When Rodrigo kicked his last field goal of the night, giving Georgia a 23-10 lead over Notre Dame, I turned to my friend and said something to the effect that it appeared my game projection — the Irish hanging around until the fourth quarter and Georgia then putting the game away and comfortably covering the spread — was on track.
Kirby Smart had other ideas, though. He decided he had about seven minutes left in the game to play not to lose.
The defense, which had played lights out the entire second half to that point and given up a total of 21 yards, relaxed and let Ian Book drive his offense 75 yards for a touchdown. The offense ran the three most predictable plays you could imagine (not that it really took much imagination), gained a yard. A shanked punt followed, leaving ND just a tick under two minutes (111 seconds in Munsonese) to win a game that looked like it was in the bag not too long ago.
Then Georgia’s defense bowed its back and shut the game down. I’m sure some are going to compare last night to the back and forth struggle in South Bend a couple of years ago, but my mind went back to the Auburn 2013 game, when Murray and Gurley led an incredible comeback, only to be let down by a couple of chuckleheads out for personal glory instead of a team win. Instead, what we got last night was a defense that did the fundamentals right and knocked Book’s last gasp down.
The weird thing is that I think somehow what Kirby got in that fourth quarter was exactly what he wanted, maybe even planned for. His team found itself pushed by a gritty, well coached opponent, bent some, but finished standing. Georgia’s inner constancy hadn’t been tested in its first three games; such is no longer the case after last night.
It may not have been pretty, but I suspect Georgia’s head coach loved the finish of that game as much as any game he’s coached here.