Georgia football: Grading the Bulldogs after a close win over Notre Dame
It wasn’t projected by many to be a close game, but No. 3 Georgia had just enough to get past No. 7 Notre Dame 23-17 in front of a record crowd at Sanford Stadium in Athens. And it’s a win that it can rally around and has a little more time to savor with an open week coming up before it returns to the field for SEC play against Tennessee on Oct. 6.
Was it a perfect game? Probably not, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart will make mention of that during the tape review. But the first true test of the season has been passed: a win against a team that has equal aspirations of not just a College Football Playoff bid, but a national championship.
Here are some things I liked — and didn’t like so much — about the victory.
3 things I liked
Lawrence Cager’s big game
After quiet performances against Vanderbilt and Arkansas State, the Miami transfer broke out against Notre Dame with 5 catches for 82 yards and 1 touchdown. His pretty 36-yard sideline grab in the 4th quarter helped extend Georgia’s lead. Following a 2018 season with the Hurricanes that saw him make 21 catches for 374 yards and 6 touchdowns, Cager headed to Georgia in the wake of the resignation of Miami coach Mark Richt. If you’re a Bulldogs fan, you have to like what you saw out of Cager on Saturday night, and with the SEC schedule looming after the open week, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue to make his mark on the offense.
The Bulldogs’ run defense
Before the game, I talked about the thin options Notre Dame had when it came to running the ball. Tony Jones Jr. was the No. 1 running back and Ian Book entered as a quarterback known for his mobility, so a key to a Georgia win was keeping that in check.
Mission accomplished. Jones was a non-factor, recording just 22 yards on 9 carries. Book had a pair of scrambles in the 4th quarter, but that was the extent of his ball-carrying on this night. All told, D’Andre Swift (18 carries) had more rushing attempts than Notre Dame as a team. Was the decision to go a little more pass-heavy a reaction to the Dawgs’ stout running defense or simply a tactical decision by Brian Kelly to lean more on Book’s arm knowing that Jones hadn’t been running the ball well before this game?
Either way, the times Notre Dame ran the ball, it met resistance. More of the same for Georgia’s defense, which has allowed an average of 57 yards rushing in its first 4 games.
The steady hand of Jake Fromm
As is the case more often than not, Fromm didn’t put up monster numbers against Notre Dame. But he was a serviceable 20-of-26 for 187 yards and 1 touchdown and didn’t throw an interception, which he still has yet to do this year.
Fromm has passed the ball 680 times in his career. He has been picked off just 13 times, or once every 52.3 pass attempts. He’s also completed 66.1 percent of his passes (450 of 680). In the age of quarterbacks who can light up the scoreboard and put up eye-popping numbers week in and week out, Fromm’s calm, steady presence is a big reason the Dawgs are in the position they are now, and it helped during their win over the Irish.
3 things I didn’t like
At the halftime break, the Bulldogs had only registered 59 yards to Notre Dame’s 146. As steady as Fromm was, he started slow from the gate — as did his teammates. Tyler Simmons muffed a punt in the 2nd quarter near his own 10 that the Fighting Irish pounced on and turned into a touchdown. The Dawgs didn’t have a play of 10 yards or more until D’Andre Swift picked up an 11-yard gain on their subsequent drive, which ended with a touchdown.
The slow start ended up being water under the bridge as Georgia ended up with the win, but the open week will provide plenty of teaching moments as it has an SEC schedule the rest of the way.
Failure to account for Cole Kmet
Kmet hadn’t played in Notre Dame’s first 2 games after sustaining a broken collarbone in August. Whether Georgia didn’t expect him to play or didn’t think he wouldn’t be a factor is anyone’s guess, but the junior tight end had a career game: 9 catches on 11 targets for 108 yards and 1 touchdown.
Again, it’s water under the bridge as Georgia won, but the combination of Book having a clean pocket to work with most of the night and a breakout game by Kmet could have meant a game in the loss column for the Bulldogs. Fortunately, it didn’t — on this night.
The run game
Yes, Swift had 98 yards and 1 touchdown on 18 carries. But 5 of those carries and 27 of those yards, including the one for the touchdown, came on a single drive in the 2nd quarter. Outside of that: 13 carries for 71 yards with a long of 15 yards. Brian Herrien had a pair of nice runs for 16 and 10 yards in the 3rd quarter but had 6 carries for 17 yards outside of that.
Notre Dame entered the game having allowed rushing totals of 258 and 212 to Louisville and New Mexico, respectively.
The opportunity was there for the Dawgs to take advantage of that and a strong offensive line to roll up the yardage on the ground on Saturday, but they were never quite able to do so as they ended the game with a good-but-not-great 152 yards on 33 attempts. That’s a credit to the defensive front of the Irish.