Georgia could run over Notre Dame if numbers don’t lie
ATHENS — Kirby Smart said Tuesday night that “stats are overrated,” and that may be true, but statistics an also be revealing.
Notre Dame ranks 120th in the nation in rushing defense. The Irish yielded an average of 230.5 yards per game against the likes of Louisville and New Mexico in their first two games.
Georgia has led the SEC in rushing the past two seasons and is once again off and running. UGA is 8th in the nation and tops in the SEC through three games, averaging more than 286 yards on the ground.
If those trends continue, the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs will run over two-touchdown underdog and No. 7-ranked Notre Dame in the teams’ 8 p.m. showdown on Saturday at Sanford Stadium (TV: CBS).
Irish coach Brian Kelly said as much when addressing Notre Dame’s curious struggles defending the run against overmatched opponents.
“There were two runs (against New Mexico) that we just didn’t like the overall team defensive support,” Kelly said. “Against Louisville, it was a just poor execution and some option things in zone read.
“That can’t happen against anybody. It can’t happen against Georgia, because obviously those plays are going for touchdowns.”
All five of the Bulldogs’ running backs have already scored touchdowns this season through three games, averaging between 5.8 yards per carry (Brian Herrien) and 12.9 (James Cook).
“D’Andre Swift, Herrien, Cook, they have five running backs that could touch the field and do great things with the ball in their hands,” Kelly acknowledged.
“I think our guys …. know that each and every play against a team like Georgia, if you’re not on it with all 11 players playing together and playing great run defense, a guy like Swift is going to take it to the end zone. So I think we’ll have their attention this week.”
The question is, does Notre Dame have the players to match up with the Bulldogs so-called “Great Wall” offensive line?
Smart has dished out heavy praise for the Irish and suggested the statistics don’t apply because Georgia’s run game is different than what Louisville and New Mexico do.
“Different kind of run game stuff, (and) I think people just look at rushing stats, they don’t look behind it,” Smart said. “And, there’s a lot more to the story sometimes than just what meets the eye.”
Smart said what he sees is an active front with more size and athleticism than the Bulldogs have encountered this season.
“I don’t know anybody we’ve played recently that is like them on the defensive line, they have superior size and speed combination,” Smart said. “They’ve got really good edge players. Their guys can get off the edge and rush really well. They do a tremendous job. Their guys can move around, just athletic.
“They’re very multiple in what they do and they’re disruptive.”
Kelly suggested the Irish run defense is just a couple of adjustments away from being where it needs to be.
“Our top down run support has got to be better, our safety support has got to be better, our fit by the backers has got to be better,” Kelly said after the New Mexico win.
“We’ll get it cleaned up, we’re not getting pushed off the ball, we’re not getting manhandled, none of that concerns me at all.”