A first half of promise that hinted at a possible upset went by the wayside following intermission and resulted in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish falling to the Georgia Bulldogs by a 23-17 score. The defeat on Saturday night marked the first Irish regular-season loss since November 2017.
Georgia’s offense was held to just 114 first-half yards and then outgained the Irish 121-19 during the third quarter to take control of the game. Notre Dame did forge a furious comeback in the final seven minutes of action and got to the Georgia 40 with 1:29 left. However, they ended turning the ball over on downs to end the game.
Below are some important facets of the contest:
The injury-plagued Notre Dame running game was virtually non-existent during the game, with Irish backs toting the ball just 14 times all night for 46 yards. That forced a reliance on the passing abilities of Ian Book, who completed 29 of his 47 throws for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
Unlike past contests, Book managed to stay in the pocket until the ill-fated comeback, but still had issues with some of his throws, two of which were picked off. In addition to those miscues, he managed to avert disaster after telegraphing a pass to tight end Cole Kmet, when Georgia defenders couldn’t come up with the ball.
Both teams struggled when it came to getting used to the unrelenting noise of Sanford Stadium and the record crowd of over 93,000 fans. For Notre Dame, they got whistled four different times in the first half for false starts and ended the game with 12 penalties that cost them 85 yards.
Irish right tackle Liam Eichenberg had a particularly brutal game, getting twice whistled in the first half for a false start and also being assessed another time for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the second instance, the penalty resulted in 10 valuable seconds being eaten up in the final minute of the half, which potentially may have cost Notre Dame four more points. To cap the miserable night, he was flagged for a personal foul on the fourth-quarter drive.
A Bad Stretch
Notre Dame’s defense seemingly had Georgia in check after allowing them just seven first downs in the opening 30 minutes, which matched the Irish output in that category. That momentum dramatically shifted once play resumed in the third, with all seven first downs in that quarter being racked up by the Bulldogs.
The Irish defense began struggling after forcing the Bulldogs to punt on the opening drive following the break. That then began the first of four consecutive Georgia drives which resulted in a score and turned a 10-7 Notre Dame lead into a 23-10 deficit.
Holding the Bulldogs to a field goal after a turnover put the ball at the Irish 14 served as a brief moral victory. However, the next three drives saw Notre Dame give up just over half the yardage they did during the entire game, which was all Georgia needed to win the contest.
Nothing But Kmet
After sitting out the first two contests to recover from a training camp injury, tight end Cole Kmet wasted no time in announcing he was back in the lineup. He snagged three Ian Book passes for 33 yards on the first series of the game and ended the half with seven catches for 68 yards. He also scored the first touchdown of the game on a pass that looked as if it was directed at another Irish target.
While the bulk of those first-half catches were short, effective grabs, his last one helped Notre Dame get into Georgia territory and ultimately led to a field goal that gave the Irish a 10-7 halftime advantage. After being kept in check during the third quarter, he caught two more passes to finish with nine for 108 yards.
A new visitor to Notre Dame will be the opponent next Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers, though the Irish have won both of their previous battles. Their last clash took place at Charlottesville in 2015, when the Irish managed to come away with a 34-27 win. The Cavaliers will be coming off a game in which they needed to bounce back from a 17-0 deficit at home against Old Dominion to win 28-17. They’re currently in the lower portion of the Top 25, but enter their game against Brian Kelly’s crew with a spotless 4-0 mark.