After having taken a positive first step in their rout of Temple, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are now presented a major challenge that could set the course for the remainder of this season. Facing the 15th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs under the lights, the margin of error for any first-game mistakes is gone.
This particular game marks only the second-ever meeting between the two schools and is the first time that the Bulldogs have made their way to South Bend. The matchups that take place on Saturday will offer an excellent litmus test when it comes to determining the ultimate winner. Here are some to watch:
Josh Adams/Dexter Williams vs. Roquan Smith
Adams did the bulk of his running damage against Temple in the early portion of the game, but he’s going to have to be just as effective late in the game this week. That’s because the man that’s primarily tasked with stopping him is Smith, who was credited with six tackles against Appalachian State.
Smith is actually on the small side at just 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, yet he manages to bring his share of ballcarriers down. Last year, he led the Bulldogs in tackles and is able to team with his partner inside, Natrez Patrick, to make life miserable for any runner. Even before those runners reaches that duo, they have to contend with Georgia DT Trent Thompson, who excels when it comes to stopping the run.
Yet Smith is the player that Adams needs to focus on when he’s on the field. When he’s not, Dexter Williams will be trying to erupt for some more huge runs. That’s not likely with this opponent, though the hope is that he’s effective enough in his brief stints that Adams will be able to wear down Smith and his fellow defenders.
Nyles Morgan vs. Nick Chubb/Sony Michel
Morgan led the Irish in tackles against Temple with eight and managed to limit the Owls’ main threat, .A similar performance will be difficult, primarily because Chubb and Michel are considered the best running back tandem in the talent-rich SEC. Both could have headed to the NFL earlier this year but chose to return, much to the chagrin of Notre Dame fans.
Last Saturday, Chubb and Michel mirrored the performances of Adams and Williams by combining for 183 yards on 31 carries and reaching the end zone three times. Georgia’s ability to keep a fresh pair of legs at running back is going to make it harder for Morgan, who really only had to contend with Temple’s Ryquell Armstead, who gained 67 of the Owls’ 85 yards on the ground.
Nick Watkins vs. Javon Wims
Watkins didn’t see a great deal of action against Temple because the Owls were targeting his secondary partner, Julian Love. However, that will likely change on Saturday since the 6-foot-1 Watkins is better equipped to handle the athleticism of Wims, who stands 6-foot-4 and grabbed three passes against Appalachian State.
While Terry Godwin could also be considered a prime threat for the Bulldogs’, Wims has made great strides since arriving in Athens from junior college last year. He only had three grabs against Appalachian State, yet one of those was a leaping grab that turned a potential turnover into six points.
Of course, this sort of battle has the potential to be reduced if the Irish are able to put together any sort of pass rush on Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, who;will be behind center. Fromm will definitely be looking to continue his connection with Wims, which means that Watkins needs to maintain his focus during each series.
Tommy Kraemer/Robert Hainsey vs. Davin Bellamy
Kraemer and Hainsey split time at the right tackle slot last week, though Hainsey’s two false starts brought back some bad memories from 2016 with regard to that issue. Each player has the size and pedigree to open up some holes for the running game and keep sophomore Brandon Wimbush safe.
Both categories will be especially important against the likes of Bellamy, who collected nine tackles-for-loss last season and has the quickness to cause problems during the course of the contest. Against Appalachian State, Bellamy’s name was frequently mentioned when it came to tackles, which means keeping him in check is vital to any Irish victory.
The Bottom Line
Georgia’s defense proved to be dominant in their 31-10 victory over Appalachian State, not allowing a point during the first three quarters. Even with the game comfortably in hand, the only points they allowed were the result of two offensive miscues that put their opponents in prime field position of the Bulldogs’ side of the ball.
One of the chief reasons that Notre Dame enters this contest as nearly a seven-point favorite is the injury to Georgia signal caller Jacob Eason. Yet Eason was replaced by Fromm, who was able to get the job done, so any overconfidence in that area should be tempered, especially with the Irish still trying to make their way back from last year’s mess.