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  • Irish, Dawgs, Set to Play Powerball

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame steps up in class to host a heavyweight battle against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday evening. Both teams breezed through their respective season openers, and will collide for the first time since January 1, 1981. In that Sugar Bowl matchup. Georgia prevailed 17-10 behind Herschel Walker and won the national championship despite being outgained by 328-127. Four Irish turnovers, including a special team gaffe at the one-yard line, were too much for Notre Dame to overcome. This year’s game features two powerful running attacks and relatively untested quarterbacks. The Dawgs are ranked 15th in the nation while the Irish rose to #24 this week after an impressive debut. NBC will televise the game nationally beginning at 7:30 PM Eastern time.

    Kirby Smart (9-5) is in his second season at the helm for Georgia, where he was hired to raise this proud program above the perceived plateau it had reached during Mark Richt’s 15 seasons. Richt is now at Miami of Florida. Smart’s challenge is to win the high-profile games that Richt generally did not, and this week’s contest certainly qualifies. Of course, Notre Dame fans are familiar with Smart as he served as defensive coordinator for four (4) national championship teams at Alabama under Nick Saban.

    The Irish are healthy as they head into the weekend. Tight end Durham Smythe should be ready to go after an early exit from the Temple game. Georgia was less fortunate last week, losing starting quarterback Jacob Eason and continuing to play without cornerback Malkom Parrish. On the positive side, previously injured starters Solomon Kindley (guard) and Aaron Davis (defensive back) should be ready to contribute.

     width= Freshman Jake Fromm finished the opener after Eason went down with a knee injury, and played well enough to ease the worst fears among rabid Bulldog fans. He completed ten of fifteen passes for 143 yards and one score, and no interceptions.

    Brandon Wimbush turned in a solid performance in his first starting assignment. While rushing for 106 yards and one touchdown, he was 17 of 30 through the air for 184 yards, two more scores and a lone interception. Overall, Notre Dame’s offense performed beautifully under new coordinator Chip Long. When queried this week, Smart acknowledged that he is familiar with Long’s body of work. “When he was at Memphis, I think I watched a game one night where they scored every single possession of the game,” Smart said. “It was like score, score, score, score.”

    A hint of controversy arose earlier in the week when Dawg safety Dominick Sanders started to woof. In referring to the physical battle ahead with Notre Dame, Sanders said Georgia would “punish them from the start.” Irish players refrained from responding to any trash talk, but they are unlikely to forget it. Sanders wears number 24. I’m dating myself, but I’m reminded of the very first Super Bowl when Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Fred “The Hammer” Williamson boasted that he was going to lay out a few of the Green Bay Packer wide receivers. As it turned out, Williamson, who also wore #24, was knocked cold during the game and was carted off the field on a stretcher. Green Bay won by 35-10.

    NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE vs. GEORGIA’S DEFENSE

     width= The Irish probably won’t rush for 400 yards again on Saturday, but half of that total would be an outstanding result against the stout Georgia front seven. The Dawgs 3-4 alignment boasts size with John Atkins, Tyler Clark and Jonathan Ledbetter up front; speed with four imposing linebackers led by junior Roquan Smith; and plenty of quality depth. The starters in this group toyed with Appalachian State last week, but will be thoroughly tested on Saturday.

    The dimension of Wimbush as a dual threat works in Notre Dame’s favor, but he will need to be poised and efficient in the face of constant pressure. The Irish did a good job of using all three tight ends in last week’s win, although Equanimeous St. Brown was the only wide receiver to distinguish himself. The offense is still without Kevin Stepherson, so another outside pass catching threat must emerge to balance Notre Dame’s aerial attack.

    Josh Adams and Dexter Williams represent a formidable one-two punch in the running game, and Williams’ speed should get him onto the field early and often. The offensive line, particularly on the left side, lived up to expectations by clearing massive holes and avoiding major penalties. Their clash with Georgia’s front seven is worth watching closely, whether you are a casual fan or an NFL scout.

