“Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don’t, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snakes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness.” — Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
What’s Their Deal?
If there’s one fact to know, it’s this: since Kirby Smart took over in 2016, Georgia’s 247 Composite recruiting class rankings have been as follows: 6, 3, 1, and 2. Compare that to an average of 13 for the Irish over the same time period, and it’s clear that this will be an uphill battle for the away team. UGA is so deep and so talented that any offseason talent drain (and there was some, particularly at receiver) is more or less mitigated, even if the new starters aren’t quite as seasoned. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that we should see more of the numbers 6 and 3 classes than 1 and 2. Ha ha ha.
Offensively, they boast one of the steadiest quarterbacks in the country, one of the most bruising rushing attacks in the country, and a behemoth line that’s arguably the best in the country. That’s all. Oh wait, they also have one of the best and most recognizable kickers in the country. That’s all. They did, however, lose essentially all receivers with meaningful previous snaps (former ND target and five-star recruit Demetris Robertson did transfer in from Cal, but injuries could sideline him).
Of course, there are also blue chippers galore on defense. The secondary returns all but one player, but that player is stud cornerback Deandre Baker, so the back end could be susceptible without that lockdown presence. The defensive line is a strength, and perhaps the best group the Irish offensive line will match up against all year. The front seven as a whole will certainly try and turn the havoc dial up to 11 all night. Is this defense as vicious as the Roquan Smith-led unit that held the Irish ground game in check in 2017? Probably not, but again, the talent is there.
They are breaking in new offensive and defensive coordinators, for what that’s worth (both were in-house promotions). Now’s the time to earn your keep, Brian and Clark and Chip.
One Scary Man: Andrew Thomas, LT
Very excited to make this week’s scary man a non-skill position player. Less excited for our defense to face him. Thomas started 15 games at right tackle as a true freshman; last year he started all 13 games he played at left tackle, earning a nice collection of All America honors. He stands at 6′ 5″, 320 pounds, making him…the Bulldogs’ second lightest starting offensive lineman. Most scouting reports point to explosiveness off the line as a relative weakness, but that’s probably nitpicking. He’ll almost certainly be an early first round pick if he chooses to leave for the pros after this year, so Saturday provides quite the opportunity for Julian Okwara to show something to NFL scouts.
A Few Things I Hate About You
- This post we published earlier this week qualifies as the first bullet in this list. No one outside the program knows how to write about Notre Dame, including Georgia beat writers.
- Dreadful custom t-shirt game. Absolutely dreadful:
- Did you seriously think you deserved our spot in the playoff with two losses to ND’s zero? You deserved what you got in the Sugar Bowl, dummies.
- Georgia’s SBNation affiliate ran an article about hating Notre Dame (hey, fair is fair) in which they claim that the 2012 ND team was elevated to a top-two spot, and a corresponding berth in the national title game, primarily because of Manti Te’o’s story (lol, dumb). And that Manti only won a bunch of awards because of his story (lol, dumb). And, regarding that infamous catfishing saga, that it’s “likely that he was in on an elaborate PR scam that worked exactly as planned” (DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMB. DUMB. dumb). You really don’t have to click that one if you don’t want to.
What to Expect
The obvious storyline here is that the middle of the Notre Dame defense, after inconsistency defending the run against two inferior opponents, is in danger of being gashed by D’Andre Swift and the [checks notes] *four* other running backs that will see the field. Make peace now with the fact that the Dawgs will get plenty of chunk plays on the ground. Clark Lea probably has no option but to trust the secondary to hold against that work-in-progress receiving corps, freeing up bodies to show some new looks around the line of scrimmage and sell out against the run. If the Irish can stick to bending instead of breaking, forcing long-ish third downs and stalling the Dawgs in the red zone, we’ve got ourselves a ballgame. Jake Fromm will connect more often than not, but the secondary should have enough juice to counter those punches. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the Irish pass rush could also be more of a factor when finally facing a more traditional offensive attack — no more of this option-spread type nonsense. Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem have to make their names known in Athens.
It’s crucial that the ND o-line limits the pressure applied by a very good defensive line, and even more important that Ian Book’s decision making skills are on point under duress. Georgia will be zeroed in on the quarterback, because the Irish running backs aren’t going to win this game. Obviously, the offense needs solid contributions from Lance Taylor’s group (here’s hoping for a breakout effort from Kyren Williams, whose elusiveness could be huge), but Book needs to be in command or thoughts of an upset are moot. He’ll have to make plays with his legs, but not be too eager to do so. Chase Claypool should be able to go shot for shot with the UGA secondary. Can Javon McKinley leverage his coming out party against New Mexico into a solid performance against this defense? Will Chip rely on his young, potentially game-breaking receivers to open up the field? Will he get tricky and have Avery Davis look to throw after taking an end-around pitch? Everything is on the table.
This game, contrary to what the Finebaums and Atlanta Journal-Constitutions of the world may lead you to believe, is a winnable one for the Irish. (I may be laying on the doom and gloom a tad thick in this preview, if only to subconsciously tamp down my own expectations.) Lest we forget, in the Dawgs’ most recent marquee out of conference matchup, one in which they were favored by nearly two touchdowns, they laid an egg against Texas, spotting the Longhorns 17 early points and never recovering.
By no means should we expect the home team to be so sloppy this time, but…there’s a window here if Georgia is a little bit off. ND hasn’t played anyone of true consequence yet this season (still holding out hope for Louisville to be Actually Sort Of Good), but neither has Georgia. The truth is that they’re a better team on a unit-by-unit basis, and that they need to materially slip up for this one to tilt in the Irish’s favor. How many times do they slip if we play this game ten times? I don’t know, but maybe a few!
Unfortunately, the stark reality is that the Bulldogs’ truly ridiculous across the board talent level gives them the upper hand. What was the spark that propelled them forward in 2017? Terry Godwin making the absolute best catch he’ll ever make in his life, one that I won’t link here because even searching for it on YouTube would be medically unwise. It’s that kind of spark that’s needed on Saturday, and it’s hard to find an obvious candidate in blue and gold right now. Georgia takes it, 27-16.
Regardless of what happens, it’s exciting that we’ll really get to find out who this team is after a couple light appetizers. The morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction anyways. Let’s see what they got.
Play ’em Out