Spoiler alert: I kind of hate the term quality loss. You either win or you lose. There shouldn’t even be a discussion about “quality losses”. That said, if there is a such a loss that qualifies as a “quality loss”, Notre Dame’s six-point loss on the road against #3 Georgia while missing a pair of offensive starters qualifies.
Notre Dame came frustratingly close once again to knocking off an elite team but fell short. Even so, there was still a lot to like in what we saw from the Fighting Irish who lived up to their moniker on Saturday night.
1. The Return of Cole Kmet
The most obvious thing to like about this game for Notre Dame is the return of Cole Kmet. Notre Dame got their TE1 back and he showed the promise we’ve all heard about for the last three years. Kmet hauled in 9 passes for 108 yards and the first touchdown of his career. And he did it all against a big, bad SEC defense.
Early in the game, Kmet was Notre Dame’s offense. Chip Long had multiple looks designed for Kmet and he delivered. Late in the game, Kmet reemerged with a huge play downfield to get the Irish back in the game.
If Kmet can finally stay healthy, he can still put up some big numbers this year. Having him on the field just gives the offense another dimension that we haven’t seen yet this year. The two tight end set wasn’t utilized as much as I hoped last night, but hopefully, it will the rest of the season because Kmet looked great in his first action of the season.
2. The Resiliency of the Notre Dame Defense
The Notre Dame defense bottled up the Georgia offense for the first 45 minutes last night. Then some fatigue set in as the Irish offense turned in a string of three and outs to start the second half. Notre Dame’s defense, which struggled against the run the first two games of the year, limited the damage of the Georgia rushing attack most of the night,
Even when the offense didn’t do the defense favors, the defense delivered. After a bad turnover on a dropped pass by Chris Finke, the defense held Georgia to a field which kept the came well within reach at the time. Late in the 4th quarter with the game at 10 points, the Irish held on a 3rd and short to force a field goal attempt that kept the Irish within two scores.
Notre Dame held Georgia to 339 yards of offense – some people we predicting Georgia would run for that many yards alone. They also held the Bulldogs to 4 of 13 on third-down conversions. Notre Dame’s defense went toe to toe with Georgia and gave their team a chance to win.
3. Chip Long’s 1st-Half Gameplan and Play-Calling
For the first 30 minutes of last night’s game, I was thoroughly impressed with Chip Long’s game plan. The second half? Well, let’s just say you’ll hear about that in “5 things I didn’t like” column this week. For now, let’s focus on the good.
Long’s play calls early had Georgia a little off balance and if it weren’t for multiple self-inflicted wounds, Notre Dame could have had a bigger lead than they did at half time (10-7). Penalties, dropped passes, and mental errors plagued Notre Dame in the first half.
One play call, in particular, stood out to be as particularly great by Long even if it didn’t result in a big play. On 3rd and 14 at the Georgia 44 yard line, Long dialed up a perfect screen pass to Tony Jones Jr. Jones had blockers in front and a lot of green. Jones, not known for his speed, got tripped up from behind on an ankle tackle. Jafar Armstrong would have had Notre Dame set up with a first and goal on that play and that’s if he didn’t score.
Long got away from all of the good in the second half, but for the first half, Long was on his game and it was why Notre Dame had the lead at half time.
4. The Pass Protection for Ian Book
Notre Dame’s offensive line isn’t going to have a good time in the film room today when all of the mistakes and penalties are shown, but one area where the offensive line did shine last night was in pass protection. Unlike the Cotton Bowl against Clemson, Ian Book had time to pass almost all night long. Georgia did not even record a single sack on 47 pass attempts by Ian Book. That is encouraging.
The offensive line as a whole is still underachieving right now, but the pass protection we saw last night was a very positive sign for this offense. Run blocking is still a major concern and the number of penalties and miscues like bad snaps last night are still there, but they are making progress in pass protection.
5. Chase Claypool
We heard all summer that Chase Claypool was taking the step towards being a gamechanger. Through three weeks we are seeing it in action. His catch on Notre Dame’s last touchdown of the game on the sidelines was a thing of beauty. Had he not be yanked down by a Georgia defender (you knew there was no way a ref was throwing a flag for that in Athens though), he easily could have had another huge grab to keep the game alive.
Ian Book should have thrown more passes up for Claypool and given him a chance to win 50/50 battles. Claypool had six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown but could have done more if given the chance. Book spent most of the 2nd half dinking and dunking instead of throwing up a few downfield for Claypool.
Regardless of what his final numbers look like this year, Claypool is putting together some great film right now and if he continues as is, he will be at worst a 2nd round draft pick in April.