Move over, Texas A&M. College football’s real 12th man was in Athens, Georgia Saturday night.
I can’t say I really noticed much difference in the pre-game electricity out in the parking lot from other big games, but once inside Sanford Stadium, hoo boy. That crowd was tanned, rested and ready thirty minutes before kickoff. Nor did it need any encouragement once the game commenced. I still say the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter in the 2013 LSU game is my gold standard for home crowd noise, and while I won’t claim that level was surpassed Saturday night, I will insist that it was sustained for a much longer period in this game.
It clearly had an effect on the visitors, too. Given how well prepared Notre Dame looked in all other facets — somebody used their bye week to excellent effect — it was a surprise that a team that’s certainly appeared in its share of big road games seemed so ill-equipped to handle what that Georgia crowd threw at it.
Give yourselves a collective pat on the back, Dawg fans. You earned it, in spades.
- Georgia played a game against the seventh-ranked team in the country, down two starting cornerbacks, lost its starting offensive left guard mid-way and didn’t play its starting offensive right tackle until the second half because of injury concerns. And won. Team depth ain’t a myth, peeps.
- I don’t know if they were over-hyped for their first real opponent of the season, or because it was a night game, or what, but the Dawgs were clearly off their game in the first quarter. That was most apparent in offensive blocking, which was, for wont of a better word, shoddy. I saw more missed blocks in the first quarter than I’d seen in the first three games, combined. It was most apparent when Georgia ran screen plays that were consistently blown up because Notre Dame players were left free to make tackles — and they didn’t miss. Biggest offenders in that regard were Mays, surprisingly, and Wolf.
- Early on — okay, for most of the first half — Georgia had problems with Notre Dame’s game plan on both sides of the ball. Kmet hadn’t played prior to Saturday night and Georgia’s defense clearly wasn’t prepared for how to handle him. Notre Dame’s focus on getting the ball out of Book’s hands quickly also negated Georgia’s desire for havoc. Meanwhile, Georgia’s offense stalled because the Irish committed all sorts of numbers to the line anticipating the run (a couple of times, I counted ten men within five or six yards of the line of scrimmage, with only a safety back) and Georgia found its short game regularly stuffed.
- That being said, the coaches made two adjustments at halftime that paid big results: using tempo on offense to open up Notre Dame’s defense and jamming the Irish receivers at the line (and then bracketing Kmet downfield).
- That being said, Smart abandoned much of that for much of the fourth quarter and let the momentum slip away as a result.
- It was not a night when the coaches trusted a lot of freshmen, for whatever reason, but those who played on offense and defense made contributions. Pickens blocked well (and should have been the beneficiary of at least one pass interference call). Blaylock had a couple of nice catches. Smith didn’t have a sack, but came up big on ND’s last play of the game. But no Zeus or Stevenson was a bit puzzling to me.
- The offensive line’s struggle with numbers in the first half maybe wasn’t that surprising. But it gained significant traction in the second half, partly due to a change in the playcalling, and also because Wilson was a significant upgrade at right tackle over Mays.
- Cager and Robertson had big games at wideout. The former has really impressed me over the last two games with his blocking and receiving and may be turning into this year’s version of Wims.
- You can only keep D’Andre Swift down so long.
- Brian Herrien continues in his role of unsung hero. Reliable, quicker than he’s given credit for sometimes and a good receiver, he used all of that to turn in another valuable game.
- Fromm had another one of his patented “not everything shows up in the box score” kind of games. His back shoulder throws to Cager were as good as anything Aaron Murray dialed up. He showed toughness on his runs. He didn’t let himself get rattled when Notre Dame’s pressure forced his timing. He is the glue that holds Georgia’s offense together. (It was also kind of funny to watch his protest with the ref when the second ND defender took a seat after a play.)
- There were two stories on defense. The biggest one was the way the rest of the secondary stepped up when Stokes left the game. Reed played out of his mind and LeCounte may have played his first game where I didn’t seem him whiff on a tackle. Divaad Wilson rose to the challenge, to say the least.
- The other story was the fantastic game Tae Crowder turned in. He’s had a knack for being in the right place at the right time all season, but against Notre Dame, he consistently finished what he started. His tackle to blow up that screen pass was perhaps the best defensive play of the season.
- The other great defensive play of the night, worth its own bullet point, came on Reed’s interception, which was the result of playing a flea flicker to perfection, first with a perfectly timed blitz that affected Book’s timing, then, Reed’s complete awareness of how the play unfolded, capped off by the athleticism it took to take the ball and finish in bounds.
- Notre Dame’s running game was shut down. Some of that, to be fair, could be credited to two of its top backs being out, but Georgia’s speed had a lot to do with it, too. Still, if there’s one thing I was puzzled by, especially considering how good a game ND’s offensive coordinator called, it was how little Ian Book was asked to do running the ball. (That’s not a complaint.)
- All that aside, it was incredibly disappointing watching Notre Dame’s offense rip down the field after Georgia’s last score. Why the DBs started giving Claypool and Kmet cushions in coverage after the good job they’d done bottling them up is something to question.
- Rodrigo Blankenship was money. The rest of Georgia’s special teams was a check that bounced. Simmons’ fumbled punt made the game closer than it should have been (and he was shaky on his first fair catch, too.) Blocking on punt returns was ineffective. Cook’s decision to run out the kickoff to start the second half was ill-advised. So was Blaylock’s decision not to field a punt. Camarda looked like someone who played tight in a big game; his last punt could have been the prelude to a disaster had the defense not bailed him out.
Georgia was outplayed at times and was definitely outcoached. What it wasn’t was out-athleted, and that’s why it prevailed. I know Kirby’s happy with the win — hell, so am I — and he’s happy that his team manballed just enough to get it done, but this was not one of the staff’s finest hours. Still, it’s not every day you beat a top ten team. In that kind of setting, survive and advance will always work for me.