Head to Head: Georgia
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, September 20, 2019
Take a look at last week’s stat sheet and any Notre Dame fan would be feeling good about Ian Book’s preparation for the Georgia secondary. Career-high five touchdowns, 360 yards and a 15-24 completion rate. However, look closer and a significant amount of that yardage came on short shovel passes with receiver who picked up major yardage after the catch. On the other hand, Georgia — who’s known for their defensive back seven — have a potential weakness in their secondary, who only recorded eight interceptions all season. Add in the size of Claypool, the strength of McKinley and the return of Kmet, this could be an area the Irish look to exploit.
EDGE: Notre Dame
The Irish have been outrushed by New Mexico and Louisville by a margin of 387 to 461. The team has lost its starting running back in Jafar Armstrong and has since leaned on Tony Jones Jr., who has carved out an excellent 6 yards per carry on his 21 attempts. Jones may have had some success finding creases so far, but this Georgia defensive front is like nothing the Irish have seen since the Cotton Bowl that saw Dexter Williams plod for 3.4 yards per carry. The Irish offensive line will need to step up in this one to give Jones and Book room to run, but this could be a tall order against a Georgia team that has conceded just 79.5 rushing yards per game so far.
Irish Offensive Special Teams
The storyline for Notre Dame’s offensive special teams coming into this year was the loss of punter Tyler Newsome and all-time leading Irish scorer Justin Yoon at kicker. Junior kicker Jonathan Doerer has looked solid in limited action this season, converting on all of his point-after attempts and sinking a 36-yard field goal against New Mexico. However, there’s no real preparation for a first-year starting kicker going down to Athens, Georgia. Likewise for freshman punter Jay Bramblett, who has performed admirably so far this season. However, Bramblett’s ability to flip the field for the Irish may often require leg strength that he doesn’t have, and Doerer will likely be influenced by the pressure of the moment, but it would be a difficult environment for virtually any unit in the nation.
Junior quarterback Jake Fromm, who started his first collegiate game against the Irish in 2017, had 30 passing touchdowns last season on 67.4% completion percentage. This year, he’s completed 75% of his passes for 601 yards and five touchdowns through three games. Not to mention Georgia has arguably the best offensive line in the country. Fromm is poised and a good leader, but he is not a threat to run the ball, having recorded -3 rushing yards on three attempts this season. Facing a drop-back passer like Fromm will allow Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem and the Irish pass rush group to show what they’re made of and test this O-line.
Notre Dame’s third-ranked passing efficiency defense nationally, admittedly due in part to Louisville and New Mexico having subpar passing quarterbacks, is due in part to a veteran secondary headlined by senior captains Jalen Elliot and Alohi Gilman at the safety position. Georgia lost their top five receivers from last season, and while they have talented freshmen at the position, Notre Dame’s experience in the secondary should give them a slight edge.
EDGE: Notre Dame
It’s not secret that Georgia’s junior running back Deandre Swift is a force to be reckoned with. So far this season, he’s averaged 9.4 yards per carry, rushing for 290 yards on 31 attempts. Granted, Georgia has yet to be tested by a powerhouse team, but frankly Deandre Swift is an NFL caliber running back already. Furthermore, Georgia’s offensive line is arguably the best in the SEC, and Notre Dame’s linebackers, although fast, are not equipped to match to the mixture of speed and physicality that Deandre Swift and the offensive line bring to the table. Georgia has the clear edge here.
Georgia Offensive Coaching
For Georgia, James Coley is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he’s done wonders for helping revamp the Georgia program under Kirby Smart. Also, Dell McGee, run game coordinator for the Bulldogs, has overseen four 1,000-yard rushers in his three seasons at Georgia. Their work has paid off, helping the Bulldogs to average 565.3 total yards/game. Clark Lea has done an admirable job at Notre Dame after coming in with Mike Elko, but after seeing what the Irish gave up to Clemson last year in the Cotton Bowl and what they’ve given up so far to lesser competition (230.5 rushing yards/game allowed), the Georgia offensive staff have got the edge with the weapons at their disposal.
Georgia Offensive Special Teams
Georgia certainly isn’t known for their special teams the way they’re known for their ground game, but no team gets to where the Bulldogs have without consistency in every aspect of its game. Senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has literally had a perfect season, hitting 17/17 PATs and 5/5 field goals for a total of 34 points on the year. The kids got a leg, and Georgia knows how to use it. In a game where a field goal could make a difference, Notre Dame doesn’t quite have the speed of the line to block a kick. Blankenship will keep being consistent, and that doesn’t bode well for the Irish