If you’re indulging your inner Munson and looking for an area where there’s a decided schematic advantage in Notre Dame’s favor, Nathan Lawrence is here for you.
One of the very few situations wherein Notre Dame has a decided statistical advantage is on first downs. Not only has there been a large margin in the performance of these two units, the Fighting Celtic People have been a top-ten offense in first-down situations. Most of the the advantages ND has over UGA are in situations where both teams are, at best, average, 1st down SR is the only area where ND is excellent, and there is a significant gap between the two teams. One of the most worrying signs possible in the early stages of this game would be to see consistent success on first down. This would open up the playbook for Ian Book, ND’s senior QB. As more of a scrambler than a pure pocket passer, Book has shined when he can move in the pocket, keep his eyes upfield, and run against zone defenses. The unequivocally best way to put him that situation is for the ND offense to be successful on early downs. If we see that unfold on Saturday, particularly in the first frame of the game, that’s when we need to start worrying.
This is the answer to my question earlier in the week, about how can ND beat Georgia if the Dawgs’ ground game is clicking. The Irish have to commit to winning a shootout, countering Georgia’s rushing success with their own ability to move the ball on early downs so that Ian Book can unleash his entire skill set on Georgia’s defense. (A timely turnover or two wouldn’t hurt, either.)
That’s the only path I see for Brian Kelly’s team, because, just to beat that poor dead horse even more, they ain’t stopping Georgia’s running attack. Just ask Nathan.
First of all, let’s just look at UGA’s plot here. Holy s***. The dawgs are formidable on offense to this point in the year. When your radar plot on one side of the ball is basically a regular polygon, you’re doing everything right. There’s been a low-boil narrative developing across Kirby Smart’s career that he, to a fault, wants to “impose his will” or play “man ball.” This has manifested and is driven by many, many predictable offensive calls in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations.
This is the rare big game where Kirby’s natural, impose your will instinct is absolutely the correct strategy all night long. Notre Dame has to go in doing what it can to keep up. Georgia’s ability to handle Notre Dame’s offense on early downs will likely dictate the final margin tomorrow.