3 things Georgia must avoid against upset-minded Notre Dame
ATHENS — Coach-speak often becomes player-speak during big-game weeks like Georgia-Notre Dame, to the extent players insist they’re treating it like any other game and every other week.
But when the No. 3 Bulldogs say that beating the No. 7-ranked Irish is just a matter of playing up to their standard and executing, they can be believed where this matchup is concerned.
Georgia is the more talented team, and the Sanford Stadium environment when the teams kick off at 8 p.m. on Saturday night will provide the home team with a decided edge.
Still, Coach Kirby Smart and some of his current players have proven before they aren’t perfect, and Notre Dame will be looking for any sort of break or momentum it can find between the hedges.
Here are three things the Bulldogs must avoid against the Irish.
Special teams miscues
Smart says he attends most every special teams meeting to make sure his players know the importance of the units. They should already get the hint by the fact UGA utilizes its best players on them.
Still, things happen, as Georgia fans recently saw when otherwise reliable kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 30-yard field goal that would have put the Bulldogs up 17 points in the third quarter of last season’s SEC Championship Game. The Alabama sideline came to life with the miss, and the rest is history.
“The rest” included a fourth quarter fake punt Georgia had been working on all season, but a former UGA backup quarterback was late snapping the ball, Alabama adjusted, and a now-infamous moment unfolded.
A failed early fake field goal at LSU last season also strikes many as ranking among the more regrettable play calls, even if the intent was understandable.
Smart will not likely feel pressed to reach for momentum-changing plays on special teams against Notre Dame.
Blankenship has returned to his steady ways since the SEC title game miss, a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals this season.
Georgia safety Richard LeCounte joked in fall camp about how Smart calls him “Rat Trap Richie” when he misses assignments by trying too hard to help in other areas of the field.
But blown assignments are no joke on a defense that has been almost exclusively recruited and coached up by Smart.
Some so-called Rat-Trap defense took place against Murray State after defensive back Mark Webb got beat on a slant route by a Florida transfer, and there was no UGA safety in the middle of the field to prevent the 60-yard TD pass.
It’s the only defensive score the Bulldogs have yielded through three games.
Georgia lost last season’s SEC Championship Game after D’Andre Walker was injured because there wasn’t another outside linebacker on the team who understood or was capable of containment, as then Tide QB Jalen Hurts joyously discovered during a comeback
A certain national championship game was also lost because of broken assignments on a second-and-26 play that will live in Georgia infamy.
Enough said. Smart’s defense needs to be assignment sound.
Jake Fromm is about as good as it gets when taking care of the football, so interceptions do not figure to be a factor for the Bulldogs offense against Notre Dame.
A couple weeks ago, however, Smart had a number of players doing extra work on ball security after three fumbles in the first two games of the season (two lost).
The Sugar Bowl debacle was the latest example that even the best can have bad days.
In this case “The Best” is a player who is expected to carry a heavy load against the Irish.
Talback D’Andre Swift inexplicably fumbled twice against the Longhorns, losing one of them including a gift that handed Texas field position for a 14-0 lead and a ton of momentum.
It was the worst night of Swift’s otherwise brilliant career at Georgia, as he finished with 8 carries for just 12 yards.
Swift and the Bulldogs return to the national stage for the first time since their embarrassing Sugar Bowl defeat, ready to prove worthy of their lofty ranking.
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