It was a great game. What else is there to say?
Okay, okay, I keed a little. It was the perfect capper to a wonderful football weekend, if you’re a Georgia fan, and there was plenty to take away from the sixty minutes of action. On to the bullet points.
- It’s only fair to start with the defense this week, since that’s where the game was won. There’s this feeling I’ve gotten on occasion — the 2002 Florida game, the 2011 Mississippi State game, the second half against Clemson in 2014 — where the defense has settled in to the extent that it’s almost a relief when they step on the field. I’m not gonna say I wound up exactly in that place, but that may be more a case of me needing to overcome my natural skepticism than how they played and were coached. I do know that over the course of the last two defensive plays of the game, the seventeen-yard completion and the sack and fumble recovery, my emotions ran the gamut.
- I can see why Kirby was happy Carter and Bellamy elected to come back. If those two keep it up, they’re probably going to be just as happy with their rising draft stock. Notre Dame’s tackles are good, but they were simply unable to handle the speed rush from those two. Nice to see an opponent struggle with that for a change.
- Another tremendous game from Roquan Smith, who seemed to be everywhere. That Reed wound up leading the team in tackles ought to tell you how well he played. Every week I watch Reed, I grow more impressed.
- While Smith may have seemed to be everywhere, Lorenzo Carter actually was. I didn’t focus on him every play, but I did notice that he lined up at either end, at the star position guarding a slot receiver and at middle linebacker.
- Notre Dame’s longest run of the day was eight yards. That doesn’t happen without a front seven playing relentless run defense. I’m not missing Tracy Rocker, in other words.
- If there’s one area to criticize, it’s that the pass rush needs more consistency. Wimbush did pretty well when he had time to throw, because he was able to find the soft spots in the zone defense.
- Okay, maybe two: Georgia should have had at least one interception on the night, and maybe more. Admittedly, that’s quibbling to some extent, but, still.
- I have never seen an offensive line hold more consistently than Notre Dame’s. Still, if the refs are going to let you hold, why wouldn’t you?
- Special teams play was not as pristine as it was opening week, which isn’t to say it was awful. Nizialek was bailed out on his weakest punt by a great roll and did manage excellent hang time most of the game, which helped manage coverage. Blankenship missed one field goal attempt, which loomed large for much of the second half, and only managed one touchback, which seemed largely by design, but also led to one big return. Godwin botched a punt return. Holyfield had a great kickoff return nullified by a holding penalty. That being said, I had the feeling all night that Hardman was this close to breaking a return. He’s turning into a special teams weapon.
- As far as the way the offense played, it was definitely a mixed bag. I heard plenty of grumbling about Chaney’s playcalling, and while I wouldn’t absolve him of blame, it wasn’t realistic to expect smooth sailing with Fromm’s first start. The freshman quarterback played like one. The fumble was the result of two mistakes, mishandling the read option hand off and failing to fall on the ball when it hit the ground. You could see the interception coming. Notre Dame’s defense didn’t respect the pass much of the night. That being said, Fromm didn’t lose it. He hit three big passes, none bigger than the 30-yarder to Wims, to set the last scoring drive. He continues to show nice touch on his throws, especially that lovely back shoulder toss that brought back Aaron Murray memories.
- And while he got help from his receivers at times, he should have gotten more. There were a few passes dropped that shouldn’t have been, the most prominent of which belonged to Hardman, on what should have been a big touchdown. (That play also demonstrated that Fromm’s range, while decent, isn’t on the same level as Eason’s.)
- The offensive line was up and down. Baker was inconsistent at left guard, throwing some great blocks, but also allowing penetration on the Payne run in the fourth quarter that got stoned on third-and-one when they were trying to salt the game away. Tackle play was pretty decent. I did think that when Kindley was in the game, run blocking was improved. Hope his ankle heals soon.
- The receivers show promise, but lack consistency, both in catching the ball and in creating separation from the defensive backs. Some of that went into Fromm’s less than stellar night passing.
