Forced to make difficult, intricate plays, the Bulldogs showed they could do so in a 23-17 win to which their crowd absolutely contributed. Steadily and assuredly, they wriggled from a 10-7 halftime deficit, from a 10-10 tie and from a precarious 13-10 lead after three quarters, and then from some closing palpitations. “I definitely think that there was a sigh of relief there at the end,” said Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, his three second-half field goals essential to the outcome.
In a tussle Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly called one of the most physical of the 328 he has coached — “You could hear it out there,” he said — Georgia worked long and hard before treating their blaring fans to less-labored breathing. Relative ease came only after an an eight-play, 82-yard drive for a 20-10 lead with 13:19 remaining, a march that brimmed with refined skill. Not only did it include running back D’Andre Swift’s leap over a Notre Dame defender to thrill fans on a 10-yard run, but it had two primo catches by Lawrence Cager from the pinpoint quarterback Jake Fromm, one for 36 yards on the left sideline, and one for 15 yards rich in gymnastics on the left edge of the end zone.
Careful students of game film might have spotted Cager snaring two receptions for 45 yards for Miami (Fla.) against Notre Dame in an alleged showdown in November 2017, but if that 41-8 bludgeoning roiled among the evidence that Notre Dame couldn’t handle the really big boys, this game did not. Notre Dame fell to 1-18 against top-five teams this century, but only after a turn as — pardon the expression — a revelation.
“So much emotion in that locker room, so much effort,” Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said even as he said he did “hate” the outcome for Notre Dame, whose tough quarterback, Ian Book, said, “It was a great atmosphere. This is why you come to Notre Dame, to play in big games like these.” It featured a 12th man of 90,000-some people chipping in so profoundly that Smart said, “They impacted the game tonight more than I’ve ever seen a game impacted, here or anywhere.”
Their names didn’t turn up on the stat sheet, but their lungs did: Notre Dame had six false starts and four premature timeouts, two in each half, which absolutely limited the way Notre Dame could play the finish, when it reached the Georgia 38-yard line with a minute left before fading.
“We’re very disappointed that we didn’t handle it better,” Kelly said, before noting that Notre Dame’s “repetition on the clap, which is our cadence, was so ingrained that when we went to silent cadence, they forgot and went back to the clap. And so I should have taken that into consideration and just forced them to be in it (silent) longer. So I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Only through a slow procession could Georgia wrench much sway over the game. Holes didn’t open much until late for Swift, who gained 98 yards. Georgia outgained Notre Dame by only 339-321, by 225-158 in the second half, by 152-46 on the ground. For much of the night, Notre Dame’s front looked meaner and nimbler than 21st-century, big-game custom. Eventually, the Irish (2-1) wore down just enough opposite Fromm’s 20-for-26 precision, interceptions by Bulldogs Divaad Wilson and J.R. Reed, some intricate catches and the fourth-quarter Georgian depth of which Kelly said, “It just seemed like in waves . . . It’s more depth than we’ve seen in a long time.”
Before those waves, here came Cole Kmet, a tight end poor in vowels but rich in talent. After 15 catches last year and a fractured clavicle on Aug. 13 this year, Kmet materialized as if unknown in Georgia film study, as Smart called him “a hell of a player” whom Notre Dame deployed with “boots, nakeds, waggles, all kinds of things.” A left-handed baseball closer last season with a 2.89 earned-run average and a save in eight appearances, Kmet amassed 7 receptions for 68 yards by halftime, 9 for 108 by the end, starting right from the get-go. “He kind of set the tone in the game with the physical run early on,” Kelly said. “I think he got everybody feeling like, ‘This is the way we can play this game.’”
Later, after Georgia helped itself to both a 23-10 lead and perhaps an excess of merriment, Notre Dame lent more merit to this home-and-home series agreed upon in 2014, back before Georgia became the Georgia it envisioned. The Irish went 75 yards in 10 plays, including a big 31-yarder to Kmet, with Book’s four-yard pass to Chase Claypool to close to 23-17.
Then they got a stop to cause a scare.
Then they gave way 38 yards from something really frightening, their timeouts drained crucially.
The concept of the nation’s No. 8 rushing attack (Georgia) versus the nation’s No. 120 rushing defense (Notre Dame) had failed to materialize, bolstering Kelly’s view that early-season numbers don’t matter much. The teams slogged along at 0-0 through one quarter. Then a mistake came, involving two seniors.
