SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Greetings from South Bend! Well, in the interest of full disclosure, this report is coming to you from Mishawaka, Ind. That is where my hotel room is. And those of you who have been looking into lodging in the quaint little town that encompasses the University of Notre Dame will understand why I’m staying here rather than there this week.
I try to avoid New York City prices when I’m not in New York.
And as I’m learning and you might, too, Mishawaka is a sort of sister city to South Bend. It’s located right next door and only about six miles to Notre Dame Stadium. So it’s a good alternative.
If, that is, you can find a room. There aren’t any here at the hotel I’m staying, not for the weekend at least, and there are none of the premium variety pretty much anywhere in a 50-mile radius, I’m told. But the good folks at VisitSouthBend.com tell me you can visit their site and they might be able to help you find something.
Meanwhile, there are lots of rooms elsewhere, like 45 minutes north in New Buffalo, Mich. That’s up near Lake Michigan, where there are casinos and thousands of rooms. And, of course, the party this week is 2 1/2 hours west in Chicago. We’ll have lots more on that later.
But I was in South Bend and on the Notre Dame campus earlier today and I’ll be here all week. I was greeted by high winds, a spitting of rain and slightly cooler temperatures. However, the forecast for this weekend is very good, with sunny skies and a high of 72 degrees predicted for Saturday afternoon and cooling to 46 overnight.
I thought getting out here on a Monday afternoon that surely I’d be the first of the proverbial “DawgNation Invasion” on the ground in Notre Dame territory this week. But according to the nice lady at the front desk, I was not. “At least a couple” Bulldogs’ fans had checked in over the weekend.
That said, it’s pretty quiet around here as far as the build-up for Saturday’s game between Georgia and Notre Dame. You may have heard that the two teams are meeting for the first time in 37 years on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. (NBC). The only other time they played was Jan. 1, 1981, in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans when the Bulldogs prevailed 17-10 to claim the 1980 national championship.
Generally, that’s probably a bigger deal on the Georgia side of things than it is on Notre Dame’s. The Fighting Irish, who play as an independent in football, have at least one or two major programs in here pretty much every year that either haven’t played them ever or in a long time. I had one local gentleman come up and ask me if the DawgNation shirt I was wearing was associated with the University of Georgia. I explained that it did not but that I was here to cover Saturday’s game between Georgia and Notre Dame and to report on things happening during the week leading up to it. He “had no idea” Notre Dame was playing UGA but seemed thrilled to learn that they were and said he hopes the Bulldogs put up more of a fight than Temple did this past Saturday.
I’m sure that gentleman was an exception, but that’s kind of where we are all of the sudden with this monumental matchup. I saw some odds posted Monday that, based on the news that Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason is out and freshman Jake Fromm will start in his place, Notre Dame moved from a 4- to a 6.5-point favorite for Saturday’s game.
Indeed, the Irish had considerable less drama in their opener against the overmatched Owls than did Georgia in losing Eason to a knee sprain 8:30 into its game against Appalachian State. While there is considerable optimism from certain corners of the Bulldog Nation over Fromm guiding Georgia’s offense to 31 unanswered points in the 31-10 victory, apparently it did not extend to Las Vegas.
As for Notre Dame, the Irish were thoroughly dominant in dispatching Temple 49-16 in their first game in their newly-renovated stadium. They rushed for 421 yards in the contest and had three players go over 100 yards individually — from running backs Josh Adams (161) and Dexter Williams (124) and quarterback Brandon Wimbush (106) — for the first time since 1954.
So they’re feeling pretty good about themselves around here. And that’s not a small thing after the 4-8 debacle that was last season.
But last time I checked, those Bulldogs are pretty good at stopping the ol’ run. I suspect Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker will sellout pretty hard to have Georgia’s formidable front seven stuff the Notre Dame running game and force Wimbush, the first-year starter at quarterback, to show he can throw the ball. Of course, the exact same can be expected in inverse on Georgia and its young signal-caller.
We’ll find out more about all that tomorrow when Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly addresses the media at his weekly press conference at about noon. I’ll also be talking to a bunch of Notre Dame players on Wednesday and get another audience with Kelly on Thursday.
Meanwhile, it was a typically quiet Monday for the Irish. They never practice on Mondays during the season. The day is reserved for weightlifting and meetings, which is what they were doing inside the Guglielmino Athletic Center when I rode by late in the afternoon. So the practice fields were empty.
Riding through campus, I made a pass around the famous Golden Dome, the stadium, the athletic complex and good ol’ Touchdown Jesus. I saw nary a mention of “Beat Georgia” or anything like that.
All that will get cranked up later I’m sure. I was talking yesterday to Eric Hansen, the Notre Dame beat writer for the South Bend Tribune, and he told me he’s hearing the DawgNation Invasion they’re expecting Saturday might rival the famous “Big Red Sea” game they experienced when Nebraska came in here in September of 2000. The Cornhusker contingent in Notre Dame Stadium was estimated to have been about 30,000 strong. Nebraska, ranked No. 1 that year, hung on for a 27-24 win in overtime.
We’re about 29,900 UGA fans short of that right now. But there’s time. It’s only Monday.
Say hey when y’all get here.