Irish looking forward to challenge against Bulldogs
Benjamin Padanilam | Thursday, September 7, 2017
When No. 24 Notre Dame and No. 15 Georgia take the field Saturday, the matchup will feature two quarterbacks with a combined one start between them.
For Brandon Wimbush, his first start last week was largely successful — the junior quarterback threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns against Temple while also running for 106 yards and another score.
That’s not to say there aren’t areas to improve for Wimbush. Having completed under 60 percent of his passes and thrown an interception against the Owls (0-1), he expects to continue to get better, citing continued repetitions as the path to greater success.
“The more experience that I get with these guys — whether it be game experience or practice experience, it means something, and day-by-day, we’re all getting better and the camaraderie is growing,” Wimbush said.
With a sizable lead against the Owls last week, Wimbush was comfortable taking greater risks and attempting throws into tight windows. But when the Irish (1-0) host the Bulldogs (1-0) on Saturday, he said is well aware that he’ll have to be more selective when taking such risks.
“This secondary is really good, and they’re athletic,” Wimbush said. “I’m going to take that into consideration when I make some of those throws [into a tight window].”
Additionally, the Bulldogs return 10 of their starters from last season on the defensive side of the ball, giving them a lot of experience up front. Although matching their output of 422 rushing yards from last week’s win could prove unlikely, Wimbush feels confident in the veteran group on the Irish offensive line and expects to be able to carry last week’s momentum into Saturday’s contest.
“They have some dynamic guys up front,” he said. “I mean, all around their defense they look really good. They look the part, and they have tough guys up front. But I think our guys … will be able to handle them up front, especially the front five. They’re looking forward to the challenge, and I think they’ll be pretty successful.”
On the other side of the ball, however, Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm will be making the first start of his collegiate career. He came off the bench last week in his team’s win over Appalachian State after starting sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason sprained a ligament in his left knee, throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown in relief.
And now, Fromm will be tasked with leading the Bulldogs into Notre Dame Stadium against a top-25 team. Despite Fromm’s inexperience, the Irish defense does not expect the threat of the Georgia attack to lessen to any degree.
“The kid is a talented kid. He didn’t go to Georgia for nothing,” Irish captain and senior linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “He’s got a great arm, and so obviously we don’t have a lot of film on him, but we hear the kid is a gamer, and I’m assuming his coaches and his staff are going to do a great job having him ready to play, having him feeling confident. I’d imagine you have to feel confident with the guys surrounding you on offense, so it’s going to present a challenge nonetheless, and I expect him to come in with a balanced approach and still throw the football.”
“He’s gonna come out and play,” Irish senior cornerback Nick Watkins said. “For us, they’re a good team, it’s a great challenge, so we’re all looking forward to it.”
Although much of the talk leading up to the game has been about Fromm, the Irish are well aware that the Bulldogs will likely minimize how much they ask the freshman to do with two seniors in their backfield in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb has drawn praise in particular, as he is the fifth amongst active FBS running backs in rushing yards.
“I mean, I think you look at a back that’s very balanced,” Tranquill said of Chubb. “He’s got a little bit lower center of gravity, so he’s able to kind of maneuver tackles and exhibits great balance, and also great explosiveness in the hole and great vision. Whenever you have a back with all those traits, he presents a challenge.”
With both backs ranking in the top-15 in career yards in the FBS, however, the Irish defense expects to have to be at its best regardless of which back is on the field.
“They’re great backs, and we’ve done a lot of drill work this week just working on that tackling portion,” Irish captain and senior linebacker Greer Martini said. “ … Each back is special and so each one has good traits, and it’s just going in there and closing space on them. I don’t think that it’s going to change the way we play necessarily, but … they’re both really good, so with both we got our hands full.”
And while head coach Brian Kelly pointed to missed tackles last week against the Owls as an issue that needs to be cleaned up going forward, Martini believes the Irish will be far more settled in their second game of the season and be able to avoid the mistakes they made last week before they become more costly this time around.
“I think that the biggest thing is like that first game, you got jitters,” Martini said. “You’re nervous the first game out there, it’s the first time you go 100 percent and I think it is just one of those things in the first game. You kind of got to get adjusted, and we’ll see in week two — it’s going to be a lot better.”
“ … Some of it, just with those missed tackles, is just keeping it all together and not worrying too much about it and just moving your feet and running through contact.”