One, Georgia’s Tyler Simmons, muffed a punt, and another, Notre Dame’s Claypool, recovered it at the Georgia 8-yard line. Notre Dame seemed to take 15 plays to score from there but actually took only five, rewarding Kelly’s fourth-down confidence from the 1-yard line when Book finished an endangered play with a hopeful pass into the end zone, and Kmet hauled it in improv-style.
Notre Dame led, and Georgia knew a situation it doesn’t know much in its considerable home, where it tends to host the overmatched.
The Bulldogs did go 75 yards in 13 plays right then, but even that path was strewn with trouble while revealing Notre Dame’s upgraded front. The tying score, Swift’s three-yard run, traded on two masterful third-down plays: a hard catch by tight end Eli Wolf with an enemy squarely in front, and a left-sideline timing play where Fromm found Cager for 14 yards on third-and-9.
But even after Georgia’s defense seemed to inhale some energy from that score, Notre Dame got going again with a 28-yard pass up the deep middle from Book to Kmet. Book would hit Lawrence Keys III on the left against a marooned corner for 28 more. That put Notre Dame at the Georgia 12-yard line, knocking again rapidly and ending up with Jonathan Doerer’s 26-yard field goal for 10-7.
Of course, Notre Dame had reached almost all the way to halftime last December in the Cotton Bowl national semifinal while trailing Clemson only 9-3, and that game had turned into something different, something lopsided. This one changed far less graphically, beginning early in the third quarter when Georgia, having granted a cheap touchdown, picked up a cheap field goal. Wilson ripped a possible reception up the middle from Notre Dame’s Chris Finkel, then took the excited patrons on a carnival ride of an interception return before finally fumbling out of bounds on the left sideline of the Notre Dame 22-yard line.
It enabled Blankenship’s 40-yard field goal, which set things at 10-10. The slow, deep-red wave had begun.
by Emily Giambalvo in Washington
FINAL: Georgia 23, Notre Dame 17
After an evenly matched first half, the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs surged ahead and began to dominate Notre Dame in the second half. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm played with poise, completing 20 of 26 attempts, and finished the game with 187 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. When Notre Dame managed to climb back late in the game, Georgia’s defense came up with the stop on fourth down to extinguish what could have become the Irish’s game-winning drive.
Georgia hangs on: After a dominant second half from Georgia, the Irish climbed back into the game with the late score and key defensive stop. With just over two minutes to play, Notre Dame had an opportunity to drive down the field for the winning touchdown. But without any timeouts and against a solid Georgia defense, the Irish ultimately couldn’t convert a fourth and 9. Georgia’s pass rush forced Ian Book to lob the ball downfield, and his receiver was covered by multiple defenders. (Georgia 23, Notre Dame 17 with 0:48 left in the 4th quarter)
Notre Dame scores: Ian Book threw a touchdown pass to Chase Claypool, cutting Georgia’s led to six points. Notre Dame decided not to try an onside kick, hoping its defense can stop the Bulldogs from getting a first down. (Georgia 23, Notre Dame 17 with 3:08 left in the 4th quarter)
Georgia pushes further ahead: Rodrigo Blankenship kicks another field goal, this time a 43-yarder, to further extend the lead. Georgia could have opted to go for a forth down with one yard to go but instead chose to kick the field goal. (Georgia 23, Notre Dame 10 with 6:54 left in the 4th quarter)
Another Notre Dame turnover: The game had already turned in the Bulldogs’ favor since halftime, but safety J.R. Reed helped tilt this matchup even further when he came up with an interception on Notre Dame’s flea flicker. A touchdown here would likely squash Notre Dame’s comeback hopes. (Georgia 20, Notre Dame 10 with 11:11 left in the 4th quarter)
Georgia extends its lead: Jake Fromm connects with Lawrence Cager in the end zone to extend the Bulldogs’ lead. On the diving catch, Cager kept his right foot in bounds for the score. His 15-yard touchdown reception followed a 36-yard catch earlier in the drive. (Georgia 20, Notre Dame 10 with 13:19 left in the 4th quarter)
Georgia driving for another score as third quarter ends: With the Bulldogs approaching midfield, the third quarter ended as cellphone flashlights lit up Sanford Stadium. On Notre Dame’s previous drive, the Irish struggled to deal with the crowd noise. They’ve now been called for false starts six times, and the team has burned two timeouts in the third quarter. Notre Dame’s offense has had trouble since halftime, finishing the third quarter with just 19 total yards and no firsts downs. (Georgia 13, Notre Dame 10 at the end of the 3rd quarter)
