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Notre Dame Football: Georgia Bulldogs Q&A

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We talk to Andrew Hall of Dawg Sports to get his take on Kirby Smart, Jake Fromm, Nick Chubb, Georgia’s front seven vs. the ND rushing attack, and who would win in a head coaches vs. head coach dance-off

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, we somehow survived the first weekend of college football. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is 1-0 and ranked 24th heading into a huge home game against the 15th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, who are doing something a little crazy themselves...

So, with that knowledge and with the obviousness of how much this game could make or break Notre Dame’s season — a win would absolutely catapult this team to a level of confidence they haven’t had in two years, while a loss would bring them crashing back to feelings of yesteryear (4-8) — I decided to have a little chat with Andrew Hall of Dawg Sports.

Andrew was kind enough to answer all my questions, no matter which Nickelodeon game show I brought up. He gave some fantastic insight on Kirby Smart, Georgia’s running game, how the Bulldogs will do with true freshman Jake Fromm at QB, how good their defense is, and much more.

Read it below, ya goofuses.

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1. In his first season with the team last year, Kirby Smart led Georgia to an 8-5 record and a Liberty Bowl victory, and has the team looking pretty formidable this season after easily dismissing Appalachian State 31-10. What do you think of Smart so far, and do you think he has what it takes to get Georgia back to that elite level of college football teams?

Thus far, I've been pleased with Smart, but I can't necessarily speak for all of Bulldog Nation. I think the three most common anti-Smart (read: dumb) narratives are as follows:

1. Mark Richt shouldn't have been let go in the first place

2. Kirby Smart is just a Saban-wannabe and that won't work

3. Kirby's new regime just isn't working out

In regards to point one, that's the most debatable concept. But if Richt was on the hot seat after a 10-win campaign in 2015, he would have surely been canned after an 8-win 2016 season. I firmly believe last year's team had a ceiling of eight wins no matter who was on the sideline.

With regards to point two, it's easy to nitpick anyone that tries to be like Alabama, and we all know what Saban's track record is against his former assistants. Lost in that narrative, however, is the fact that nobody beats Bama with any consistency. It's not like his former assistants are decidedly worse against him than other coaches. And if you're going to mirror a program, why not target the Crimson Tide? Further, you could argue that Kirby Smart is the single most accomplished assistant under Saban in terms of tenure, control of a unit, and success. I think he's unparalleled in that regard.

NCAA Football: Georgia Spring Game Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of point three, I think it's too soon to tell how well Kirby is really doing. Last year was year Zero, and though some losses were unforgivable at surface level (Vandy and even Georgia Tech), the Dawgs were largely on par with my expectation. I was highly encouraged with the win over App State, which likely would have been a 31-0 victory with a backup QB under center were it not for the third-string quarterback seeing time in the waning moments and promptly throwing two picks that set up 10 points for the Mountaineers. App State is a respectable team and that was the type of win Georgia should have.

All that is to say, I continue to remain optimistic about Smart and I do think he deserves the benefit of the doubt at this juncture.

2. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 183 yards and 3 TDs in that opener against the Mountaineers. How do you think they'll do against ND's defense, which is obviously more talented than Appalachian State's, but definitely still has some major weaknesses (defensive line, safeties) that could allow those two backs to get out into the open field?

It's hard to tell exactly what Georgia will accomplish on the ground this year mainly because the offensive line remains a question mark. The unit performed decently well (though it wasn't dominant) against App State.

But the offensive line got worse as the year went on last year and isn't returning any starters at the same position as a year ago. If the line is up to snuff, and Notre Dame should be the first test of that, then I have tons of confidence in our backfield.

Chubb still doesn't look like pre-injury Chubb to me, but he's a smart, patient runner. Sony Michel is the most electric player on Georgia's roster. He needs 25+ touches a game in my opinion (between rushes and receptions).

And Brian Herrien (sophomore) and D'Andre Swift (freshman) both have all the potential in the world.

I'll say this: if Georgia can't run the ball against Notre Dame, it's likely a Bulldog loss. But I think they'll be able to have some modicum of success. Hopefully that success is a byproduct of backfield talent and solid offensive line play, not just the former.

3. What's the latest on Jacob Eason's injury? Should the Irish expect him or Jake Fromm on Saturday, and what does each of those QBs bring to the table?

NOTE: this question was asked prior to the announcement that Eason was out and Fromm would start, but answered right after said announcement.

