The 2019 Notre Dame football season has thus far seen the Irish face a pair of weak opponents, picking up two victories amid some early concerns in the process. That ability to shake off a slow start won’t be available this week since their opponent is the 3-0 Georgia Bulldogs, a team that’s been a perennial national title contender in recent years.
To make matters worse, Notre Dame has to battle a team that’s won their last 15 home contests and has outscored their previous two opponents by a score of 118-17. This contest makes the Irish’s first-ever visit between the hedges at the Bulldogs’ iconic Sanford Stadium and only their second regular-season meeting. That clash took place two years ago at Notre Dame and ended up with Georgia winning a 20-19 heartbreaker.
QB Ian Book vs. S J.R. Reed
While Book has to concern himself with the entire Bulldog defense, his tendency to take off on runs into the secondary will put him in the sights of Reed. Book hasn’t gotten much receiving help from his running backs, an option that will eventually be needed.
Reed is the anchor of the Bulldogs’ secondary and passed up the chance to enter the NFL draft last April, where his father Jake played for 12 seasons. He’s had 156 career tackles, including 11 in 2019, while also returning a fumble for a score this season. He’s got the experience not to make foolish mistakes.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Jake Fromm
In their first two games, Notre Dame has yet to be challenged by a capable passer, which somewhat skews their pass defense numbers. While they definitely need to tidy up their efforts against the run, this contest is likely to provide one of their stiffest challenges of the season, given Fromm’s ability to rise to the occasion.
When Fromm took the field two years ago at Notre Dame Stadium, he was playing in only his second game ever as a collegian. That evening, he threw for 141 yards and one touchdown, winning the first of many big games over the next two seasons. He can put up big yardage numbers, yet he’s sharp enough not to force into coverage that results in turnovers. Keeping him shut down is just one piece of the defensive puzzle for the Irish.
RB Tony Jones vs. MLB Monty Rice
Jones is tied for the team lead in rushing this season with quarterback Ian Book, having gained only 127 yards on 21 carries. For the near future, he also has plenty of pressure on his shoulders, given the extended absence of Jafar Armstrong and the as-yet-unknown status of Jahmiir Smith, who sat out the New Mexico rout. Delivering under the lights on a huge stage would serve as an immense help to the Irish chances in this clash.
Rice is in his third year with the Bulldogs and his second in a starting capacity. His season ended abruptly last November because of a foot injury and has collected eight solo stops in Georgia’s three games in 2019. He’s a player who does nothing fancy but has a knack for bringing down his man when he’s in his sights, missing only two tackles last year.
MLB Drew White vs. RB D’Andre Swift
White has shown his ability in the first two games when it comes to pass defense and the rush, but Georgia has had a stable of talented running backs over the past decade, Swift can cause significant havoc during the course of the contest and has to be, at the very least, neutralized in order for Notre Dame to have a viable path to victory.
The reason that the aptly-named Swift is likely keeping the Irish defensive coaches up this week is because of his ability to break off a long run at any moment. He’s got a career average of 7.2 yards per carry and is even more prolific so far this year 9.4 yards each time he touches the ball. In addition, he’s a receiving threat.
OT Robert Hainsey vs. LB Nolan Smith
Hainsey is part of an offensive line that’s had some issues in the early going. Those kinks need to be worked out during the week or Book will be even more ready to take off running. A starter for the second year in a row, Hainsey’s efforts may tell an important story in this upset bid.
Smith is a hybrid defender who’s built like a linebacker despite playing more like a defensive end. He’s a true freshman who was the nation’s top recruit, with the Bulldogs winning that vigorous battle. He’s done nothing to disappoint and has the speed and talent to make it a long night for Hainsey.