    Notre Dame did not throw to its running backs or call any screen passes in the opener, but will likely unveil a few new wrinkles this week. Success in the red zone is also paramount. The Irish demonstrated improvement in that area last week with more power and less finesse.

    GEORGIA’S OFFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME’S DEFENSE

    There are quite a few similarities between the Georgia offense and Notre Dame. For starters, each has a massive line with its best players on the left side, where veteran tackle Isaiah Wynn and guard Kendall Baker line up for the Dawgs. To their right, freshmen Solomon Kindley and Andrew Thomas weigh in at over 650 pounds. The primary beneficiaries of these mountainous bodyguards are the tailback tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. This pair of seniors is every bit as good as the Irish duo, and of course Georgia fans would argue they are even better.

     width= Another similarity is that Georgia also has one elite wide receiver in Javon Wims, and they employ multiple tight ends in Jeb Blazevich and Isaac Nauta. In short yardage, fullback Christian Payne is deployed to help clear the way for Chubb or Michel. Wims will certainly draw the attention of the Irish secondary. The 6’4” 215 pound senior has excellent speed and the ability to come down with the ball in contested situations.

    The matchup that should be of concern to Smart is true freshman tackle Thomas against Daelin Hayes of the Irish. Hayes wreaked havoc last week and will be needed to perform well again. The Georgia line is still a work in progress, however, as evidenced by the six tackles for loss recorded by Appalachian State. An area of concern for Notre Dame is the ability of its linebackers to stop Chubb and Michel. If those two break into the secondary, it could be lights out.

    Smart would love to rely on the running game and ensure that Fromm faces only minimal pressure in his first career start. The confident freshman threw a couple of balls into coverage last week and got away with them, but better discipline will be required to beat the Irish.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    It was disconcerting to see Justin Yoon miss both field goal attempts against Temple, especially after he has worked so hard during the offseason to regain strength in his leg. The team will need him on Saturday and can’t afford to come up empty on scoring opportunities against the Georgia defense. Tyler Newsome punted well for the Irish and the coverage units were excellent. The return teams did not produce much in Week 1, but a momentum-shifting play on Saturday would be most welcome.

    The Dawgs counter with kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who was perfect on extra points and a short field goal last week. He was excellent last season as well. Punter Cameron Nazialek averaged 44 yards last week and did not allow a return. Punt return man Terry Godwin and kickoff returner Mecole Hardman are also starting wide receivers that complement Wims. Neither was able to generate much yardage last week. The cover teams performed well and Georgia kickoffs almost always resulted in touchbacks.

    SUMMARY

    All signs point to a close, hard-fought and emotional contest. The game is pivotal for both coaches and programs, where expectations are extremely high. Georgia is making its first ever trip to South Bend and is bringing along many thousands of fans.

    The Irish have the better offensive line and quarterback, while the Dawg’s defensive line and linebackers are superior. The running backs, receivers and secondaries are relatively even. Special teams will be important and the chess game between the coaching staffs will matter more in this game than in most others during the season.

    Each team must run the ball successfully, avoid problematic down and distance situations for its quarterback, and capitalize on scoring chances. The Irish defense must be physical and get solid contributions from second teamers, while Georgia’s defense must be athletic enough to contain Wimbush.

    Here’s a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Which quarterback will make more positive plays and minimize mistakes?

    Can Notre Dame match Georgia yard for yard in the running game?

    Which elite receiver, St. Brown or Wims, will have a greater impact?

    Will the Irish enjoy continued success in the red zone?

    Can Justin Yoon regain his confidence from field goal range?

    Will Notre Dame fans need the Jacktron to get them to make noise?

    Will the Dothraki horde of Georgia fans drown them out anyway?

