Irish Snapshot: There Is No QuitBy Joanne Norell
Following Saturday’s top-10 slugfest between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 3 Georgia, Bulldog offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson had nothing but praise for the team his had just defeated in what looked and felt like a College Football Playoff play-in game.
“That is a playoff team,” Wilson said. “They’re a top 10 team. Talent is there.”
That might be little consolation for a Notre Dame program that has seen itself in this position before. Few gave the Irish a chance between the hedges — citing a track record that, perhaps unfairly, pointed to an inability to win a big game.
Notre Dame did everything it could to silence its critics Saturday. The Irish played physical. They bottled the run. They showed creativity in the offensive gameplan. They outplayed the Bulldogs on special teams. They did everything, in short, except win.
Dick Corbett Head Football Coach Brian Kelly and his squad have little use for moral victories. After all, they don’t get you to the College Football Playoff. What can, though, are nine more games where the Irish play like they did in Athens (and maybe a little help from elsewhere in college football).
As Irish captain Khalid Kareem put it: “The next opponents who we have coming up this season, best of luck to you. Because we’re coming.”
If nothing else, the Irish showed one thing:
There is no quit.
Kmet Can Play
Junior tight end Cole Kmet may have missed the season’s first two games with a broken collarbone, but he may as well have been in midseason form Saturday in his season debut. With nine catches — tying a single-game record by a tight end — for 108 yards and a touchdown, Kmet showed just how dangerous the Irish offense can be with its top playmakers in the lineup. A full tight end complement — especially one containing the blocking and receiving abilities of Kmet — will help the Irish regain some of the offensive efficiencies it lacked against Louisville, and that showed against the Bulldogs.
Shining Special Teams
The Irish figured they’d have to make a play or two on special teams against a team like Georgia, in an atmosphere like Sanford Stadium. And for all intents and purposes the Irish fielded the better special teams unit Saturday. Early in the second quarter, as freshman Jay Bramblett stuck yet another punt inside the 20-yard line — something he’s done seven times in 14 tries this season — the Irish capitalized on Tyler Simmons’ muffed return with Chase Claypool recovering the fumble at the eight. Six plays, a pass interference penalty and fourth-down conversion later (Kmet’s touchdown snag), the Irish had taken a 7-0 lead.
Speaking of Claypool, the box score reflects a modest 66 yards on six catches for the senior wideout, but he proved critical to Notre Dame’s comeback chances in the fourth quarter. Down 13 with less than seven minutes to go, Claypool caught three passes for 32 yards, including a 23-yard snag to set up first and goal and the four-yard touchdown on the very next play to pull the Irish within six.
After the Irish defense forced a Georgia punt on the next drive, quarterback Ian Book targeted Claypool four more times, but the last-ditch attempt fell short as the Bulldogs put the double-team on Claypool on the down-field heave that effectively sealed the game. With receiver and fellow playmaker Michael Young “probable” to return next week against Virginia, per Kelly, expect the Irish passing threat to improve accordingly.
One of the biggest questions heading into Saturday’s contest was whether Notre Dame could contain the vaunted Georgia run game. The Irish answered that question emphatically, holding the Bulldogs to 152 rushing yards, their lowest output of the season. The defensive backfield led the way, with linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (two TFLs) and safeties Alohi Gilman (pictured) and Jalen Elliott leading the team with eight tackles apiece.
On The Road
Winning against a Top 5 opponent on the road is supposed to be hard. The record 93,246 fans at Sanford Stadium made sure to make it even harder. The deafening noise and flashing lights coming from both the mouths of the masses and the stadium AV system surely played a part in a Brian Kelly-record 12 penalties against the Irish, six of which were of the false start variety. Though they practiced a silent cadence all week in preparation for the decibel levels they’d encounter in Athens, the Irish found themselves thrown off balance by the noise all night.
If 2019’s first two games represented a step backward for senior quarterback Ian Book after a revelatory first season as the Irish starter, Saturday’s performance showed he has the ability to shine when the lights are brightest. It wasn’t a perfect performance. He finished 29 of 47 for 275 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he showed the composure and patience necessary for the Irish to play among the nation’s elite teams.
Said Kelly after the game: “He stepped up to the level necessary for us to have a chance to win this game. Big picture was poise and patience in the pocket, delivering the football where he needed to. He’s getting to the level now where he can ascend to the level where he can take over a game.”