Sept. 6, 2017
By John Heisler
If week one wasn’t interesting enough, the second Saturday in September in 2017 seems to feature just as many unanswered questions as those that were answered in the respective openers for the 24th-ranked Notre Dame and 15th-rated Georgia football programs:
–How will the Georgia situation at quarterback play out?
–Now that the Eason family reunion at Notre Dame storyline (father Tony played flanker for the Irish in the mid-1980s, son Jacob is a sophomore quarterback at Georgia) has fallen by the wayside (at least from the football end), what will that mean for Bulldog true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm in his first start?
–How will the Irish defense fare against Georgia’s two top-drawer running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?
–What sort of recipe will be required for the Irish to be successful with the ball against a veteran Georgia defense?
–If the Notre Dame running game looked auspicious in week one, how will it go this time around?
–Will the rest of the offenses for Notre Dame and Georgia find ways to take the pressure off Brandon Wimbush (making his second career start) and Fromm (making his first)?
–What will fans of both programs remember about Georgia’s first visit to Notre Dame Stadium?
–If the presence of a video board changes the dynamics of a game at Notre Dame Stadium, what will it be like at night in a prime-time contest?
–What will a win by one of these teams mean to the pollsters Sunday-and what will its standing be in December?
This marks the first visit to Notre Dame Stadium by a Southeastern Conference opponent since 2005, as Georgia plays the Irish for only the second time. The first meeting featured a Sugar Bowl matchup won 17-10 by top-rated Georgia in Herschel Walker’s freshman season, with Notre Dame’s four turnovers in that contest countering a 328-127 Irish advantage in total yards.
SEC teams have played in Notre Dame Stadium six times in the 1970s, five times in the 1980s and three each in the 1990s and 2000s.
In South Bend the Irish are 2-0 against Alabama, 3-1 versus LSU, 1-0 against Ole Miss (1985), 0-2 against Missouri, 1-1 versus South Carolina, 2-2 against Tennessee, 1-0 versus both Texas A&M (2000) and Vanderbilt (1995).
In those contests there have been plenty of memorable takeaways:
–A 21-18 Irish win over a 10th-rated Alabama team (coached by Bear Bryant) in 1976
–A one-sided 37-6 win over the 10th-ranked Tide in 1987 (Notre Dame outgained Alabama 465-185)
–A Scott Hempel field goal with 2:54 left to provide the margin in a 3-0 Irish win in 1970 over seventh-ranked LSU in the first game at Notre Dame Stadium against an SEC opponent
–A 1981 victory over LSU in Gerry Faust’s first game as Irish head coach
–A TD pass from Rusty Lisch to tight end Dean Masztak with 42 seconds left in 1979 in an 18-17 comeback win over South Carolina, followed by the game-winning two-point conversion on a Lisch-to-Pete Holohan pass
–A 41-0 win over Vanderbilt in 1995, as Bob Davie filled in for Lou Holtz who watched on television while recuperating from spinal surgery that week
So the Irish log features an 11-6 ledger versus the SEC at Notre Dame Stadium, the last of those a 41-21 win over Tennessee in 2005.
Eight of those 17 games came against ranked SEC opponents (four rated in the top)-and Notre Dame went 4-4 in those contests. The Irish twice beat 10th-rated Alabama teams (1976, 1987) and also defeated a seventh-ranked LSU squad (1970) and a 23rd-ranked Texas A&M unit (2000).
Next up at home from an SEC standpoint are Irish dates versus Arkansas (2020) and Texas A&M (2025).
Here are highlights from Irish coach Brian Kelly’s media conference this week:
–“This is a Georgia team that wants to feature two outstanding backs, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. They are elite backs. I mean you’re going to see two guys that will be NFL players and have great careers. So two elite backs. Big offensive line. Wide receivers are quality and have the ability to make plays down the field. Depth at the tight end position. And of course, everybody wants to talk about the quarterback position, but I really like Jake Fromm. Everybody says, well, he’s a freshman, and he’s only had a couple of snaps. But he’s got a presence about him, and he’s very comfortable running the Georgia offense. So we go into this game expecting a guy who is very capable doing the things necessary to be successful. So the narrative might be that (Jacob) Eason is out, but I think they’re in very capable hands.”
