ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart learned something about his program on Saturday night, and it was very nearly a painful lesson.
Smart and his No. 3-ranked Bulldogs escaped, pulling out a 23-17 win over Notre Dame. But not before the No. 7-ranked Irish (2-1) took UGA (4-0) down to the wire.
The biggest home weekend in recent Georgia football history — the first non-conference matchup of Top 10 teams since 1966 — very nearly became the most disappointing.
“You don’t know what’s inside you in life or football until you get tested, and I thought we we got tested tonight, and found out a lot about our team,” Smart said, moments after his defense knocked down Ian Book’s fourth down pass from the Georgia 37-yard line in the game’s final moments.
“We’re far from perfect, and we’ve got to get a lot better,” Smart said, “but they’ll fight you over and over again.”
That’s what it took against a physical and determined Fighting Irish team that came in seeking respect after being designated a two-touchdown underdog.
Notre Dame took chances downfield from the onset. The Irish pierced Smart’s defense repeatedly with tight end Cole Kmet, who had 9 catches for 108 yards and a TD.
“They were running boots, waggles, (and) that guy is a phenomenal player,” Smart said. “You notice later in the game they tried to target him and we had two or three pass break-ups.”
The Bulldogs also had two second-half interceptions and held the Irish without a first down in the third quarter.
Georgia had star players step up, too.
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“There were some really large hearts out there tonight,” Smart said. “D’Andre Swift ran the ball with passion, guts and just relentless effort.”
Swift had a career-high 18 carries for 98 yards and a TD, hurdling a Notre Dame player on a spectacular 10-yard run.
“The effort and leadership of a Jake Fromm, for him to third down scramble and take two hits and almost get a first down and manage the game really beautifully,” Smart said. “And the defense to rise up and keep playing past a bunch of injuries, a couple injuries on the offensive line, I’m just proud of our guys.”
Fromm was 20-of-26 passing for 187 yards passing and a TD, taking care of the football against was had been a very opportunistic Notre Dame football teams
It was a beat-up Georgia team by the end of the night, several players pushing through injuries to help the Bulldogs pull out the win
Cornerback Eric Stokes left the game with a leg injury on Notre Dame’s second play, only to return late in the fourth quarter to help stem the Irish’s comeback attempt.
The Bulldogs lost starting left guard Solomon Kindley to a left ankle injury in the second quarter, triggering yet another shuffle on an offensive line that entered the night without Isaiah Wilson.
Wilson came off the bench to start the second half, like Stokes, pushing through in a game where every play mattered.
Indeed, even the crowd played a pivotal role. The Sanford Stadium record crowd of 93,246 triggered six Notre Dame motion penalties.
“I think when you get tested, you find out something about yourself inside,” Smart said. “They had not been tested like that. They came out fighting.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart
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