At this point (Monday afternoon), Eason has been ruled out for Saturday and most signs indicate a return in mid/late October. Make no mistake about it, his absence is a good thing for Notre Dame.

I'm one of the few people that is firmly "in the middle" on Eason. Seems like most fans either wanted him benched before the year began or think he's a Heisman candidate.

I was at school when Matthew Stafford was at Georgia, and the comparisons are rich. When Stafford was in Athens he was clearly the most talented player, but he was never truly dominant. And yet it seemed the consensus was either:

a. He should win a Heisman

or

b. Joe Cox (the backup) should be playing.

Jake Fromm played well filling in for Eason, but his most noteworthy play was a 50/50 ball on which a receiver made a great play. Eason has played in and won big games. That counts for a lot in my book. And to be fair, that doesn't mean Fromm can't do that. But Eason is more seasoned and more likely to make a play to open up the game if the running game is struggling.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

4. Which Bulldogs receivers do ND defensive backs need to be afraid of, no matter the QB under center?

For the first time in years Georgia seems to have a go-to receiver who can flat-out make plays on the ball, and that's Javon Wims.

Wims is a big (6-4, 215) receiver who can go up and get it and has the speed to separate. He also has a real knack for drawing pass-interference calls. As a true freshman last year, he burst onto the scene in November with a 90-yard performance against Kentucky. On Saturday he hauled in 3 balls for 81 yards.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Riley Ridley (the younger brother of Alabama's Calvin Ridley) missed the first game due to suspension but averaged nearly 20 yards per catch as a freshman last year. And not to sound like a broken record, but watch for Michel catching out of the backfield, and tight end Isaac Nauta is a favorite of both Eason and Fromm.

5. The Georgia defense only allowed 284 total yards against Appalachian State. Where are the major strengths and weak points in that defensive unit? Who should the ND offense and the ND coaching staff be most concerned about as they game plan for Saturday?

Georgia's front seven is the pride of the team. There is tons of depth on the defensive line and the linebacking unit is jam-packed with athletes.

Trenton Thompson is an absolute pleasure to watch on the interior line (seriously, I think fans will respect his game), and he's racked up four sacks over the past two games (dating back to last year's bowl).

NCAA Football: Georgia vs Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy bring tremendous pressure from the outside, and Roquan Smith is a hard-hitting linebacker in the Alabama mold.

Honestly, watching the Notre Dame ground attack against this unit should be a pleasure for both sides. I suspect it will be the best strength vs. strength matchup of the game.

6. Notre Dame had three 100-yard rushers in their blowout season-opening win against Temple. How stout is the Bulldogs front seven, and do you see them having issues with that heralded Irish offensive line, strong running back depth, and an extremely mobile QB like Brandon Wimbush?

I answered part of this in question 5, but a mobile quarterback is a concern for Georgia. You see, even if you buy in on the fact that Georgia is a version of Alabama-lite, that still lends itself to struggles against zone-read / read-option rush attacks, because even the Crimson Tide struggles against capable, mobile quarterbacks.

Georgia largely held Appalachian State’s Taylor Lamb in check on Saturday (until late, when a slew of true freshmen took the field), but Lamb was never great on the ground against Power 5 opposition. Wimbush has had his successes on the ground. He torched UMass in 2015 and Temple last week. But he didn't do much against Pitt in 2015, and I think Georgia's defense will be the best he's tried to run against.

I think both teams will learn a lot about his capabilities on Saturday, but if he's over the century mark, Georgia is in very real trouble.

7. Equanimeous St. Brown is ND's go-to receiver. Who on Georgia will be tasked with containing him, and do you think he'll be able to shut him down?

St. Brown could be a problem for Georgia, especially if Malkom Parrish remains inactive. Parrish started 25 games at cornerback in 2015 and 2016 but missed last week with a broken foot. He's not ruled out, but was in a walking boot on Saturday. He would be the likely matchup for St. Brown and I'd feel confident in that alignment as our best bet.

NCAA Football: North Carolina vs Georgia Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With Parrish out, Aaron Davis (a walk-on turned 4-year stud in the secondary) has moved back to corner (he plays all over the secondary) but he was banged up and left last week's game early.

The secondary is the weak spot of the defense. If everyone's healthy, the expectation is high. But as it stands there's a lot more youth than I'd like seeing out there. But to be honest, Wimbush hasn't shown me anything that really concerns me in the passing game. That's reflective of a small sample size and he may prove me completely wrong, but the ground game is the bigger concern. And even in that, Parrish is missed as he was such a sure tackler.

