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Notre Dame gives Georgia a chance to build confidence early in 2017

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, we take a look at Georgia’s much-hyped contest with Notre Dame in Week 2 of the 2017 season.

Track: Tura Lura Lural | Artist: The Band with Van Morrison | Album: The Last Waltz

2017 Season Preview: Notre Dame

It’s no stretch to say that Notre Dame is the most exciting regular-season nonconference opponent Georgia has scheduled in decades. The trip to South Bend will be made by scores of Georgia fans looking to see the Dawgs play at one of college football’s most-storied stadiums. And let’s not sell short the opportunity to notch a win against the Fighting Irish, one of the most hated fan bases in college football, and earn the bragging rights to go along with it.

With a primetime kickoff, it will be the marquee matchup of Week 2, and thus one of the most anticipated games at the outset of the 2017 season. Georgia has played big out-of-conference games in the first few weeks of the season before. While early games against Oklahoma State, Boise State, Clemson and UNC have happened in the last decade, none stack up to the hype around this game with the Irish. And for good reason.

Like they are every season, all eyes are always on Notre Dame to see if the Fighting Irish live up to the hype and/or can claw their way back to the greatness they achieved decades ago and enjoyed briefly again in recent years. So, by the transitive property, all eyes will also be on Georgia in Week 2. A win against Notre Dame will go a long way toward proving Georgia’s credibility and establishing it as a contender in the eyes of the fans and the national media. Of course, how the fans and the media perceive Georgia don’t matter at all. Georgia’s goal this season is an SEC East title, and a win vs. Notre Dame, as great as it would be, won’t help that cause, just as a loss won’t hurt it.

But there is something to be said for getting the hype train rolling and getting fans invested. That’s something coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs need in his second season after a disappointing first. There’s no doubt a win against the Irish would do just that.

What Notre Dame did in 2016

Notre Dame finished 4-8 in 2016, a bad season by most power program standards, but a really bad season by Notre Dame standards. Irish fans believe they should be competing for a national title every season, as delusional as that may be with a tough schedule year in, year out. Brian VanGorder was fired as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in the middle of the season, allowing him to come back to UGA as a consultant in enough time to help the Dawgs lose to Georgia Tech.

While VanGorder’s axing was necessary, it was partially symbolic, as head coach Brian Kelly made whatever moves necessary to show he was doing everything he could do to win in a bid to save his own skin. The Irish were 1-3 before BVG was sacked and 3-5 after, so the move didn’t make a lot of difference, if any at all.

Notre Dame’s outlook in 2017

With that as prologue, 2017 will be about Kelly’s attempts to stay in power at Notre Dame. And the only way to do that is to win a helluva lot more games than he won last season.

Kelly has brought in former Memphis OC Chip Long to run the offense, suggesting we’ll see the Irish run a bit more of an uptempo system than they have in the past. QB DeShone Kizer is gone and the keys to offense have been handed to Brandon Wimbush. Kizer was a really good college quarterback, so it will be difficult for Wimbush to match his productivity immediately. But by all accounts, Wimbush is expected to be a good one. The big question will be how long it will take for him and rest of the offense to get up to speed with Long’s scheme. So, with Georgia playing the Irish in Week 2, the Dawgs could hold an advantage over Notre Dame’s offense.

The focus by most will be on how much the defense improves under Mike Elko. Elko headed a surprisingly good Wake Forest defense last season, so with more talented players in South Bend, it stands to reason he can engineer a turnaround in South Bend. But one thing Notre Dame lacks, that every good team needs, is a competent pass rush. Without it, the change in coaches will only go so far.

Player to watch — WR Equanimeous St. Brown

First off, my God, what a name. Second off, St. Brown was Notre Dame’s leading receiver last season, starting all 12 games and finishing the season with 961 yards and 9 touchdowns (The second-leading receiver had 521 yards.). He’s a tall drink of water at 6-foot-5 and a legit deep threat. Wimbush will still be growing into his game when the Irish play Georgia, but St. Brown should be at the top of his game. Expect the two to connect early and often, as St. Brown is the most reliable player at arguably the most reliable position on the team.

Projection vs. Georgia

FPI projection: Notre Dame has a 51.2 percent chance to beat Georgia.

Improving UGA’s passing game

Ian Boyd of SB Nation had a really good breakdown of Georgia’s passing attack and what can be done in 2017 to make it more productive. One thing Boyd noted that caught my eye was how poor Jacob Eason was throwing to the outside last season, which, in turn, limited his ability to throw inside.

Beyond their shaky protections, Georgia lacked scary receivers on the outside for Eason to target with his big arm. That it made it hard to effectively attack the middle of the field with more talented options like [Isaac] Nauta or Isaiah McKenzie, because defenses were loading up between the hash marks.

Nauta averaged 8 yards per target and McKenzie 9.9, but outside receivers Terry Godwin and Javon Wims averaged only 6.3 and 5.8 yards, respectively. The combination of Eason’s arm strength and anticipation and UGA’s tight ends and running backs should’ve created lots of opportunities outside. It didn’t work out in 2016.

I won’t spoil it all here, but Boyd has a ton of great observations about Eason and the passing game, as well as GIFs of examples he’s given so you can watch what he’s talking about while you’re reading. I highly recommend a click.

‘Herschel Walker doesn’t tap out’

The Stacks, a Deadspin vertical dedicated to fantastic features of yore, re-published a 2011 Playboy piece on Herschel Walker’s foray into mixed martial arts and so much more. You may have read it when it came out, but it’s well worth another read.

You should also check out this Q&A with the author of the piece, Steve Oney, if you get a chance.

UGA men’s tennis earns slew of individual SEC awards

Georgia men’s tennis coach Manny Diaz was named SEC Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to SEC regular season and tournament titles. Along with Diaz, Nathan Ponwith was named the SEC Freshman of the Year. Four Bulldogs — Ponwith, Wayne Montgomery, Jan Zielinski and Robert Loeb earned All-SEC first-team honors, while Emil Reinberg earned a place on the second team.

Those five players also earned individual bids to the 2017 NCAA Championships.

“This young team matured all season long and accomplished something that does not come easy in this league in winning both the regular season and tournament titles,” Diaz said. “We still have a long way to go this season, but I am so proud of where this group of young men has already taken us.”

97 UGA athletes set to graduate

Graduation is Friday, and that means a slew of Georgia athletes will receiver their degrees — 97 to be precise. Here’s a list of football players who are part of the graduating class of 2017.

Football: Chuks Amaechi, Communication Studies; Aulden Bynum, Agricultural and Applied Economics; Reggie Carter, Economics; Jared Chapple, Human Development and Family Science; Rennie Curran, General Business; James DeLoach, Sociology; Ray Drew, Communication Studies; Brandon Kublanow, Real Estate; Kyle LeStrange, Consumer Economics; Brice Ramsey, Communication Studies; Ryne Rankin, Agricultural and Applied Economics; Jonathon Rumph, Human Development and Family Science; Billy Seward, Finance; Glenn Welch, Finance; Reggie Wilkerson, Human Development and Family Science.

For a full list of athletes graduating this week, click here.

ICYMI

Good dog

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