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Notre Dame-Georgia: What the Irish Learned

Sept. 11, 2017

By John Heisler

The prime-time atmosphere Saturday night in South Bend as 24th-ranked Notre Dame and 15th-rated Georgia clashed qualified as buzz-worthy. Now the Irish head out on the road the next two weekends, after a pair of home games to open the year in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium. So consider these leftovers from Notre Dame’s game against the Bulldogs:

1. The Temple and Georgia defenses may end up the extremes. It will take 10 more weeks of football to complete the script, but this remains a possibility: Notre Dame may never be as productive this season as it was in week one when the Irish ran for 422 yards and gained 606 yards overall–and the Irish may not face a defense the rest of the way as effective as the Georgia version that limited Notre Dame to 265 total yards, only 55 of those on the ground.

2. The Irish running game (and offense in general) remains a work in progress. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly likes the pieces he has on the offensive side, from quarterback Brandon Wimbush to a crew of running backs led by Josh Adams to a line led by veterans Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. That doesn’t mean it will be easy every week to mount gaudy numbers. Georgia lined up determined to stop the Irish from running the ball. Twenty-one of Notre Dame’s 37 rushing attempts produced two or fewer yards, suggesting the Bulldogs generally were successful in achieving that goal. The longest Irish runs of the night were a seven-yard gain by Adams in the second period and two Wimbush eight-yarders on Notre Dame’s fourth-period, field-goal drive. The Irish ran nine plays over their final three possessions Saturday night and they produced 15 net yards (17 of those came on one completion to Chris Finke). That’s an equation that will need to improve if Notre Dame wants to win tight games against good teams.

3. Notre Dame’s defense was more than competitive. Maybe somewhat similar to Georgia’s plan, the Irish focused on stopping the talented Bulldog running game–and for the most part they were successful, too. Georgia star Nick Chubb came in as the fifth-ranked active NCAA career rusher, but after he ripped off 30 yards on his first carry, he managed only 33 yards on a dozen attempts the rest of the way. The Irish held him to one yard or fewer on eight of his 13 carries. Throw out Chubb’s 30-yarder, a 42-yarder by D’Andre Swift and Sony Michel’s top single gain of 17 yards–and the other 25 carries by that trio combined for only 89 rushing yards. That will win a lot of football games from the Irish defensive end.

4. The schedule changes. After successive home games, Notre Dame now plays its next two and three of its next four games on the road. Over the next five weekends, only one time (against Miami of Ohio on Sept. 30) do the Irish play in Notre Dame Stadium. That creates a different dynamic for Kelly and his team. Numbers don’t mean much in this category at this stage of the season, but Notre Dame’s remaining schedule ranks as the 43rd most difficult nationally according to the NCAA, with future Irish opponents standing 10-6 (.625) so far versus FBS opponents.

5. How the Irish measure up. If the preseason polls are to be believed, Notre Dame’s game against Georgia Saturday marked the first of four against teams rated higher than Notre Dame. Still remaining in that category are teams ranked fourth (USC), 17th (Miami) and 19th (Stanford) in this week’s Associated Press poll. The Irish went toe to toe all night with the Bulldogs (now ranked 13th), with the overall Notre Dame slate this week rating 34th in difficulty at .647 (all Irish foes are 11-6 so far against FBS teams) according to the NCAA toughest schedule numbers.