An offense that is still in the midst trying to get its footing that was facing a defense that was that seemingly everywhere when it counted. That unfortunate convergence might help explain why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came up one point short in their 20-19 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. Brian Kelly’s squad had their chances, yet could only manage one touchdown on the night.
What worked against a Temple team that was in the midst of change was quickly found to be highly ineffective. Also, what did work only came in bursts.
Deserting the Run
Unlike last week’s running game that racked up over 400 yards on the ground, the Irish were forced to rely on their pass offense to move the ball. During the first half, Notre Dame managed just 27 yards on 18 carries, with a trio of big passing plays helping set up the team’s 13 points. The second was really no better, with the night’s work showing just 55 yards on 37 carries.
Wimbush ended the night connecting on 19 of 39 passes for 211 yards. While he didn’t notch any touchdown passes, a trio of key first half receptions helped send the Irish into halftime holding a 13-10 advantage.Cameron Smith’s 29-yard grab on the first series of the game set up a 40-yard Justin Yoon field goal and a 32-yards screen pass to Josh Adams set up the first touchdown of the game. Finally, Wimbush and Alize Mack connected on another 32-yard catch for Yoon’s second three-pointer.
Third Down Troubles
Both teams were woeful when it came to delivering on third down, one indication of the tough defensive battle that took place. During the first half, Notre Dame failed on all eight third down tries and ended the night converting only three times in 17 attempts, though Georgia was equally bad by delivering on just four of their 18 efforts for the evening.
Two plays that ultimately spelled the difference in the game were an indication of the athleticism that Georgia has on their roster. The first came on an amazing one-handed grab in the end zone by Terry Godwin that knotted the score at 10 midway through the second quarter. The call was originally called an incomplete pass until replay reversed the call.
The second dagger came during the Bulldogs’ go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. In this instance, a first down pass from Fromm to Javon Wims saw the wideout outleap Irish defenders to come down the ball. Wims made a similar play last week against Appalachian State that turned a potential pickoff into a touchdown.
Staying in the Game
Losing by one point is just as costly as a blowout defeat, though Notre Dame was able to avoid starting the second half in deep trouble instead of being up by three points. Georgia’s string of first half self-inflicted wounds began when they got their hands on the ball for the first time. What would have been a 90-yard kickoff return was reduced to a mere 23 by a holding call.
Notre Dame’s first touchdown was then set up by a fumbled handoff that Bulldogs’ quarterback Jake Fromm tried to pick up instead of simply falling on it. Another penalty wiped out an impressive run by Georgia running back Nick Chubb and a near-interception would have given them the ball in prime Irish territory. In the second half, Irish fans took a deep breath after a second half bomb by the Bulldogs that looked like six points was dropped.
A Penalty Party
Some early-season sloppiness was evident on both sides after both teams combined to get flagged for 20 times throughout the game. While some of Georgia’s most costly blunders have already been noted, Notre Dame also paid the price for their eight stumbles in this area,
In the third quarter, they held a 16-10 lead and had Georgia facing third-and-16. With Fromm racing to get out of bounds and short of the first down marker, Irish lineman Julian Okwara delivered a late hit that allowed the Bulldogs to maintain possession. Just two plays later, a 40-yard run by Georgia was compounded by a flag because of Devin Studstill’s horse collar tackle that put the ball at the Notre Dame 6-yard line. One play later, the Irish trailed again.
Special Teams Highlights
While the Irish punt return team had their struggles, managing minus three yards on three returns, there were different facets of the Special Teams unit that thrived. On a busy night, punter Tyler Newsome averaged 47.1 yards on his nine kicks, dropping it into the Georgia red zone on two of three occasions, with a 59-yard boot his best effort.
Kicker Justin Yoon rebounded after his struggles against Temple, staying within his range to boot four field goals. The longest of those was for 42 yards, while the last one gave Notre Dame a temporary lead in the final quarter.
Brian Kelly seeks to keep his undefeated streak against the Boston College Eagles going when the Irish travel to Chestnut Hill next Saturday. Kelly’s teams have won four times against BC, with the last victory taking place in 2015. The Eagles are coming off an ugly 34-10 home loss to Wake Forest in which they coughed up the ball four times.