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Notre Dame Football: Georgia Bulldogs Preview

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The #24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish host the #15 Georgia Bulldogs tomorrow. Let’s discuss things about that!

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

Well football fans, we’re in just the second week of the season and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is already gearing up to play a huge game against a ranked opponent.

The 15th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs are coming to town, crossing the Mason-Dixon line for the first time since 1965, and they’re bringing with them a terrifying stable of running backs, a frighteningly fast and talented defense, and a true freshman QB who might have one of the best Twitter names of all-time:

Before we move on, I would like to point out that it would be a better Twitter name, in my humble opinion, if it were “Jake Fromm State Farm,” but to each his own, I guess.

Anyway, we’re all excited to see if the newly-ranked #24 Fighting Irish can take down a traditional SEC power and really build some momentum that it could ride all the way to the showdown with USC in October. So, to get you all ready for Saturday night, let’s dive into how the two teams match up and what Georgia is bringing to the table (because God knows you’ll be too busy downing Hamm’s for most of Saturday to do any research the day-of).

Georgia Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

Last week against Appalachian State, Georgia’s starting QB, sophomore Jacob Eason, suffered a sprained knee ligament and was ruled out for this Saturday night’s game early in the week. The next man up for the Bulldogs is true freshman Jake Fromm, a former blue chip recruit who a good number of Georgia fans actually think is better than Eason, despite how green he is.

Fromm played moderately well in Eason’s stead last Saturday, completing 10 of 15 passes for 143 yards and 1 touchdown.

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

He clearly has all of the physical tools to get the job done against a still-unproven Notre Dame defense. However, the kid is still getting the entire playbook down, and has yet to face any sort of competition like ND, or any road game environment at all. That certainly counts for something.

So, how will the Georgia offense be able to compensate?

That’s not a difficult question to answer when you have the constant stable of elite running backs to draw from that Georgia has had for the better part of a decade now.

Georgia’s running back depth begins with Nick Chubb, a senior running back who rivaled Leonard Fournette before a significant knee injury in 2015. Still, Chubb is an impressive combination of size and speed and is incredibly difficult to bring down, so it should be the ultimate test for how much the Irish defense has improved in its tackling under new defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Chubb ran for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns last week on 15 rushing attempts.

Sharing carries with Chubb will be senior Sony Michel, who is every bit the lightning to Chubb’s thunder. Michel is a little smaller and faster than Chubb, with fantastic shiftiness and the ability to make devastating cuts while rarely losing much speed.

Michel is a great pass-catching back as well, and will serve as a remarkably dangerous safety valve for Fromm on passing downs. He ran for 87 yards and a touchdown last weekend.

Chubb and Michel will likely do some damage no matter what, but the Georgia offensive line isn’t exactly considered unstoppable, and so it will be interesting to see how they stack up against an unproven Notre Dame defense who at least now has some confidence in stopping the run, having held Temple’s Ryquell Armstead to 67 yards and the Owls to just 85 yards on the ground overall.

Georgia’s offensive line is full of former blue chip offensive line recruits, so at the very least the raw size and talent is there. Notre Dame will need a monster effort from its front seven, especially defensive tackles Jerry “The Artist Formerly Known as Terry Jillery” Tillery and Jonathon Bonner. Those two, along with reserves like true freshman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, will need to hold the point of attack and keep Bulldogs offensive linemen occupied, allowing LBs Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, Te’von Coney, and Drue Tranquill to roam free and do what they all do best — collect tackles.

NCAA Football: Temple at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Last week against Temple, the linebacker combination of Morgan, Martini, Coney, and Tranquill accounted for 24 of the team’s 80 tackles (4.5 TFL), which is pretty significant considering the number of reserves that made their way into the game in the 2nd half of the 49-16 blowout win. Those guys will need to fly to the ball and wrap up, as Chubb and Michel excel at making guys miss.

If Georgia’s running backs are indeed able to pick up big chunks of yardage against the Irish front seven, it will set up Jake Fromm for a comfortable day at the office. The freshman will be able to prey on a defense cheating up to stop the run, and probably catch the Irish’s less-than-stellar safeties off-guard and find receivers like Javon Wims (3 catches, 81 yards, 1 TD last week), Terry Godwin, and Riley Ridley (suspended for week 1, but a big-time big-play threat and the brother of star Alabama WR Calvin) for big gains over the top.

