both programs.  To add to the hype, ESPN’s College Game Day will on site and early reports have been estimating that this could be the highest attended football game played in the state of Georgia.  

The Bulldogs will be entering this matchup riding a 15 game home winning streak and ranked third in the nation.  Lead by junior quarterback Jake Fromm, who got his first start agains the Irish back in 2017, this Georgia team is full of talent and experience on both sides of the ball.  It will be a tall task for the Irish leave Athens with a victory, but it is not impossible. 

In coach Brian Kelly’s weekly press conference, both Kelly and the media touched on the importance of going into this week’s matchup with the “road warrior mentality”.  When asked for one or two things that make Georgia very difficult to beat, Kelly responded by saying: “The quarterback.  The quarterback.  He’s [talking about Fromm] efficient, unflappable, you can pressure him and he doesn’t panic; he makes great decisions.  He’s sound with the ball.  The great teams – it’s the great quarterbacks that are the reason why they start to separate and Fromm is one of those guys.”  The Irish will clearly need the defense to continue to step up and make plays in the passing game, getting to the quarterback, and most importantly, stopping the run.  The Bulldogs rushing attack is lead by junior running back, D’Andre Swift, who has totaled nearly 300 rushing yards in his first three games, averaging just over nine yards per carry.  Swift is not only a powerful back, but has proven to be an absolute handful when met in the open field.  It will be imperative for Notre Dame to do everything they can to contain the run game.  Georgia most likely will not be pulling out any major trick plays – that hasn’t been their style.  The play action run/pass game and smash mouth football have proven successful for the Bulldogs and I wouldn’t expect a great deviation from that come Saturday night.  When it comes to Georgia’s passing game, they have sustained some injuries at the wide receiver position, which was addressed in both head coach’s press conferences, however Georgia – as with all the other top SEC programs – has a roster full of talented athletes.  George Pickens, Kearis Jackson, and Matthew Landers are three of the young receivers that Atlanta native Kyle Hamilton and the rest of the Notre Dame defense will need to keep in check.

Coach Kelly went on to speak about the Georgia defense saying that they are “talented, productive, and deep” especially on the defensive line and that there are “no perceived weaknesses in this group.”  For the Irish to have any chance in this matchup, quarterback Ian Book will need to be on his A game.  With Georgia’s talent on defense, it will be up to Book to be able to make the proper reads, avoid the inevitable pressure coming his way, and use his scrambling ability to make plays without trying to force reads.  As important as it will be for Notre Dame to stop the Georgia rushing attack, it will be just as important for the Irish to be able to establish a run game as well – something that has been severely lacking in the first two games.  By doing this, it will keep the Georgia defense honest, and give Book the ability to spread the field, giving him just a few extra seconds to make pass reads.  The Bulldogs fourth year head coach, Kirby Smart, said in his weekly press conference that Book is “talented – he’s fast, explosive and a dual threat guy that doesn’t have to be a dual threat.  He can scramble to throw and scramble to run.”  As mentioned in the previous article recapping the Irish victory over New Mexico, the Notre Dame offensive line has remained a question mark after the first two games.  After only converting one of ten third downs and not seeming to get any push in the trenches last week, Notre Dame’s offensive line play will be a major factor in the outcome of this game. Adding to the offensive line, Irish tight end Cole Kmet has been cleared to play and will see the field according to Kelly’s press conference. How effective he will be in his first game back after suffering a broken collar bone in fall camp is something to keep an eye on, but it is another big and trusted target for Book in the passing game.   

As this matchup has been circled on everyone’s calendars since the game was first announced, I think it is extremely important that Kelly and the Irish have a great showing on this national stage.  Another outcome similar to last year’s Clemson game or the 2012 National Championship against Alabama would certainly drop Notre Dame out of playoff contention for the rest of this season and would undoubtedly leave a foul taste in Irish fans’ mouths for a long time to come.  Although leaving Athens with a win is not impossible, it will be a very tough task.  I believe that Georgia’s strengths (especially their run game), match up with Notre Dame’s weaknesses (inability to stop the run) which will cause some problems.  The atmosphere in and around Sanford Stadium on Saturday will be electric.  Unfortunately, my confidence level going into this weekend is not the highest.  As a Notre Dame fan, I am used to hearing the national media criticize the program, the schedule, and their lack of performance against big name programs and a win would most certainly put a much needed damper on that narrative.  Predicting the game with my heart, I am (without a doubt) rooting for an Irish victory; predicting the game with my head, I think it will be a 31-17 Georgia win.  A closer outcome would definitely be a sign that Notre Dame continues to move in the right direction, closing in on the top tier programs, but I think we are still a few big recruits away from solidifying our place among the likes of Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia.  With all that being said, it is time for battle.  Go Irish.  Beat Bulldogs.

A look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:

Louisville: 2-1, beat Western Kentucky 38-21

New Mexico: 1-1, lost to Notre Dame 66-14

Georgia, 3-0, currently ranked #3, beat Arkansas State 55-0

Virginia: 3-0, currently ranked #21, beat Florida State 31-24

Bowling Green: 1-2, lost to Louisiana Tech 35-7

USC: 2-1, lost to BYU 30-27 in OT

Michigan: 2-0, currently ranked #11, coming off a bye week

Virginia Tech: 3-0, beat Furman 24-17

Duke: 2-1, beat Middle Tennessee 41-18

Navy: 2-0, beat East Carolina 42-10

Boston College: 2-1, lost to Kansas 48-24

Stanford: 1-2, lost to UCF 45-27