Georgia takes its first lead: After a promising, up-tempo drive, Georgia settled for a field goal to give the Bulldogs’ their first lead of the night. Rodrigo Blankenship nailed the 31-yard field goal after a strong series from quarterback Jake Fromm and the offense led Georgia downfield. (Georgia 13, Notre Dame 10 with 4:21 left in the 3rd quarter)
Notre Dame’s turnover leads to a Georgia field goal: Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship evened the score by hitting a 40-yarder. Georgia regained possession when Divaad Wilson picked off Ian Book and managed to hold on to the bobbling ball for his first career interception. Book had yet to throw an interception this season. (Georgia 10, Notre Dame 10 with 8:31 left in the 3rd quarter)
HALF: Notre Dame 10, Georgia 7
The Irish headed to their locker room with a lead on the road, primarily thanks to Georgia’s mishandled punt in the second quarter that allowed Notre Dame to score from inside the 10-yard line. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has already thrown for 146 yards, while the Irish have rarely opted to run the ball. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, whose first career start came in the 2017 road win at Notre Dame, has begun the game with accuracy, completing 11 of 12 passes. But most of those have been short receptions. The Bulldogs have just 114 offensive yards through the first two quarters, but they showed signs of a more promising attack during their scoring drive. While Notre Dame has the advantage in Athens, the visitors have been called for false starts four times in the raucous environment. Georgia will receive to start the third quarter and have a chance to climb ahead.
Notre Dame takes the lead to close the half: Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer nailed a 27-yard field goal to hand the Irish a lead before halftime. After Georgia’s touchdown, the Fighting Irish quickly cruised into the red zone. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book and his receivers connected on five straight passes, including 28-yard catches from both Cole Kmet and Lawrence Keys III. After Book threw two incompletions hoping to find the end zone, the Irish settled for a field goal. (Notre Dame 10, Georgia 7 at the end of the 2nd quarter)
Tie game: Georgia running back D’Andre Swift powers up the middle and into the end zone for the tying score. The three-yard run punctuated a 75-yard drive that lasted just over eight minutes and showed Georgia’s offense functioning at a much higher level than before. Notre Dame will have about two and a half minutes to reclaim the lead before halftime. (Georgia 7, Notre Dame 7 with 2:27 left in the 2nd quarter)
Georgia offense starting to show promise: After a lackluster first quarter, Georgia’s offense has begun to find its rhythm. With the Bulldogs threatening in Notre Dame territory, quarterback Jake Fromm connected with Dominick Blaylock for a 16-yard play, the Bulldogs’ largest gain thus far. Running back D’Andre Swift has carried Irish defenders with him to pick up yardage, and tight end Eli Wolf caught a critical eight-yard pass on third down earlier in the drive. (Notre Dame 7, Georgia 0 with under three minutes left in the 2nd quarter)
Irish score first on fourth down: On fourth and goal with less than a yard to go, tight end Cole Kmet caught a touchdown pass that bobbled in his hands before he secured the ball. The Irish jumped ahead of the Bulldogs, who are playing in front of an electric home crowd. (Notre Dame 7, Georgia 0 with 10:39 left in the 2nd quarter)
Major mistake by the Bulldogs: Georgia’s Tyler Simmons mishandles a punt, and Notre Dame takes over at the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line. The Bulldogs will have to try to hold Notre Dame to a field goal. (Georgia 0, Notre Dame 0 with 12:22 left in the 2nd quarter)
A scoreless opening quarter: Notre Dame ends the first quarter by converting its first third down of the night with a 15-yard pass to senior receiver Chase Claypool. The Irish will begin the second quarter on their own 42-yard line. Notre Dame’s offense has outpaced Georgia’s attack, which has accumulated just 18 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards through 15 minutes of play. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm completed six of seven pass attempts but none longer than nine yards. Neither team was able to string together a productive series in the first quarter, with both defenses coming up with stops when needed. (Georgia 0, Notre Dame 0 at the end of the 1st quarter)
Slow starts in Sanford Stadium: Notre Dame opted to go for it on fourth down inside Georgia territory, but the snap flew over quarterback Ian Book, who managed to recover the ball and throw an incompletion downfield. The Bulldogs took over at their own 32. Both Georgia and Notre Dame have struggled to sustain drives early in this game. The Irish leaned on tight end Cole Kmet, who could be challenge the Bulldogs through the game, but his three catches for 33 yards on the opening drive weren’t enough to yield any meaningful progress for the Irish. (Georgia 0, Notre Dame 0 with 6:47 left in the 1st quarter)
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