–“Depth and versatility are the two words that come to mind with their defensive line. You could look at nine guys that we’ve evaluated that are all very good players. Really love (tackle Trenton) Thompson in terms of his ability to stop the run. He’s a good athlete, good quickness. He’s got a lot of tools. (Nose guard John) Atkins, obviously, but there’s so much depth on that defensive line, and there’s great versatility within their three-down team. They can play three down, they can play four down, they can give you multiple looks and they just do a great job. Roquan Smith–I think he’s an elite player at the linebacker position. Change of direction, just a fast-flow middle linebacker. They’re extremely athletic. I think they returned 10 starters on defense off a very good defense. Again, versatility and great depth on their defense, and especially in their front seven. On the back end, (cornerback) Deandre Baker is a great cover guy. It looks like they’re getting some guys back on the back end. Sanders has got 12 career interceptions. So there’s plenty of depth on the back end of their defense, and it starts with Baker. So depth, versatility on the defensive end . . . . very physical athletic defensive line front seven . . . . and certainly very solid in the special teams game. So great challenge for us here at Notre Dame.”
–“This is the great part of being an independent football team in that you get these kinds of games. You get a chance to play against a team that’s regarded as one of the very best in the SEC. Our guys are excited about the challenge and looking forward to Saturday night.”
–“We felt that geographical representation was important in scheduling. When we went to the new (BCS) format, our regular-season schedule has to stand up against teams that are, for the most part, playing 13 games. It has to have this kind of strength of schedule for it to stand up. And we think it does. So those conversations were about how we best balance it–without it being too strong of a schedule–to sustain itself throughout the entire year. This game fit pretty good in that balance.”
–“A big part of this matchup is certainly controlling the line of scrimmage. It has not changed as one of the key ingredients in success in college football, NFL football, wherever you want to go. That will go a long way in determining who wins this football game again. Georgia’s offensive line against our defensive line and vice versa. They’re going to feature both their backs. We’re going to feature our running game, and somebody’s going to come out on top. So it’s going to be an old-fashioned, kind of find out who’s got that grit and determination, because somebody’s going to have to find a way to run the football late and control the line of scrimmage.”
–“I still think fundamentals have to get better. We’ve got to tackle better. I told our football team situational awareness has to get better. We had some situations where we’ve got to react quicker–screen game, for example, our situational awareness wasn’t great. We backed up in the end zone on a throw. We’ve got to know where we are on the field. From an offensive standpoint, I think consistency on first down. We were behind the chains a little bit too much on first down, and so we’ve got to get a little bit better there. It’s still about the details and just staying focused and locked in this week in preparation. If they do that, we’ll see great improvement this weekend.”
–“It’s about the philosophical approach to how we teach the defensive front and the way that it is taught from the very first day that the defense is put in. We’re not a read and react defense. We’re going to create a new line of scrimmage. So it’s all those tenets–it’s not just one thing. The defensive line is going to play in a manner that they’re going to get off the football. Our linebackers are downhill players. And you can see that with 11 tackles for loss, 10 from different players–we activate everybody, safeties, corners, everybody’s involved in the run fits. So it’s a comprehensive philosophical decision to get the offense behind the chains. There wasn’t much blitzing at all (against Temple). It’s just the way the defense is taught from day one in how we’re going to attack the line of scrimmage.”
–“When (defensive coordinator) Mike Elko came on campus, the first thing he talked about was creating a new line of scrimmage, tackle for loss and ball disruptions. (Offensive coordinator) Chip Long was the same way. Chip was talking about a physicality and a demeanor in running the football. It wasn’t about how many yards we were going to amass in total offense. It was about how we were going to exert our will in terms of running the football. So this is really just more about creating a mindset and building on that mindset. It started in January. It didn’t start in August. And it’s been the same message these guys have heard every day.”
