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Georgia football winners and losers after win over Notre Dame
Winner: J.R. Reed
With Tyson Campbell not dressing for the game due to a right foot injury, the position where Georgia couldn’t sustain an injury was at cornerback. So of course on the opening drive of the game, Eric Stokes went down with a knee injury. An already thin secondary needed the available bodies to step up, and boy did they.
Divaad Wilson was stellar as he hauled in his first career interception. D.J. Daniel and Mark Webb had their moments as well, most importantly when they blanketed Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool on the final play of the game and swatted an Ian Book heave to the ground.
But it shouldn’t be lost that senior safety J.R. Reed had another outstanding effort. He was constantly around the ball on Saturday night, swatting away three passes and making another unreal interception in the fourth quarter.
J.R. REED @Jr_Reed1 is the BEST SAFETY in the world!!!
— HRKK (Hiro Katsuki) (@KatsukiFB) September 22, 2019
“[Reed] was the human eraser,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “He had two or three or plays that were going to be explosive plays. He gets a guy on the ground that was about to break out and bust the coverage. Then he makes the pick that really changed the whole environment of the game.”
It was far from a perfect night for the Georgia defense, as Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet both had big games. But given the injuries this unit sustained, Reed’s leadership and playmaking abilities really shined on Saturday night.
Loser: Georgia football special teams not involving Rodrigo Blankenship
Once again, Rodrigo Blankenship was outstanding. He nailed all three of his field-goal attempts and five of his six kickoff attempts went for touchbacks.
But the rest of Georgia’s special teams were atrocious. Tyler Simmons muffed a punt, which gifted Notre Dame an eventual touchdown. He was replaced by freshman Dominick Blaylock. He didn’t fumble the ball, but he did misread a Notre Dame punt and the subsequent roll pushed Georgia farther back.
Punter Jake Camarda struggled as well as he had punts of 25 and 27 yards. The latter came on Georgia’s penultimate offensive possession and gave Notre Dame great field position for its final offensive drive. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the defense was able to stymie the Notre Dame offense once more.
Kirby Smart routinely mentions how important special teams are to him and the team. That aspect of the game actively hurt Georgia on Saturday. Yes, the game had a College Football Playoff feel. But if Georgia’s non-Blankenship special teams units play as they did on Saturday against Alabama or Clemson, Georgia might not be so lucky to come out on top.
Winner: Jake Fromm
Fromm had the most impressive 187-yard passing performance you will ever see. The aerial display might not have as much sizzle as a Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow laser show, but Fromm was in complete control of the Georgia offense against Notre Dame.
He completed 20 of his 26 pass attempts for only the aforementioned 187 yards. But his second-half performance ultimately ended up being the difference in the game. He completed 9 of his 14 pass attempts in the half for 126 yards and an unreal touchdown pass and catch to Lawrence Cager. Fromm arguably could’ve had an even better day if his wide receivers had been able to haul in some passes that hit their hands.
Fromm — as is usually the case — looked his best when operating at a faster pace. Notre Dame knew this was going to be a problem and ultimately had to result to some unsportsmanlike tactics to try and slow down Fromm.
Defensively, Notre Dame did a lot of things similar to what LSU did a season ago. It loaded the box and the Fighting Irish were constantly bringing safeties up to stop the run. This meant that Fromm would need to complete some low percentage throws to his wide receivers in man coverage.
A year ago, he didn’t do that as he went 16 of 34 and was picked twice against the Tigers. On Saturday, he came through for the Bulldogs.
“Jake takes things that are broken and fixes them.” Smart said. “He makes wrongs right. I’m glad he’s on our team because he’s a leader, he’s a commander in chief. The guy makes good decisions.”
Notre Dame’s Book was picked twice on Saturday night and those interceptions led to 6 Georgia points. Fromm didn’t turn the ball over once. The winning margin in the game was those same 6 points.