    PREDICTION

     width= The injury to Eason and Notre Dame’s somewhat surprising competence against Temple has changed the dynamic for this matchup among Irish fans from resignation to unbridled optimism. While it is a winnable game for the hosts, Georgia is no stranger to elite competition and close encounters. Last year, the Dawgs won five games in which they were tied or trailing at the start of the fourth quarter. Notre Dame lost most of these late-deciders. Although it is a new season with a handful of new assistant coaches and renewed vigor in the weight room, I need to see the Irish win a close, physical battle against a quality opponent before I’m going to start predicting that type of outcome. Besides, Smart was an integral part of the coaching staff that absolutely pantsed Brian Kelly in January 2013. You can be sure that Georgia will be well prepared upon arrival, and its defense will be a bit too strong for the Irish.

    GEORGIA 31 NOTRE DAME 24

    24 Responses to “Irish, Dawgs, Set to Play Powerball”

    1. BaldKnobber says:

      I think we will win this one because…well, dammit, because we are overdue for a signature win against a quality opponent! This ends my scientific assessment of the game.

    2. Vannie,

      I truly think Georgia also has the edge at RB AND SAFETY.. I hope I’m wrong..

      Winbush better than I thought last week… With that said, he needs to slide and get down
      against the Georgia Athletes or he won’t make it the whole game.

      Need huge game from our Tight Ends (Mack was awful last week)..

      I think Georgia has too many athletes on the defensive side of the ball for us to win this game.

      Our secondary will make FROMM look like a Heisman Candidate.

      Georgia 38
      ND 25

    3. Everyone will be watching the battle of the ND O-line against the GA front seven, a classic strength-on-strength matchup. However, in games like these, you’ll find that the real key to the game is when the ball is going the other way, in this case, the ND D-line and, more importantly, linebackers vs. the GA running attack. I think ND’s got a slight edge here; our defensive linemen should get some penetration, and our linebackers should be freed up enough to make plays on the GA backs.

      Like everyone else, I foresee a close match, and the ND offense should be able to score into the low 30s. However, I think our D will be able to handle the GA offense, and the short passing game that their freshman QB will be limited to will play to the strengths of our D. I see a +1 or +2 turnover margin for ND, and while GA will get a couple rushing TDs, I can’t see them getting more than one through the air. The rush-heavy offenses will burn the clock, ND is better equipped for the two-minute drill, and Justin Yoon is JUST FINE, people – those were mid-40s FG attempts that he missed by a couple feet.

      It will come down to the last possession, but ND wins 31-24.

    4. I agree that we’re overdue for a signature win. I’m just not sure this team is ready. I completely agree that the dominant win over Temple is now skewing people’s opinion when pre-season most didn’t think this was a game we would win. The most troubling part is an SEC offensive line against this Irish D. I can see them moving at will and wearing us down. Our only shot on D, is to hold some of their drives to FG’s, create 2 TO’s, and win the field position battle. If we do all three, maybe we have a shot but I suspect we won’t. Georgia 34-20

    5. It’s too early in the season to tell how this one will go. I can see Georgia blowing out ND if the Irish resort to their mistake prone ways of past seasons. If ND can avoid the mistakes, they are certainly capable of winning it, but it will be close. GO IRISH!

    6. A concise analysis. And to make matters harder we now have more off-the-field distraction of a lawsuit against Kelly for playing Douglas Randolph while knowing about his spinal stenosis. I wish the best for the Irish but the historical game I’m having flashbacks about is the Sep 10 2000 matchup between ND and the Cornhuskers when enough the season ticket holders saw dollar signs to turn the “home” game into a sea of red. We can win this game if the Irish are poised enough to hold together…it’s all on coaching.
      Go Irish.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        That Nebraska game has another similarity with this week’s game — an underperforming coach deep in his tenure whose history at ND didn’t inspire the fans to believe they’d see a win, and rather than spend that money, they voted with their feet.

