Georgia football: 5 reasons Notre Dame is better than you think
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish come into Athens on Saturday looking to even the score with the Georgia Bulldogs after the SEC powerhouse came to South Bend in 2017 and earned a 1-point victory.
This time No. 7 Notre Dame travels Between the Hedges for a primetime matchup against No. 3 Georgia. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Georgia has not lost a nonconference game in the regular season since Georgia Tech knocked off the Dawgs in 2016. Notre Dame has a 14-game regular-season winning streak that began with last season’s opener. The only game the Fighting Irish lost in that span was 30-3 against Clemson in the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinals.
Here are 5 reasons, Georgia fans, that Notre Dame is better than you think:
QB Ian Book
Even when he attempts a throw that he has no business making, Ian Book has the arm strength to complete it:
The senior quarterback completely transformed Notre Dame when he took over as the starter in Week 4 last season. In the final 9 games of 2018 he averaged 290.5 passing yards per game. Had he started all 13 games, at that pace he would have had 3,777 passing yards, which would have been 11th in the country.
Since taking over for Brandon Wimbush last season, Book has used his arm and his legs (he averages 3.9 yards per carry for his career) to lead the Fighting Irish.
Book is one of the best quarterbacks the Dawgs will face all season. Perhaps the best. And that is a large part of our next category.
It’s early (only 2 games played, against Louisville and New Mexico) but the Fighting Irish seem to have picked up where they left off last season in terms of moving the ball.
Already, 12 receivers have caught passes. And the Fighting Irish rank 22nd in the country in total offense partly because they can run as well as throw. Book and running back Tony Jones have rushed for 127 yards each this season. In 2018 Notre Dame averaged 182.6 yards a game on the ground; the team is ahead of that pace in 2019 at 193.5 yards a game on the ground.
Notre Dame ranked in the top 25 of every category in the S&P advanced defensive metrics for the 2018 season. This season has not started quite as strong — one worrying stat is that the Fighting Irish are allowing an average of 235 rushing yards per game before facing a Georgia team that can run all day — but Notre Dame still has some strong defensive talent.
Athlon’s magazine rated Notre Dame’s defensive line 10th in the country entering the season and safety Alohi Gilman was a first-team preseason All-America pick. Gilman leads the team with 13 tackles. The Fighting Irish — again, only through 2 games — are ranked 3rd in the country in passing efficiency defense and first in turnover margin at an average of plus-3 per game.
Head coach Brian Kelly
In his 10th season in South Bend, Kelly has compiled an 83-35 record, for a .720 winning percentage. That’s not quite up there with Knute Rockne or Frank Leahy in Notre Dame’s glory-filled history, but it’s the best winning percentage of any coach there since the Lou Holtz era ended in 1996.
What Kelly has done is recruit in a way that SEC schools or a handful of other elite schools do: Get kids from anywhere, of any recruiting ranking. In a way that’s old-school Fighting Irish; when they were atop the college football world they could get players from all over the country like no other program.
Kelly understands the value of this game in terms of recruiting in Georgia, one of the most talent-rich states in America.
“The schools we’re targeting in the state of Georgia have a similar batch of schools that we feel like demographically we can hit, and they match the Notre Dame kind of model that we want from our recruiting base,” Kelly said this week.
Dawgs fans will bring the noise and Athens will be rocking Saturday night. But this type of atmosphere is nothing new to Notre Dame, which is noted for playing a tough schedule every year.
Since 2016, the seniors in this Fighting Irish class (not even accounting for any redshirt seniors) have already played at Texas, USC, Michigan State, Miami, Stanford and Virginia Tech. Notre Dame should not be intimidated by the noise or the atmosphere at Georgia.
“We’ll prepare them,” Kelly said regarding the noise in Athens, according to 247Sports. “They know we have to prepare for the kind of environment that they’re going to go into. … We have an indoor facility. We can make that as loud as we want it to.”
And Notre Dame might just have the talent to silence Sanford Stadium.