ATHENS — Georgia remains a College Football Playoff contender, but there were enough red flags to make for a busy week in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
Like any other team, the Bulldogs need to evolve, and it starts from the top down coming out of the Notre Dame win.
Not finishing in big games has become part of the team’s identity the past two seasons, and it very nearly happened again in the 23-17 win against the Irish.
UGA went up 23-10 with 6:54 remaining on Rodrigo Blankenship’s third field goal of the night, a 43-yarder.
Smart had chosen the field goal option instead of going for it on a fourth-and-1. He likely felt confident in a defense that held Notre Dame without a first down in the third quarter or any points in the second half.
But doesn’t Smart also need to feel good about an offense that has led the SEC in rushing straight seasons and features a third-year starting QB capable of checking to the right play at the line?
The Irish responded to the conservative call with a 75-yard touchdown drive, then held UGA’s offense three-and-out and got the ball back with 2 minutes left on their own 48.
Georgia dodged a bullet.
Here are three takeaways on Georgia football
Kirby needs to loosen up
Successful head coaches with defensive backgrounds like Smart have a tendency to take fewer risks on offense and play not to lose. The older, more successful ones have grown out of that when personnel dictates.
Jake Fromm is at his best in the two-minute drill, and Georgia has skill position players like few others. The Bulldogs are going to have to apply offensive firepower when leading in big games.
Smart has released the hounds on defense this season, and it may be time do the same with Fromm and his offense.
Recruits like seeing big offensive numbers, too, and right now Alabama and LSU have them on offense, and UGA does not.
Talent vs. experience
Seniors and returning starters are important, but there comes a time when the talent trumps equity.
Some of the Bulldogs most gifted players didn’t appear to be part of the game plan against Notre Dame, and that’s likely something Smart and his staff will chew on during the bye week.
The competition is real at most positions, as former UGA great David Pollack pointed out, and October will be a month to let it play out against middling SEC competition.
By November, the best players need to have the ball in their hands and get targets. That didn’t seem to be the case against Notre Dame on Saturday night.
Every fanbase likes to think they affect the game, and to some extent they all do.
But Saturday night in Athens was special, and it’s fair to suggest that without the fans Georgia would not have beaten Notre Dame. The Irish had six false starts and burned at least three timeouts due to the noise, including two in the second half.
Did the motion penalty yardage prevent the upset? Would Notre Dame’s final drive led to a touchdown if Brian Kelly had two more timeouts up his sleeve on the final drive?
Georgia’s fans bailed out the Bulldogs and made a difference to proportions very rarely seen in recent history.
DawgNation Georgia-Notre Dame
Georgia football report card for Notre Dame
Kirby Smart says Georgia ‘got tested’ in 23-17 win
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: ‘Physicality was real’
Georgia football game ball goes to WR Lawrence Cager