- A quiet night from the tight ends again. Maybe I read too much into the moment, but it sure looked like Nauta was frustrated walking off the field after one failed third-down conversion attempt.
- Speaking of which, Georgia was bad on third down conversions all night.
- On the other hand, red zone play was pretty good. In fact, you can argue that ultimately it turned out to be the difference in the game, as the Dawgs converted two red zone series into touchdowns, while Notre Dame converted only one.
- Speaking of which, that screen pass to the back that Notre Dame completed for a big gain to set up their touchdown was the best playcall of the night, I thought. Beautifully executed, too.
- Question for Jim Chaney: How do you go an entire quarter without giving Nick Chubb the ball?
- Observation for Jim Chaney: When you’re giving Jake Fromm the opportunity to throw the ball more than you’re giving Chubb and Michel the opportunity to run the ball, you’re doing something wrong.
- One developmental item worth noting is that Chaney is clearly invested in getting the ball in Mecole Hardman’s hands. It may be frustrating at times in the short run, as Hardman isn’t a polished receiver, but you’ve got the feeling it’ll pay off in the long run.
- D’Andre Swift looks like a keeper, doesn’t he? With Georgia’s willingness to rely on freshman running backs, can you imagine what kind of year he might be having if Chubb and Michel hadn’t come back for their senior seasons?
- Like pretty much everyone else, I see little use for the wildcat. With no passing threat, defenses are able to key on the run game. Even worse, on one play Chaney managed to give up its one standard advantage of having an extra blocker, by lining it up with three backs in the backfield. Right now, it looks like a wasted formation every time they run out of it.
- As far as Chaney’s playcalling went, it ranged from the great — the first touchdown drive, for instance — to the execrable, like the last series of the first half. (Fortunately, the Notre Dame series that followed was even worse.) I get that he’s got a lot of moving parts that aren’t meshing yet, but I’m not gonna lie and say it wasn’t frustrating to watch at times, especially because he shows at other times that he clearly knows what to do.
- Tucker, on the other hand, painted a masterpiece. When you take a great game plan and great preparation and wed it to fast, talented players, you get nights like Saturday. The trick now is consistency from week to week.
- I’ve already mentioned in a prior post how Smart impressed me this week. There is still work for him to do, though, as there was plenty of sloppy play that needs to be cleaned up. Twelve penalties for 127 yards in a game where offensive yards were hard to come by could have been fatal. Undisciplined play may be understandable to some extent from a young team early in the season; the problem was that some of the more egregious penalties were coming from players who weren’t seeing their first action. We’ll see how Smart works to eliminate that.
- The post game scene, with the players and Smart acknowledging the fans, was terrific. One only hopes it’s far from the last time we’ll get to experience that this season. (***Cough***Cough***Jacksonville.)
- SEC refs gonna SEC ref, baby. Really a poorly called game on the field that without a decent replay official would have resulted in a Georgia loss.
- As far as the venue goes, recently renovated Notre Dame Stadium is a pleasure. Wide concourses that are easy to navigate, clean efficient bathrooms and terrific sight lines are exactly how you do it. No advertising clutter inside and the sound system, while loud, didn’t assault the senses. Friendly staff, too. My only knock is that seating, while not down to Knoxville standards, was a little crowded.
- To add to that, the Notre Dame fans were great and definitely deserve to have their classiness returned when they visit in a couple of years.
One kudoKudos to NBC, as well: your in-game commercial interruptions seemed less time consuming than ESPN’s or CBS’. Much appreciated.
All in all, while tense at times, a grade-A experience. (A more consistent team would have won by ten, so no plus sign, guys.) It cost a small fortune, but I regret nothing about the outlay.
We’re still another week away from the conference opener, with a game this week against Samford. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect something of an emotional let down, but I’d like to see a business as usual attitude. A repeat of the Nicholls debacle from last season is the last thing this team needs right now.