If you look at SP+, you’ll see that there’s one area of clear separation between Georgia and Notre Dame. (I know sample size is relatively small, but it’s all we’ve got to work with.)
The Irish have been solid on offense and special teams, but there’s a noticeable gap on defense. And that, in turn, brings us to a place where the early numbers suggest Georgia has a sizeable advantage Saturday night: Georgia’s run game versus Notre Dame’s run defense.
The story of the latter isn’t pretty. This week, at 4.96, ND sits an almost unbelievable 107th in defensive yards per rush. (For comparison’s sake, Georgia’s 2.14 ranks tenth.) That’s barely better than Arkansas State, for point of reference. That defense is tasked with stopping a rushing attack that currently ranks fifth nationally, at 7.61 yards per carry. (Again, comparing the teams, Notre Dame averages 4.84 ypc, good for 49th.)
On paper, that’s a tall order. To start with, those stats were compiled against Louisville and New Mexico, neither of which are going to be confused with offensive powerhouses. Beyond that, the situational stats aren’t good. It’s not the result of ND having relaxed in the second half after building big leads, either. In fact, that defense yielded at a rate of 6.91 ypc in the first half and 3.57 in the second half. It’s also gotten creamed on third down (9.24 ypc!), regardless of distance.
I don’t want to sound too confident here, but if that defense can’t stop Georgia’s rushing attack or at least slow it down considerably, barring some craziness on the turnover front, I don’t see a path to victory for Notre Dame. It’s the number one point on any defensive coordinator’s list for beating Georgia. Allowing that running game to function successfully essentially drives everything a Smart-coached team wants to do in terms of clock management, not taking big risks in the passing game and keeping Georgia’s defense fresh.