Before we get into the individual units here, a word on the game plan offensive coordinator Chip Long put together seems appropriate.
Long came into this game with one hand tied behind his back. Without a realistic threat of a running game and lacking a high powered passing game or a dynamic running quarterback, Long had to be near flawless to keep his offense in the game. I really think we need to appreciate the degree of difficulty here. This is the best defense Notre Dame will play, and the offense was without two of their top three running backs, a starting receiver, and the next in line receiver. Not ideal when trying to win against the #3 team in the nation on the road.
Grading Long, I’d give him a B+. He was able to incorporate Cole Kmet nicely, he was able to get Lawrence Keys the ball on jet sweeps a couple of times, and he schemed Chase Claypool open on a couple other occasions. The flea-flicker was obviously a low point; beyond that, it didn’t work; it didn’t even appear to be a touchdown play with Claypool running a corner route to the short side. I feel like if you’re taking a shot, then take it to where it ends the drive. Georgia blitzing and forcing a Book interception made it a nightmare. Overall, he did the best with the weapons he had, but it wasn’t enough to win.
Could have been lower, but extra points for the way he kept playing. After they went down 23-10 in the 4th, there was a feeling that the game was starting to go in an uncomfortable direction, and the predictions of a blowout might be coming to fruition. Instead, Book engineered a scoring drive and had Notre Dame at the Georgia 38 and a chance to take the lead. Something to be said for that.
Neither interception was really defensible, and although the pass to Finke really should have been caught, it was still behind him. The interception on the flea-flicker came on a first down play, which is simply unacceptable. He did make some nice reads and solid throws, but he still tried to escape too soon at times, missed receivers who were open, and was errant on some other passes. I’m giving him a bit of a break because of the competition, and being the quarterback in this game without a credible rushing attack is real tough. The game was indeed on his shoulders. Hopefully, as his weapons return to the lineup, his game returns to form as well.
Listen, it’s not Tony Jones fault that he had to be the lead back in this game. That is outside of his capability, but there he was doing whatever he could, and that’s all the coaches could ask for. The best part of his game on the day was in the pass blocking department. His quarterback attempted 47 passes and was not sacked. Clearly, as the guy who seldom came out, he had a hand in that. There were some pretty soft tackles that he needs to be getting out of, that’s his value to the team, but I’m not going to knock him when there is a talent deficiency.
Notre Dame could not afford to lose Armstrong for this game, and they did, with Jahmir Smith also having to sit.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Chase Claypool was fantastic all around, while Cole Kmet was great in the passing game and not very good as a blocker. Too many mistakes, too many misses. It’s forgivable as it was his first game this year, but it was a weakness. The same goes for Tommy Tremble, although he had a nice reception on a cleverly designed play.
Lawrence Keys played admirably, snaring three passes including a jump ball to set up a field goal, and was used in the running game as well. Two solid games in a row for him.
Chris Finke is just not finding much traction right now, and the lack of chemistry between him and Book so far is stunning. The play where the ball goes off his chest and into the arms of a defender is not ok for a 5th year senior, let alone a captain. Hopefully, there are better days ahead for him.
On the one hand, Ian Book threw 47 passes, and he was never sacked. That’s good. On the other, the false start penalties at the beginning were really bad, as was the snap too soon on 4th and 2. Those all seemed to be related to Georgia shifting the line right before the snap, not so much the crowd noise, although I’d guess it didn’t help. Liam Eichenberg taking a 15-yard penalty on the games 2nd play was pretty poor. He played well, but people will remember the antics.
Too many errors and not enough holes on the ground, but no sacks is no sacks, so that has to be considered a victory. This line is currently playing below its potential (I’m sure the return of better backs will help their potential be reached quite a bit.)
On the main, this was an overall average game against a powerful opponent. They were a minute and 38 yards away from winning outright. So lots of positives with places to grow.