Here are details of various introductions and presentations that will take place Saturday night at the Notre Dame-Georgia game:
–The Presidential Team Irish Award this week recognizes members of the Notre Dame Design & Construction Project Team. In a 12-month span, they have successfully completed an unprecedented number of campus facilities projects by constructing both new buildings and renovating scores of others. They opened eight new campus buildings between August 2016 and August 2017 including Corbett Family Hall, Duncan Student Center, Dunne Hall, Flaherty Hall, Jenkins Hall, McCourtney Hall, Nanovic Hall and O’Neill Hall. These projects exceed 1.3 million square feet, a one-time 12 percent growth in campus. In addition, they have planned and accomplished hundreds of other campus building improvement, renewal and infrastructure projects in this same period. The Team Irish Award recognizes teams of staff and faculty members who collaborate on a project, process or initiative that significantly advances the University’s mission, organizational goals and/or departmental goals through their efforts.
–The Notre Dame hockey team will be introduced in recognition of its 2017 NCAA Frozen Four appearance. Making its ninth appearance in the NCAA Championship, the Irish hockey team last March won the NCAA Northeast Regional by defeating No. 1 seed Minnesota and No. 2 seed UMass Lowell in overtime. That advanced the Irish to the Frozen Four for the third time in program history. Notre Dame in 2016-17 was led by second-team All-American and leading scorer Anders Bjork and goaltender Cal Petersen who started 90 consecutive games in the net and won first-team all-Hockey East honors. Notre Dame ended up with 23 wins and finished fourth nationally in the final USA Today poll.
–Former Irish All-American Tim Brown will be introduced to recognize the 30th anniversary of his 1987 Heisman Trophy award. Thirty years ago this month Notre Dame opened its home football season with a prime-time victory over 17th-ranked Michigan State. The star of that Irish win was Brown who returned consecutive Spartan punts 66 and 71 yards for touchdowns in the 31-8 victory. Three months later Brown became Notre Dame’s record seventh winner of the Heisman Trophy. He went on to have a spectacular professional career, mostly with the Oakland Raiders-and he’s now a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. And in 2012 the NCAA honored him with its Silver Anniversary Award for all his postgraduate accomplishments.
–At halftime the Corby Award will be presented by the Notre Dame Alumni Association to Major General Michael Dunlavey (Notre Dame class of ’67). The award recognizes an alumnus who has distinguished himself or herself in military service. After graduation, Major General Dunlavey served for four years in the U.S. Army. He went on to a distinguished career as an attorney and a judge but chose to continue to serve in the Army Reserves. After the 9/11 attacks, Major General Dunlavey was recalled to active duty and selected to design an intelligence gathering program to help prevent future attacks on the United States. Presenting the award will be Alumni Association Executive Director Dolly Duffy and Board President Monique MacKinnon. Major General Dunlavey will be joined on the field by the commanding officers of Notre Dame’s ROTC units.
–This week’s 2017 Notre Dame All-Faculty Team honoree is Professor Katherine Spiess, associate professor of finance. Entering her 27th year as a member of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Spiess is a leader in the classroom and the broader University community. She has been honored five times for her teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels and in 2016 she was named Mendoza’s associate dean for graduate programs. Spiess also has been cited for her research contributions, including an All Star Paper recognition from the Journal of Financial Economics.
–The pregame flyover will be by four U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles by the 336th Fighter Squadron “Rockets,” flown by Capt. Trent McMullen (Notre Dame Class of 2012), Capt. Kyle Holter, Capt. Matthew Powell, Capt. Chadwick McClure, Capt. Matthew Mooney (Notre Dame Class of 2010), Capt. Benjamin Bowman, First Lieut. Jordan Hoover (Notre Dame Class of 2014) and First Lieut. Michael Ruccia.
–The national colors will be presented before the game by six of the 32 core pilgrims who made the entire 320-mile walk on the Notre Dame Trail, a reenactment of the trek made by Notre Dame founder Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., from Vincennes, Indiana, to South Bend in November 1842. The trail representatives are: Sister Suzanne Brennan, C.S.C., Rev. David Eliaona, C.S.C., Chris Golic, Katherine Lane, Brother Larry Stewart, C.S.C., and Terry Tulisiak.