Loser: Kirby Smart’s conservative style of play
With Georgia leading 20-10 in the fourth quarter, Kirby Smart was faced with a tough decision. Go for it on fourth and one with just over 7 minutes to go or kick a 43-yard field goal. Notre Dame was still going to need two scores in the game, though a field goal by Georgia would necessitate those two scores be Notre Dame touchdowns.
On Georgia’s two previous designed runs, both D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien were stuffed for no gain. And Georgia was without starting left guard Solomon Kindley, who exited the game with what looked like a serious leg injury. Those factors likely played a big reason as to why Smart decided to kick the field goal.
Blankenship converted, but that decision almost came back to haunt Georgia.
Renewed by a defensive stop, the Fighting Irish drove the length of the field for the only time all night to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Then after a Georgia three and out, Notre Dame had a drive — of just 52 yards — to potentially win the game.
But as you well know, the Georgia defense came through and the Bulldogs held on to win the game.
However, one of the major talking points after the game was Smart’s conservative decision. It came under heavy criticism, with USA Today’s Dan Wolken postgame column headlined,”Kirby Smart’s conservative approach is going to cost Georgia down the line.”
While that might be a bit extreme, it’s not the first time that Smart’s fourth-down play-calling has come under question. I know we’ve all agreed to never talk about Smart’s decision to call a fake punt with Justin Fields, who prior to the play had not been on Georgia’s punt team all year, in the 2018 SEC Championship Game, but Saturday night’s decision means the agreement can be voided.
Smart did defend his stance afterward and acknowledged that if it didn’t work, he knew he would be criticized for it.
“They went back and reviewed it and I thought it was going to be inches,” Smart said. “Then, once we looked out there and said that thing is almost a full yard, we just went with the points and said we’re playing good defense, we felt like they had to score two touchdowns to beat us, and that ended up being the difference in the game. But that’s one of those all you guys could second guess me if they score a touchdown, why didn’t you go for it. That’s the life we lead. It’s a tough call because you’ve got to feel comfortable that you can get a yard when a have to.”
Going forward, Smart is going to have to nail some late-game plays calls to shake the label that as the game gets tighter, so does he.
Winner: Georgia football fans
Sanford Stadium felt like a rock concert on Saturday night. And when you add the consistent noise level generated by the Georgia crowd, Notre Dame might as well have been trying to call plays in the middle of a Metallica show.
On the night, Notre Dame had 6 false start penalties. Then in the second half, the Fighting Irish had to burn two timeouts as they struggled to get the play in. Those proved to be costly as Notre Dame had to rush at times on its final drive.
Just about every Georgia player gushed after the win about the role the crowd played on Saturday. Jake Fromm actually said this win over Notre Dame carried more meaning than the 2017 victory because of the role the crowd played.
Smart took his praise a step further.
“Our fans are by far the best in the country. This is why you come to UGA,” Smart said. “When you get an opportunity to play in an atmosphere like that, an environment like that it was really incredible.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Georgia football dominates TV ratings, stays hot in Atlanta
- Georgia football steady in polls, SEC rolls on shakeup Saturday
- 3 takeaways from Georgia’s Notre Dame win, from Jake Fromm to fabulous fans
- WATCH Brian Kelly: ‘Physicality was real’ in 23-17 loss to Georgia
- WATCH Kirby Smart: Georgia ‘got tested’ in 23-17 win over Notre Dame
- Kirk Herbstreit leaves UGA out of his top 4 again, heavily praises Notre Dame
- Kirby Smart, Jake Fromm praise Georgia football fans for the best environment they’ve ever seen
Dawgs on Twitter
— JakefromStateFromm (@FrommJake) September 23, 2019
ICYMI: Last night was a fun one.
Let's take a look at the highlights again, shall we? pic.twitter.com/XBwYBnmDLQ
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) September 22, 2019
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) September 22, 2019
Since taking over at quarterback for Georgia as a true freshman, Jake Fromm has demonstrated that leadership isn’t just a word to him, it’s a way of football life.
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 21, 2019
Good Dawg of the Day
Did Lee Corso's longstanding beef with Uga the dog affect his GameDay pick? 🤔
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 21, 2019