Along with Wims, Godwin, and Ridley, look out for sophomore WR Mecole Hardman (who has one of the better names in college football, in my opinion) and sophomore TE Isaac Nauta, who is a former 5-star guy who had a great freshman season in 2016 (29 rec, 361 yds, 3 TD). Finally, senior TE Jeb Blazevich is another former blue chip guy who serves as a big, reliable target for Fromm.

The key for the Irish in preventing those big passing plays will be its pass rush, which was much improved from last season (how could it not be?) in the season opener against Temple. The Irish dialed up 3 sacks (Daelin Hayes, Te’von Coney, Julian Okwara) and got a lot of penetration and pressure last weekend, and will need to do so again this week, albeit against a much stronger offensive line.

Hayes (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up last week) and his fellow Hayes name-brother Jay (5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hurry) will be crucial in getting that push on the outside, along with senior Andrew Trumbetti and linebackers/rush specialists like Coney and Okwara.

NCAA Football: Temple at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If those guys can get in Fromm’s face, the true freshman may just make a couple critical mistakes that lead to turnovers in the form of fumbles, or, potentially, interceptions from the likes of sophomore CB Julian Love, nickelback Shaun Crawford, or even the likes of Nick Coleman or Jalen Elliott, a couple new starting safeties who have not been convincing at the position but certainly have the athleticism and ball skills to make a play or two if the situation arises.

Overall, it should be an interesting matchup to watch, as the Georgia offense is powerful but weakened without its experienced starting QB, while the ND defense played adequately last week, but against a much lesser competitor.

This will be a true barometer for how well ND’s defense will fare this season. It’s just too bad that test is going to include having to try to bring down Nick Chubb and Sony Michel on a consistent basis.

Notre Dame Offense vs. Georgia Defense

On the other side of things, the matchup between the Notre Dame offense and the Georgia defense is absolutely strength vs. strength in this contest. Notre Dame’s offense blew up for 49 points against Temple, led by a rushing attack that looked like what all Irish fans have envisioned with Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson anchoring the left side of the line. Meanwhile, Georgia was 7th in the country in total defense last year and returned 11 players with starting experience this season, including a handful of elite linebackers and one of the better defensive lines in the country.

Notre Dame junior RB Josh Adams ran for 161 yards and 2 TD on 19 carries last Saturday, once again demonstrating why his combination of size, power, and breakaway speed has earned him the starting running back role. Junior Dexter Williams saw even more considerable success, as he accumulated 124 yards and a touchdown on JUST 6 RUSHES, averaging a ridiculous 20.7 yards per carry.

Williams isn’t as powerful of a runner as Adams, but he’s incredibly decisive, and like Adams he is ALWAYS a threat to take one to the house. The combination of those two in the backfield, along with QB Brandon Wimbush’s running skills (106 yards and 1 TD on 12 carries last week) and the size and talent the Irish have on the line, is certainly something ND fans can point to as a reason they think they can take down the Bulldogs.

However, the Georgia defensive line is elite and impressive in its own right, as they are led by junior Trenton Thompson, an absolute beast at defensive tackle who had 6 tackles (2 TFL) last week and who was 3rd on the Georgia defense in 2016 with 56 TACKLES AS A DEFENSIVE TACKLE.

He’s joined by just a few other absolute studs in the front seven, including DT John Atkins and LBs Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Roquan Smith, Natrez Patrick, and Reggie Carter. Bellamy, especially, has no trouble throwing his body around:

Carter, Bellamy, and Thompson provide the heat in terms of penetration and pressure, as the trio together picked up 15 sacks and 24.5 TFL in 2016. That pass rushing ability will especially come in handy in flushing Wimbush out of the pocket and making him less than comfortable throwing the football, but in terms of stopping Adams and Williams from running all over the field, the Bulldogs will need guys who can chase them down from the linebacker position.

Smith, Patrick, the Carters (Reggie and Lorenzo), and Bellamy are all prototypical SEC linebackers with sideline-to-sideline speed and the power to take down a back like Adams once they get to him. Athlon rated Georgia’s linebackers #1 in the country for a reason — these guys are scary good. They’re exactly who you’d want on your defense if you had to try to corral backs like Adams and Williams.

