Notre Dame lost another heartbreaker on a national stage this weekend in a game no one gave them any chance in. There was a lot to like in the close, hard-fought loss that didn’t eliminate Notre Dame’s playoff chances altogether, but at the same time, there was more than enough to not like in a game in which Notre Dame had a chance to win as time was clicking down. )
1. All of the procedural penalties
Brian Kelly has taken responsibility for Notre Dame’s multiple procedural penalties that plagued them throughout the game. Notre Dame was playing in one of the most hostile environments we’ve ever seen them venture into, but that doesn’t excuse the number of miscues we saw on Saturday night.
During the week leading up to the game, Kelly said he was pleased with how his team handled practice situations where they tested them with noise. Did he get a false sense of security? Did they not test them enough? Who knows. What we do know is that whatever Kelly and staff did, it wasn’t enough.
Notre Dame won’t have to play in an environment like what they encountered again this season. The Big House has a greater capacity, but after what the Wolverines did last weekend, their fanbase probably won’t be as amped as the Georgia faithful were this past weekend.
2. Notre Dame’s inability to establish any running game
We knew Notre Dame wasn’t going to have much success running the ball, but we didn’t know that they would barely even try to run it. They only ran for 46 yards on the night, but that was on just 14 attempts. It’s not groundbreaking numbers, but 3.3 yards per carry isn’t great, but it’s also not terrible.
Notre Dame could have attempted a few more designed runs for Ian Book in the zone-read with limited resources on hand. Jahmir Smith joined Jafar Armstrong as one of the walking wounded skill positions players.
The Irish did a good job getting creative with ways to move the ball without a running, but the lack of running game could end up costing the Irish again later in the year if they can’t find a way to manufacture one.
3. Chip Long’s 3rd quarter playcalling
Chip Long called a tremendous first half on Saturday night. He was creative and had Georgia on its heels as much as anyone could have hoped for – for the first 30 minutes. But then two things happened – Georgia adjusted, and Long got a bit more conservative.
Long had to know that Georgia was going to adjust at half-time. What he wasn’t able to successfully do was anticipate their adjustments and stay one step ahead. The Notre Dame defense gave Long and the offense a chance to take a two-possession lead after half-time by getting a stop on Georgia’s first drive of the half. They weren’t able to.
By the end of the game, Notre Dame started moving the ball again, and the Irish had the ball in the hands with less than two minutes remaining and a chance to take the lead. We all know how the story ended, though.
4. Notre Dame’s squandered opportunities
Notre Dame had chances in this game to put points on the board they didn’t capitalize on. On the 2nd drive of the game, the Irish were set up at the Georgia 40 yard-line. Penalties derailed the drive a bit, but they still had a chance for points because Long dialed up a perfect call on 3rd and long.
Tony Joens Jr slipped out of the backfield for a screen that had big play written all over it. Jones had a convoy in front of him but got tripped up from behind. Jafar Armstrong doesn’t get caught on that play. Avery Davis doesn’t either. A huge play was there to be had, but it goes down as a missed opportunity.
At the end of the first half, Notre Dame put a heck of a drive together that ended with a field goal to take a three-point lead. They had a chance for more, but Brian Kelly mismanaged the clock and let a good 14 or 15 seconds tick off the clock between plays he ultimately taking a timeout. Not ideal.
In the third quarter, Chris Finke had one drop on what should have been a third-down conversion that resulted in a Georgia interception. Finke later dropped another pass on 3rd down after running his route short. It wasn’t a great quarter for Notre Dame’s 5th year, senior captain.
5. Another heartbreaker in a game that could have been a narrative changer
While it was impossible not to be impressed with Notre Dame’s effort given how they held up against Clemson last year, heartbreak in another game like this one stung. It was Florida State 2014, Clemson 2015, and Georgia 2017 all over again. Notre Dame went toe to toe with an elite team when no one gave them a chance.
A win on Saturday night would have been huge for the program. It would have set up the Irish as a playoff favorite with a favorable schedule the rest of the season. It also would have changed the narrative of trolls like Tim Brando and Paul Finebaum who love to take shots at the Irish whenever given a chance. It would have done wonders for Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in 2021 which are already off to a great start but could have used the jolt of adrenaline.
In the end though, Notre Dame fell just short leaving Irish fans left taking some solace in the fact that at least this time Notre Dame didn’t get blown out. It’s not as bad of a place to be as say, Michigan fans right now, but it’s still excruciating to be stuck in this limbo stage between being back to a 10-win a year program and waiting to fully breakthrough back into a “tier A” program.