Notre Dame vs. Georgia
In Georgia's first trip above the Mason-Dixon line in over 50 years, the Bulldogs defense proved too much for Brandon Wimbush, and Notre Dame's highly-touted offensive line as Georgia escaped South Bend with a 20-19 victory.
The Irish and Bulldogs exchanged field goals in the first quarter before ND scored the first touchdown of the game on a one-yard Wimbush rushing touchdown following a Georgia fumble.
The Bulldogs then answered with a 12 play, 62-yard drive that culminated with a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab from Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin on 3rd & Goal.
After struggling in the opener, Notre Dame kicker Justin Yoon capped the scoring in the first half with a 42-yard field goal to give the Irish a 13-10 advantage at the half.
As the second half began, the screws began to tighten for both defenses.
The Irish added another field goal midway through the third quarter to extend the lead to 16-10, but the Bulldogs answered with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to give Georgia its first lead of the game.
Notre Dame retook the lead early in the fourth quarter on Yoon's fourth field goal of the game, and after both teams exchanged punts, UGA got the ball back with seven minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs methodically drove down the field and settled for what would prove to a 30-yard game-winning field goal.
The Irish would have two more possessions, but could not mount a serious drive. The game was clinched when Georgia defensive end Davin Bellamy stripped Wimbush, and the Bulldogs recovered the fumble on Notre Dame's final series.
Offensive Line Overmatched
After an impressive 2017 debut that saw the Irish collect over 400 yards in rushing vs. Temple, the Notre Dame offensive line was taken apart by Georgia. No one expected the Irish to put up the kind of numbers they did against the Owls, but very few anticipated this kind of drop-off, especially Kirby Smart who called the Irish offensive line "as good-looking an offensive line and you'll see, ever."
For as poor as the offensive line played, this type of performance against athletic defenses is nothing new. In recent years, despite consistently developing pro talent, the Irish offensive lines have struggled against the likes of Clemson and Ohio State. Saturday's performance was a continuation of that trend.
To Chip Long's credit, Notre Dame stuck with the running game all night, but it simply did not yield any positive results. The Irish totaled 55 yards on the ground and averaged 1.5 yards per carry. The Irish did not record a run longer than eight yards.
The offensive line was not the only unit that struggled Saturday, but their performance is the most integral for success against a defense like Georgia.
Some of the struggles also fall on Wimbush's shoulders. A part of the learning curve for any young quarterback is properly recognizing blitzes and sliding protections accordingly, and Wimbush is not at that level yet.
Where is the Wide Receiver Depth?
The red flags should have come when Notre Dame felt the need to sign on two graduate transfers at a position they seemed to have plenty of talent.
Through two games, Equanimeous St. Brown is the only legitimate threat on the outside. Cam Smith has played decently, and Chris Finke showed flashes against UGA, but the Irish should not have to rely on a graduate transfer and a former walk-on to be the second option.
Players like Chase Claypool and Alize Mack have elite skill sets, but Claypool cannot get on the field consistently, and Mack has more drops than receptions this season.
Kevin Stepherson's absence is a huge factor and should alleviate many of the problems when he comes back from his "non-suspension" suspension, but this is a major hole in the Notre Dame offensive attack in the meantime.
Defense Holds Up
The Notre Dame defense played well enough to win this game. The Georgia game plan was going to be simplified due to Fromm's inexperience and the luxury of relying on an elite running game.
That being said, the Notre Dame defense did not make any mistakes that allowed Fromm to elevate his game. There were times when Georgia's athletes were simply superior, but the Irish front seven held their ground in the trenches.
Approaching Saturday's game, one of the biggest question marks on the Notre Dame defense was safety play. Fromm was not going to test them consistently, but the true measure was going to be how they tackled and the angles they took on Michel and Chubb.
Those backs were going to break through the front seven at times because of their talent, but it was up to the backend of the Notre Dame defense to limit plays to 25-yard runs as opposed to 75-yard touchdown gallops. With a few exceptions, Irish safety play held up and was able to make plays in one-on-one situations in the open field.
Brian Kelly clearly has developed a confidence in the unit as well. After going three-and-out with under four minutes remaining, Kelly decided to punt the ball back to UGA. His confidence was rewarded as the Irish forced the Bulldogs into their own three-and-out and gave the Irish one last chance.
Notre Dame was in the same situation a season ago against Michigan State, and the Spartans were able to run the clock out on the ground.
Notre Dame Cannot Win Close Games
Numbers can tell a story in many different ways, and after a loss like Saturday, Notre Dame fans perpetuate them for a negative spin. However, Notre Dame is 5-11 in the previous 16 games and have lost nine of the last ten one score contests.
Sometimes losing tight comes down to luck, but these results over an elongated period of time point to a more systematic problem. This loss was different than many of those nine one-score losses and the Irish are a different team than 2016. Notre Dame is better coached, conditioned, and certainly, do not lack on-field leadership, but those numbers do not lie.
Despite the problems the Irish offense had against Georgia, they still had a chance to win the game. The Irish had the ball on their own 19-yard line with just under two minutes remaining.
After connecting with Chris Finke for a first down, Wimbush was blindsided by UGA defensive end Davin Bellamy on the next play and fumbled the ball. The ball was recovered by the Bulldogs and ended the game.
Bellamy used a speed rush to blow by senior Mike McGlinchey, and Wimbush never had a chance. To McGlinchey's credit, he took full ownership of that play and the entire offensive line performance. "I blew it," said McGlinchey after the game, but the damage was already done.
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