Sunday, September 22, 2019

No. 3 Georgia 23, No. 7 Notre Dame 17: Bulldogs outlast Irish under the lights

Photo Credit: Jon Opiela

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

ATHENS, GA- In a game that was advertised as the game of the season, No. 3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC East) and No. 7 Notre Dame (2-1) did not disappoint. 

In front of 93,246 raucous fans, the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish put up an incredible game that may have helped bolster Georgia’s resume heading towards the College Football Playoff with a 23-17 win.

“That was a hard-fought game. I have a lot of respect for Notre Dame and their program and how they battled. But man, our kids played hard,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “That was a huge win for them. They play so hard and work so hard and play with toughness. I was happy to see them pull that out.”

“It was a good, physical game on both sides of the ball. You could hear it out there; the physicality was real,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “Georgia made a couple more plays than we did. I know these all sound cliché, but when you break it down, our guys fought to the very end.”

Ian Book loved having his tight end Cole Kmet back from injury and it showed early. Kmet hauled in six passes in the first half for 68 yards, including Notre Dame’s lone touchdown of the first half. Notre Dame’s scoring drive was set up after Georgia’s Tyler Simmons muffed a punt and Chase Claypool received at the Georgia eight-yard line. Book found Kmet in the back on the end zone on fourth and goal from the one-yard line.

Georgia’s scoring drive in the first half featured a strong mix of rushing and passing to march down the field. Jake Fromm added to his career highlight reel with a perfect throw to the back shoulder of Lawrence Cager to get the Dawgs inside the Irish 10-yard line. D’Andre Swift finished the drive off with a three-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

As time expired in the first half, Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer split the uprights from 26 yards out to give the Irish a 10-7 lead going into the break.

On Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half, Chris Finke bobbled a pass, which in turn was interecepted by Divaad Wilson, who returned it to the Notre Dame 22-yard line. The Irish defense managed to lock down the offense, limiting the Dawgs to a 40-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship to tie the game.

On Georgia’s following drive, Blankenship once again got the Dawgs on the board- this time to take the lead. Brian Herrien opened the drive with a 16-yard run and Fromm followed it with several great passes from sideline to sideline.

As the fourth quarter opened, Cager caught a 36 yard bomb from Fromm, which was immediately by a 10-yard completion between the duo. Once again, Fromm showed why he’ll be a highly touted quarterback when the NFL Draft rolls around with an untouchable throw to the back shoulder of Cager for a touchdown.

“His back shoulder throws were very difficult for Troy Pride to defend and we stayed on the back hip of the receiver,” said Kelly of Fromm’s maturation since his first career start in 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium. “He put it low, back shoulder and they had to make some great catches and they did.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Book found Chase Claypool for a four-yard touchdown pass to cut Georgia’s lead to just six. On the following drive, Notre Dame forced Georgia to punt and retook possession. Unable to get anything really going on the drive, the Irish faced a fourth and eight on Georgia’s 38-yard line. Book avoided a sack and scrambled, eventually taking a deep shot to Claypool, but a swarm of red jerseys collapsed around the receiver batting the ball away and sealing the victory for the home team.

The record-setting crowd in Sanford Stadium remained a large factor throughout the game, which forced Notre Dame to burn four timeouts due to the deafening noise levels. 

“They impacted those guys. They had 5-6-7 penalties and had to use their timeouts. Our fans caused their quarterback to have some issues,” said Smart. “We need that out of our fans all the time. That is a real home field advantage. You need that in college football.”

Looking Ahead:

Notre Dame will head back to South Bend to take on No. 21 Virginia on Sept. 28, while Georgia will take a week off before heading to Knoxville to take on Tennessee on Oct. 5.