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Football

‘He’s a difference maker’: Kmet silences Georgia crowd with dominant performance

| Sunday, September 22, 2019

Saturday night belonged to Cole Kmet.

In his first game back for the Irish following a broken collarbone, the junior tight end looked unstoppable.

Yes, Georgia came away with the win and preserved their perfect record, but Kmet came up with play after play to silence the deafening crowd in Sanford stadium. He recorded a game-high 102 yards and averaged 12 yards per catch.

Ann Curtis | The Observer

Junior tight end Cole Kmet jogs off the field after catching the first Irish touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs on Sept. 21 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.

For Irish head coach Brian Kelly, Kmet’s return had a stabilizing effect on his team.

“Obviously we feel like he’s a difference maker because as a player, he kind of sets a tone in the game with the physical run,” Kelly said. “… The guy that gets us feeling like this is the way we can play this game. He opens up a lot of things for us. Obviously he’s a guy that needs balance, we need some guys to get healthy at the running back position.”

Originally from Lake Barrington, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago — Kmet has distinguished himself as a Renaissance man in the program, serving as a pitcher for the Irish baseball team while majoring in psychology. Meanwhile, he’s become one of senior quarterback Ian Book’s favorite targets.

“He’s a great player,” Book said. “… I just want to get him the ball whenever I can.”

Against the Bulldogs, Kmet made his return in memorable fashion, grabbing three straight catches on the opening drive for 33 yards. And his impact didn’t stop there — he caught the first Notre Dame touchdown in Athens on a one-handed grab on 4th down.

Perhaps no one knows the impact of Kmet on the team’s ability to space the field more than senior wide receiver Chase Claypool, who contributed 66 yards and a touchdown of his own on Saturday.

“One hundred percent,” Claypool said when asked if Kmet’s presence impacts the options for him on the field. “He’s a playmaker naturally, so anytime we get another playmaker on the field it kind of opens the field up a little bit.”

Kmet’s greatest threats are his size and ability to create. Along with Claypool, Kmet’s 6’5” frame easily towers over the average safety or cornerback. On countless occasions throughout his career with the Irish, Kmet sneaks into an opening for Book to thread him the pass.

And with two minutes remaining in the first half against Georgia, Kmet did just that. Taking off down the field, he turned and faced up to secure a pass as two Georgia defenders swarmed him immediately. The 28-yard catch sparked a run that ultimately gave the Irish the lead heading into the half.

When you have a player who’s such a difference maker, the team tends to follow their patterns. So in the third quarter, when Kmet’s catches seemed to quiet, so too did the Irish offense.

But big players are made for big moments. With just over six minutes left on the clock, Notre Dame got the ball back down 13. Kmet picked up a quick nine yards, getting out of bounds and stopping the clock.

A few snaps later, with the line of scrimmage at the 49-yard line, Kmet snuck behind the cornerbacks and brought down a 31 yard pass, putting the Irish in red-zone territory. They would eventually go on to score two snaps later.

Kmet has time and time again wowed fans with his ability to make a play in open space and Saturday was no exception. At a time when Notre Dame needed something to be excited about following two lackluster season-opening games and numerous injuries to key players, Kmet’s performance on Saturday was just what the Irish needed to stay hopeful.

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