Sept. 8, 2017
Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Georgia’s Kirby Smart certainly learned a lot about their respective football teams a week ago in their squads’ relatively comfortable season-opening wins. The Irish ran for 422 yards against Temple. Georgia is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team in the country that boasts two active 2,000-yard career rushers. Both teams possess limited game experience at the quarterback slot. That suggests both these teams will begin by trying to control the game on the ground. So which defense will be more effective at keeping that from happening?
Here are some areas to watch Saturday night under the lights:
1. Can the Irish take another step up? After an offseason of change, Notre Dame last weekend strongly suggested that this would be a new year with a new team. The challenge this week will be to do those things on a brighter stage. Notre Dame’s last win at home over a ranked team came in 2015 against 14th-rated Georgia Tech. Will the next one be over another program from that same state?
2. It’s the SEC. Given the general hype surrounding the Southeastern Conference in recent seasons, it’s no surprise this game has been a red-letter date on lots of people’s calendars. It’s the first time Georgia has played in South Bend and the first meeting between the teams in 37 years. It’s no accident NBC wanted this game in prime time. The end result has made this the hottest early season ticket anywhere in college football.
3. The quarterbacks. This is Brandon Wimbush’s third football season in South Bend, but the Irish opener a week ago versus Temple marked his first start and far and away his most extensive playing time in a game. Georgia’s Jake Fromm is a true freshman who came off the bench to play most of the way last Saturday in his first college football game. Both these players will be expected to execute at a higher level than they did last Saturday if they want to give their teams the best opportunity to end up on top.
4. The running games. Georgia brings to Notre Dame Stadium a running back duo it feels can match any in the nation (6,018 combined career yards and 49 rushing TDs for seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel). Notre Dame’s quartet of runners-running backs Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr., plus the run skills of quarterback Brandon Wimbush–suggests the Irish are more committed to playing a physical brand of football than they have in a long time. The winning team Saturday may be the one that can best exert its will along the line of scrimmage in key situations.
5. The atmosphere. Anyone who attended the Irish opener against Temple last week experienced a new dynamic in terms of Notre Dame Stadium in-game presentation, thanks to the presence of the video board at the south end of the stadium. How will that translate in the first prime-time contest-with a tradition-rich SEC program playing the Irish for the first time in the regular season?