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

If Wimbush is pressured early and often by Georgia’s defense and the Bulldogs front seven does not allow for a running game to help alleviate that pressure, it could spell a particularly long day for the junior signal-caller. He was just 17-of-30 last weekend against Temple, throwing for 184 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT against a defense that certainly isn’t as good as Georgia’s.

The good news for ND is that if there’s one weakness in the Georgia defense, it’s in the secondary. Cornerback Malkom Parrish, who has started 25 games over the past two seasons, is out with a foot injury, meaning the Bulldogs’ go-to cover corner is unable to match up with the Irish’s Equanimeous St. Brown, who’s always dangerous because of his combination of size, speed, and route-running precision. St. Brown had 4 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown against Temple, and will try to improve upon that solid start to the season this weekend.

The man potentially tasked with covering him would be Aaron Davis, a senior cornerback who has bounced around at various secondary positions during his Georgia career and has proven himself a versatile and reliable defensive back. However, as of Wednesday he was still a question mark due to a hamstring injury, and so the guys who would have to cover St. Brown would be some combination of CBs Deandre Baker, Tyrique McGhee, and and freshman Deangelo Gibbs, and maybe even safeties Dominick Sanders, J.R. Reed (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, and 1 FF last week), and Richard LeCounte III if necessary.

If that’s the case, look for St. Brown to get open more often than not, and have a big day if Wimbush can find the time to get the ball into his hands.

NCAA Football: Temple at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

More important for the Irish passing game, though, will be if anyone else is able to help St. Brown out. The tight ends played fairly well for Tight End U last week, as Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, and Alizé Mack combined for 7 catches, 71 yards, and a touchdown. These may not be Tyler Eifert-esque numbers, but if that group can continue to give that kind of production as a whole, and Mack can continue to shake off the rust and return to form as a matchup nightmare, that will be huge in giving Wimbush big, mobile targets to throw to — especially in the red zone.

That will be especially crucial considering the rest of the Irish receiving corps is a question mark at best. Sophomore Kevin Stepherson is still suspended for unknown reasons, and the rest of the group (grad transfers Cameron Smith and Freddy Canteen, juniors Miles Boykin and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke, and sophomore Chase Claypool) chipped in just 5 catches and 33 yards altogether. Wimbush needs more production out of those guys, and the Irish certainly have to have it if they expect to beat a team who will be much tougher than Temple at stopping the Irish’s strength, its running game.

Overall, it should be fun to see how Wimbush handles his first SEC defense, if the offensive line can impose its will on a fantastic front seven, and which ND receivers will step up and make plays to help out Adams, Williams, St. Brown, and Wimbush.

Special Teams

I have nothing much to say here, considering Georgia’s special teams are self-admittedly not good (please see this parody account someone made for that very reason) and considering Notre Dame’s aren’t much better, based on last weekend’s missed field goals and the general poor special teams play the Irish have had for years now.

The one thing I DO want to bring up, though, is my new favorite player in college football, Georgia’s bespectacled placekicker, Rodrigo Blankenship.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Kentucky
LOOK AT THOSE SPECS
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, wearing rec specs in football is hilarious, and wearing them as a kicker is just too endearing. I can’t stand it.

However, even more awesome, is this video I found of Rodrigo wearing his football helmet to an interview. Please note that THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME HE’S DONE THIS.

I hope Georgia scores like 30 points in a loss and all 30 points come from Rodrigo Blankenship (amazing name, BTW) field goals.

Prediction Time

I think this will be a close game. With no Jacob Eason and with an ND team that built up some confidence last week, especially running the ball, I think it’s a good matchup.

With that said, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel against a Notre Dame defense that isn’t from the 2012 season are just too much for me to pick against, especially when I think the Georgia defense will be able to stop the ND offense at least a few times, and probably force a turnover or two to swing the game’s momentum in their favor.

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Texas Christian vs Georgia Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Plus, with a kicker with as excellent vision as Rodrigo Blankenship, the Bulldogs’ kicks will sail long and true, and I think Georgia wins this one 37-31, and it may even come down to the final drive.

Hopefully I am wrong about that prediction, because I don’t want to be in attendance for another loss to an SEC team. The 2013 BCS National Championship gave me enough heartache for a lifetime.

As always, go Irish, and may you all drink as much Hamm’s on Saturday as I will be consuming!