        • When did a game against a 15th ranked Georgia team that finished 8-5 last year become comparable to playing a #1 ranked Nebraska team coming off three recent national championships and arguably e the most feared team of the decade?

          A win tomorrow would be great but falls well short of the traditional definition of a “signature win”. Is this the new ND standard?

    7. irishhawk50 says:

      The determining factor in my picking ND is the injury to Georgia’s QB. I think the freshman will have a problem under the bright lights at ND and that goes for the rest of Georgia’s team despite what they say. I also think Hurricane Irma and its effect on Georgia may be in the back of the players minds by game time. I think ND players are riding high (whether they are fooling themselves remains to be seen) and Georgia will be tentative. ND 28-21.

    8. Irishwolf52 says:

      Great article once again John!!

      ND- Size, check. Speed, check. Talent, check. Heart……….we’ll see. Until then, Dogs 31, Irish 17.

    9. AlumniDawg2017 says:

      Vannie great analysis as usual. I possess no data with which I can refute your conclusions. But consider that ND played a VERY vanilla game plan on both sides of the ball last week. No play action or screens or misdirection on offense. Very few blitzes on defense. Could it be that we have some tricks up our sleeves? I think so. Right score, wrong way. ND 31 Bulldogs 24.

    10. Vastly improved Irish team earns a statement victory. Offense turns in a dominant performance on the ground and through the air and the defense holds up its end of the bargain. Wimbush shows he is the real deal with no turnovers, pinpoint passing and some key runs to keep drives going. ND 31-21.

    11. Guys, we may well lose but I don’t think Georgia is getting in the 30s. Thier offense has been downright atrocious the past two seasons. A QB who’s never started before will certainly not help them. Elko will stuff the box and the DBs will make enough plays. ND 28, Georgia 17. Go Irish!

    12. FRED Williamson played for Oakland not kc. IT WAS SUPER BOWL 2, not 1 in which he was knocked out.

    13. sure hope they can stop the run. This is a game made for linebackers, which is a reported strength of team. Any tackles after they gain 4 yards should not be counted in any tackling statistics. Not a huge fan of night games.

    14. Another big game another bad loss in this era. When will it ever end?
      Georgia 30 ND 21.

    15. Irish will need to be aggressive with their defensive scheme and take the run away from UGA. This will be a tall order, but possible if the D-line can provide a constant push and leave the backers free to roam. Both backs are good, but will need holes to make plays. Irish defense will have to pressure the Dawgs to throw vs rely on the run. And when they drop back to pass, they need to hurry the freshman. A few new looks and play action will allow ND to put up some points. It is going to be a full four quarter game and the Irish will nees to keep their foot in the throttle. The term signature win is overused, I will take a W in any fashion. Go Irish!

    16. Georgia has been talking trash all week about ND. If they hadn’t have said anything then I was leaning towards Georgia but since they opened up their mouths I think that ND is going to win 35- 27. It will inspire ND to go out and kick butt. ND has the more athletic QB. Georgia QB is good but I think that Elko is a better coordinator than BVG and will have a better game plan for big games. Definitely better schemes for players.

    17. Vannie thanks for reality and prediction. Love the Irish and always will but eight years with BK is time enough. Revamp the staff but no indication this secondary will not get torched. Hoping for the best… but a loss to Georgia at home… preparing for the worst. Need this win going forward to take on Sparty, USC and Stanford. GO IRISH !!!!

    18. We will find out if the 2017 Fighting Irish are truly a new team or if the apple dumpling gang rides again. This is a must win IMO to determine if Kelly is capable of winning a big game or just coming close and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory like so many times during his tenure.

      • Right on, ’88. This will teach us a lot about the team. I sure like what I saw last Saturday but this is clearly a different level of competition. Still think we beat the spread.

        Good Lord-after all these years of getting kicked in the nuts one would think I would have learned my lesson by now. What the hell’s wrong with me? Slow learner I guess. GO IRISH!!!

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