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Georgia edges Notre Dame in showdown of ranked opponents

| Sunday, September 10, 2017

It seemed like a dream scenario.

After stopping Georgia on 3rd-and-short, the Irish forced the Bulldogs to punt the ball back to them with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter. The Irish (1-1) were trailing by one, and all they needed was to get into field-goal range for a chance to win.

Notre Dame looked to be in good shape after junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw a 17-yard completion to junior wide receiver Chris Finke.

But the Irish hopes of a late comeback came crashing down the very next play when Wimbush fumbled the ball after being sacked by Georgia senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter. Georgia (2-0) recovered the loose ball and ended the game in victory formation.

It was a fitting end to a game that was dominated by defensive play.

“Well, they are a team that battles,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on the play of defense. “I thought that, first of all, our defense, other than a couple of missed hits on plays, was, you know, the type of defense that can continue to go out there week-after-week and give you the kind of effort necessary to win football games. I think that we were able to, from an offensive standpoint — 19 points wasn’t enough tonight. We put ourselves in some tough situations, but I just liked their grit and resolve and going out there and competing for four quarters and having the chance to win a football game against a quality opponent in the University of Georgia.”

The first half of the game told a similar story. On the first drive of the game, Notre Dame converted a 3rd down thanks to a pass interference penalty on Georgia. After Wimbush completed a 29-yard pass to graduate student wide receiver Cameron Smith, the Irish drive stalled after a pass to junior running back Josh Adams fell incomplete. Junior kicker Justin Yoon converted a 39-yard field goal to give Notre Dame an early 3-0 lead.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass in Notre Dame's 20-19 loss to Georgia on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass in Notre Dame’s 20-19 loss to Georgia on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

After two short offensive possessions from each team, the Bulldogs tied the game on redshirt sophomore kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s 27-yard field goal with 6:36 left to play in the first quarter. The drive was highlighted by a 30-yard rush from senior tailback Nick Chubb and a 31-yard pass completion by freshman quarterback Jake Fromm.

These would be the only two scores of the first quarter, as both defenses forced the other team to punt after quick three-and-out possessions.

Notre Dame would break the tie early in the second quarter when Wimbush capped a four-play, 32 yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

Georgia responded by going on a 12-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to junior wide receiver Terry Godwin to tie the game, 10-10, with 6:45 left in the half.

Notre Dame had a response of its own, however, driving 40 yards on six plays to set up Yoon’s 42-yard field goal to give the Irish a 13-10 lead with 4:14 left in the half.

Georgia did have a late attempt to take the lead before halftime. But on the third play of the drive, Fromm’s pass was intercepted by senior linebacker Drue Tranquill, and the Irish took a 13-10 lead into the locker room.

Notre Dame was 0-of-7 on converting 3rd downs and rushed for only 27 yards in the first half, but it still held a three-point lead going into the break.

Georgia also had an attempt to tie the game early in the third quarter, but Blankenship’s 44-yard field goal attempt missed wide right.

After a few short offensive possessions from both teams, the Irish expanded their lead to 16-10 after a 37-yard field goal by Yoon with 6:22 left in the third quarter.

Georgia responded by taking its first lead of the game on the next drive. After freshman running back D’Andre Swift’s 40-yard rush that was extended by a facemask call on the Irish, senior tailback Sony Michel punched the ball in from six yards out for the touchdown. The extra point made the score 17-16 in favor of Georgia with 4:34 left in the third quarter.

Notre Dame entered the final quarter trailing by a point. Wimbush led the Irish on a 13-play, 73-yard drive that was capped off by a 28-yard field goal by Yoon to give the Irish a 19-17 lead with 10:21 to go in regulation.

After two three-and-out possessions from each team, Georgia went on a swift nine-play, 63-yard drive highlighted by a 31-yard pass from Fromm to senior wide receiver Javon Wims, bringing the ball to the Notre Dame 17-yard line. After the Irish mounted a defensive stop, Blankenship rammed a 30-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Bulldogs a 20-19 lead with 3:34 left in the game.

Irish junior Justin Yoon kicks a field goal during Notre Dame's 20-19 loss to Georgia on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Yoon was 4-for-4 on the day kicking.Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior Justin Yoon kicks a field goal during Notre Dame’s 20-19 loss to Georgia on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Yoon was 4-for-4 on the day kicking.

Notre Dame couldn’t get anything going offensively on the ensuing drive and had to punt after a three-and-out.

Kelly said he thought the biggest reason Notre Dame struggled offensively wasn’t because of the quickness of the Georgia defense, but because of the physicality of the Bulldogs’ front seven.

“Quickness wasn’t an issue for us [Saturday],” Kelly said. “I knew coming in they had great depth, and you know, at times we struggled with controlling any kind of continuity with the line of scrimmage. They are physical up front. We felt like if we could get the ball into the second level and into the secondary, we could have some success, but we didn’t have, at times, the chance to do that.”

The Irish defense was able to force the Bulldogs to punt he ball back to them after another three-and-out, however, setting up the dramatic final attempt by the Irish to get points on the board.

But Carter blew by Irish graduate student left tackle Mike McGlinchey and sacked Wimbush, forcing a fumble that ended with a Bulldogs recovery.

Wimbush finished 20-of-40 with 210 passing yards and a one-yard touchdown run. Adams led the Irish receivers with six catches for 60 yards, while Smith collected four catches for 44 yards. Adams also led the Irish rushing attack with 19 carries for 53 yards, but the Notre Dame rushing total of 55 yards fell far short of last week’s total of 422 yards.

After the game, Kelly began his press conference by expressing his disappointment in the outcome and gave credit to Georgia for making the plays that won the game.

“Well, certainly, you know, [I’m] disappointed for my guys,” Kelly said. “They battled. Played hard. Proud of their effort. I mean, they continue to do exactly what I ask them to do. The credit should go to Georgia today. They made the plays in critical times; when they needed the big plays, they came up with them.

“In a one-point game, there’s going to be a play or two that decides the game, and credit goes to [Bulldogs head coach] Kirby Smart and the Georgia football team for making the critical plays when they were needed.”

In the end, Kelly said he is proud of his team and the way they competed.

“They are going to learn from this game and they are going to grow from it, and they are going to be better because of it,” he said. “Still, the loss hurts. It stings. But like I said, we’ll grow from it and be better as a football team because of it.”

Kelly said a major factor in deciding the outcome was the opposing secondary’s ability to contain Wimbush on the edge.

“Probably a little bit more field pressure and some cover two behind it,” Kelly said. “They trapped a couple of the throws. But not a lot. It was kind of what we thought. They didn’t want the quarterback out on the perimeter, which they did a pretty good job of. But you know, we knew they were going to be physical up front. I went in with a belief that they were going to have their successes and then we would have ours.”

Kelly had a short answer when asked about how he plans to keep this year’s team from snowballing out of control like last year’s team seemed to do after an early-season loss.

“It’s not going to snowball,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing different. I go to work every day, and I coach my football team.”

Notre Dame will be back in action next Saturday when it takes on Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, which will be the team’s first road game of the season.

Wimbush said he is confident in the team’s ability to rebound despite the loss to the Bulldogs.

“I have no doubt [we will win next week.] I know we will,” Wimbush said. “Coach Long, he made it known that he’s going to push us this week, and things that happened today won’t happen again next week.”

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