Georgia didn't give away another primetime opportunity, and folks, that's scary
At some point on Saturday night, the flashbacks had to set in for Georgia fans.
When Georgia trailed at halftime to Notre Dame, maybe there was a flashback to 2008. The infamous “Blackout” game was when College GameDay and a packed Sanford Stadium crowd witnessed the rise of Nick Saban’s Alabama and the deflating end of Georgia’s national championship aspirations.
Granted, Alabama surged out to a 31-0 halftime lead in that one. But the feeling of “sky-high expectations unmet” at home probably felt all too familiar during one of the moments when Notre Dame led Georgia on Saturday night.
Or perhaps after the Dawgs stormed back and settled for a field goal on 4th and 1 instead of going for it to essentially end the game, 2018 SEC Championship flashbacks set in. As in, a Kirby Smart decision in a huge moment opened the door for a late comeback in a monumental game.
But ultimately, neither of those Georgia nightmares were the flashbacks that told the story on Saturday night.
The most appropriate flashback was to the 2017 game against Notre Dame when the defense needed to get a late stop to close out a September game with major Playoff implications. That script played out again. This time, it was to the delight of the home crowd.
(Well, I think it’s fair to say Georgia was playing in front of a home crowd in South Bend a couple years ago.)
Saturday night in Athens was its own unique experience.
That wasn’t the case just because it was the first time since 1966 that Sanford Stadium hosted a pair of top-10 teams in a nonconference game. It was unique because for one of the first times in this 3-year stretch with Kirby Smart — excluding the inconsistent Year 1 in 2016 — Georgia rallied in the second half and held off a legitimate top-10 team.
And for what it’s worth, anyone arguing that Notre Dame isn’t top-10 worthy might’ve missed when Georgia fans applauded the Irish as the team walked off the field.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 22, 2019
Respect on respect.
I can bet every person who picked Georgia to cover a 2-touchdown spread was impressed with the way Notre Dame:
- A) Tackled
- B) Come out firing
- C) Didn’t let Georgia dominate in the trenches
- D) Made it a 60-minute game
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
There was an expectation that Jake Fromm, who has never lost at home and beat Power 5 teams by an average of 24 points at Sanford Stadium, was going to light up the Irish. And if he didn’t, then surely Georgia’s dominant offensive line was going to take over against the Irish’s No. 121- ranked run defense.
Down to the wire? Nah. Georgia trailing at halftime? No chance. Hold D’Andre Swift under 100 rushing yards? Ha, get out of here.
Yeah, about that.
Georgia had to dig deep in a way that it hasn’t had to very much under Smart. Entering Saturday’s game, Georgia had played in 29 regular season contests since the start of the 2017 season, and only once did the Dawgs win after trailing at halftime.
What game was that, you ask? The 2017 matchup against Notre Dame, of course.
That was also Fromm’s first career start. In his 31st start on Saturday night, he improved to 26-5. To say the junior quarterback has made some noticeable strides since 2017 would be an understatement. Fromm has mastered the art of reading pressure. And if there’s a quarterback in the country better with back-shoulder throws, I haven’t seen it:
That sound you just heard was Sanford Stadium reacting to this touchdown. pic.twitter.com/GFYl0v1enG
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 22, 2019
Two years ago when Fromm led the comeback at Notre Dame, there was still doubt about whether he could be the backbone of the offense against an elite team (that ridiculous Terry Godwin touchdown catch got a ton of attention). If there was any lingering doubt about him being that guy down the stretch, Fromm’s first- and second-half splits told the story:
Dare I say that Fromm actually having to come up with clutch second-half throws to an inexperienced receiving corps could yield some nice long-term benefits for Georgia?
And for as much praise as the Dawgs usually get for their defense, how about the job they did to preserve that lead? That group took its fair share of blame for things like allowing Jalen Hurts to lead Alabama’s comeback in last year’s SEC Championship, as well as … 2nd and 26.
Sure, it was Notre Dame and not Alabama, but Georgia didn’t play like a team on its heels on Saturday. Instead, we saw J.R. Reed jump a route and make an incredible interception on the sideline. We saw Georgia’s front 4 generate pressure on Ian Book to force an on-the-move prayer of a jump ball in the final seconds. The Georgia defense didn’t even allow Notre Dame to get a first down in the entire third quarter.
That was the type of “lock it in” gear that you need to see from a program with national championship hopes.
After Saturday night’s all-important win, that’s now more realistic than ever for Georgia.
Had it lost that game as a 2-touchdown favorite, we would’ve heard “same old Georgia.” Had the Dawgs ran the Irish off the field in the first half, it would’ve been “I told you Notre Dame was going to get embarrassed.”
But Saturday night’s record crowd didn’t witness either of those things. Instead, they watched Georgia win a home game by 1 score for the first time in nearly 3 years. They watched the Dawgs beat a top-10 team as a top-10 team at Sanford Stadium for the first time in the Smart era (since the LSU win in 2013).
Most importantly, they watched Georgia actually flip the script in a game. Those opportunities have been few and far between under Smart. On Saturday, that opportunity didn’t go to waste.
And if that’s what shakes Georgia out of the “something is bound to go wrong here” mindset that the program had for far too long, well, look out, college football world.
Those 1980 flashbacks could be coming.