8. Speaking of Equanimeous St. Brown, what are some of the best names on the Georgia roster?

We've got some good names. Most notable would be Daquan Hawkins-Muckle. Christian Payne seems especially appropriate for a matchup with a Catholic institution. Ameer Speed and D'Andre Swift live up to their surnames' billing. Elijah Holyfield's name stands out if only for the fact that he's Evander Holyfield's son.

NCAA Football: Georgia Spring Game Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

9. Give me your X-factor guys on offense, defense, and special teams (if there is one) for Georgia in this game. Who are the players whose performances will be CRITICAL to a Bulldogs victory in South Bend?

On offense, I think Isaac Nauta is going to be crucial in establishing the pass game. He's supremely talented, sure-handed, and capable of breaking tackles. He can turn an 8-yard button route into 20 yards.

Defensively, the defensive line and outside linebackers get most of the press, but I think it's going to be Roquan Smith, Natrez Patrick and Reggie Carter who have to get off blocks and stop the Irish ground attack.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On special teams...yikes. There's a parody account on Twitter (@UGASpecialTeams) dedicated to the disaster that is Georgia special teams. Last Saturday was the best performance in years (seriously) because the Dawgs didn't surrender a special teams touchdown, fumble a punt, miss a makable field goal, or otherwise screw the pooch.

No news is good news on special teams. Let's just leave it at that.

10. If Kirby Smart and Brian Kelly were to have a dance-off, what would each of their song choices be, who would win, and why?

Brian Kelly would have to win, right? He's been doing hot yoga for some reason and I would think that would benefit him more in dancing than in coaching football.

Neither of these coaches would pick anything from the past decade. Something tells me Kirby would go with mid-90s country music. I could see Kelly pulling out Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and doing so unironically.

11. You have to pick two Georgia players to compete on the Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple. Pick your two Bulldogs and tell me why you chose them.

I'm taking Sony Michel for his athleticism and his street smarts. He's an accomplished lyricist if you didn't know, and clearly capable of thinking on his feet. And I'd go with Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia's bespectacled kicker, solely for comedic value.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

12. Give me a prediction for the outcome of the game -- I need a score, a winner, and your reasoning behind that prediction.

I can't come on here and NOT pick the Dawgs, but I think this is going to be a battle of running games.

Give me Georgia 24-20, but I could see that score being significantly lower if turnovers start rolling. I don't think it will be a terribly pretty game. In the end, I'm putting all my eggs in the basket of Georgia's front-seven and accompanying depth.

Notre Dame vs Georgia: Saturday Night Fight

Notre Dame Football has a big game this Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs. Are the Irish ready?

Dikirim oleh One Foot Down - For Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans pada 6 September 2017

13. Anything else Irish fans should know about Georgia's team, coaches, program, fans, tradition, etc.?

Georgia fans are pumped about this game for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, we love national games against unfamiliar but noteworthy opponents.

Secondly, there's a real hunger for a "statement" win for Kirby Smart. Regardless of either team's ranking, a win in South Bend will go a long way. This is precisely the type of game (early season, national attention, good opponent) Mark Richt tended to lose late in his tenure. We need an anti-Richt performance.

Finally, there is some very real Southeastern disdain for Notre Dame and that is amplified for many Georgia fans. From our perspective, the Irish haven't really been relevant as a true football power in decades (with the exception of 2012). The SEC as a whole still views Notre Dame as perennially overhyped and as the seventh-best team Alabama played in 2012. Remember, Georgia was five yards away from beating the Tide. Notre Dame didn't look like it belonged in the same building.

Whether that sweeping assertion is remotely true doesn't matter in this case. What matters is that Georgia losing to Notre Dame will be viewed by teams across the conference as "letting the SEC down." That will sound ridiculous to a program that doesn't have a conference, but that's beyond our control.

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Alright, I want to give an IMMENSE thank you to Andrew for the thoughtful answers to all my dumb questions, and urge all of you to follow him and Dawg Sports on Twitter for any and all updates heading into Saturday night’s game. Also be sure to go to the Dawg Sports site to check out their fantastic coverage of the game from the SEC point of view, and let’s all get excited for a couple marquee teams to battle it out in South Bend this weekend! I know one guy who probably is...

Go Irish!