SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The great intrigue for Georgia coming into the game Saturday against Notre Dame was how well its freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, might stand up while making his first start in a nationally televised road game at night.
The answer? Not great. Then again, the way the Georgia defense played, it didn’t matter.
Fromm lost a fumble, threw an interception and probably should’ve given up at least one more as Georgia’s offense ran smoothly in short spurts, then sputtered and stalled in others. But he also connected with wide receivers on a pair of had-to-have throws that helped the No. 15 Bulldogs eke by No. 24 Notre Dame, 20-19.
Rodrigo Blankenship put Georgia ahead by a point with a 30-yard field goal with 3:34 remaining in the game, then the defense silenced the Fighting Irish the rest of the way as the Bulldogs improved to 2-0 all time against Notre Dame. The last time they played was the 1981 Sugar Bowl and the next will be on Sept. 19, 2019, when the Irish visit Sanford Stadium for the first time.
In the meantime, here’s what went right and wrong for the Bulldogs.
It was a strange evening for the Georgia offense, which might have had something to do with having a rookie running the show. The Bulldogs attempted a multitude of plays in a variety of personnel groupings but never could get anything going consistently. In the end, they ran the ball 43 times and passed it 29 to arrive at a fairly evenly distributed 326 yards. Nick Chubb (63 yards) and Sony Michel (73) each had 13 carries, while D’Andre Swift averaged 21 yards on a pair of carries. Fromm hit 10 receivers for 16 completions, but his only touchdown pass came on a circus-like, one-handed catch by Terry Godwin. Tight ends remained a non-factor, and line play was substandard. The Bulldogs still seem a long way from establishing an offensive identity.
If not for penalties, Georgia’s defensive performance possibly could have been one for the ages. As it was, it was pretty special. Against a team that scored 49 points a week ago and piled up 422 yards rushing, the Bulldogs limited the Irish to 55 yards on the ground and an average of 1.5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, senior outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter were a force to be reckoned with on the edges. Each had a sack and a strip, and Carter recovered 2 fumbles while causing another as Georgia won the battle up front. The Bulldogs had at least two opportunities to make interceptions but failed to haul them in and allowed 7 first downs by penalty. Otherwise, evidence is mounting that this could be one of UGA’s best defenses in years.
Special Teams: B
Blankenship was good on the 30-yard kick that proved to be the game winner, but he missed a 44-yard try in the first half and ended with 1 touchback after logging 5 the previous week. Not many of Cameron Nizialek’s 8 punts were clean, but he got 56 yards out of one he actually shanked. The Bulldogs looked particularly strong in the returns game. Elijah Holyfield returned one kickoff nearly 90 yards, only to have it called back by a holding penalty. Mecole Hardman looked like a threat to break free on both punts and kickoffs. Improvement needs to be made but potential is very high.
Kirby Smart and his staff did a good job of bringing a strong overall game plan and a markedly better team into Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. While it’s hard to hold coaches responsible when a team commits a bunch of penalties, the blame for the Bulldogs having 12 penalties for 127 yards has to go somewhere. The fact that several of the calls went against Georgia for either facemasks or hands to the face provides evidence of a trend. But Georgia’s coaches managed to keep the Bulldogs on point and focused even when they fell behind three times, once by as much as six points. Props for getting Georgia back to Athens with a W against a traditional power.
This feels like one of those games that Georgia might want to wait to see what happens the rest of the season before it goes nuts and declares the win over Notre Dame great and special. But at the moment it looks like the Bulldogs beat a solid, talented nonconference, non-regional opponent on the road. This is one of those wins that could springboard or catapult Georgia to bigger things. To do that, though, the Bulldogs will have to smooth out a lot of bumps and fix a lot of mistakes to put themselves into the category of championship contender.