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Three takeaways from No. 3 Georgia's defeat of No. 7 Notre Dame  3 Weeks ago

Source:   USA Today  

ATHENS, Ga. – Notre Dame’s first-ever trip to Sanford Stadium eventually lived up to the billing. A game that displayed little offensive juice and stiff defense– and was seemingly headed for a commanding Georgia win -- suddenly got real interesting with two minutes left when the No. 7-ranked Fighting Irish got the ball back at their own 48-yard line trailing just 23-17.

That’s basically where the drama ended, as Notre Dame stalled at the Georgia 39 and never really threatened to score. But it did provide a moment of doubt for the No. 3 Bulldogs, who move for 4-0 this season.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night:

1. Georgia didn’t deviate from the gameplan.

Let’s be honest about Georgia’s offense. It’s boring, but it’s purposefully boring. With the Bulldogs’ massive offensive line and the one-on-one playmaking ability of D’Andre Swift, Georgia coach Kirby Smart felt there would be an advantage against Notre Dame by keeping things simple. For three quarters, in fact, Georgia’s gameplan could essentially be boiled down to a few elements: Run between the tackles, run between the tackles some more and mix in a screen pass every now and then while continuing to run between the tackles.

It wasn’t as visually impressive or as dynamic as what you’ll see on a weekly basis from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, and at times you’d like to see the Bulldogs stretch the field vertically and be a little more aggressive. But the ground-and-pound gameplan was admittedly effective in wearing down Notre Dame and eventually opening up some opportunities in man coverage for quarterback Jake Fromm. Though Georgia only got three possessions in the first half, the Bulldogs eventually performed an Alabama-like strangulation on the Irish’s upset chances. They converted an Ian Book interception into a field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 4:21 left in the third quarter, then got their third consecutive three-and-out of the second half before driving 82 yards in eight plays to land what felt like a knockout blow touchdown with 13:19 remaining.

2. Notre Dame didn’t handle the environment – or Georgia’s defense.

The primary reason Notre Dame came into this game as a two-touchdown underdog was a distinct lack of belief that the Irish could do a lot of offensive damage against a defense with the quality and experience of Georgia’s. (For frame of reference, refer back to the Irish scoring three points in last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson. Time will tell if Georgia is in that same category, but it came into Saturday giving up just 3.84 yards per play and could very well be better than the 2017 Georgia defense that nearly helped win a national title.) Those fears about how Notre Dame would match up against the Bulldogs’ defense were well-founded. The Irish put together one long drive – a two-minute drill at the end of the half that yielded a field goal. Their other score in the first half came after a muffed punt set them up on the 8-yard line, and even then it took a fourth-down pass from Ian Book to tight end Cole Kmet to actually punch it in. Notre Dame’s inability to run the ball at all (46 yards on just 14 attempts) put too much pressure on Book, who played well in the first half but eventually started pressing and threw two second-half interceptions that took the Irish out of contention. Book finished 29-for-47 for 275 yards with two touchdowns.

Notre Dame will also look back with regret on how it dealt with the super-charged atmosphere at Sanford Stadium. In addition to six false start penalties, the Irish had to burn timeouts early in both halves because of offensive confusion. The issues almost certainly stemmed from crowd noise, but you’d think a program that plays as many big games as Notre Dame would handle that better.

3. Georgia’s real season starts in November

Though the Notre Dame game stood out on the Georgia schedule because of the rare nature of the matchup, the reality for the Bulldogs is that their fate will be determined in November when they play Florida in Jacksonville, Missouri, at Auburn and against Texas A&M in consecutive weeks. Some of those games don’t look as difficult now as they did in the summer, but we’re not going to learn much more about Georgia until then.

It’s certainly possible to take the initial evidence on the Bulldogs and place them firmly in the national championship picture – their defense is elite, Swift is a one-man wrecking crew and Fromm is going to be solid in big games. At the same time, if you were looking for true dominance against Notre Dame, you didn’t see it. Sure, the Bulldogs put a quality win on the board, and Notre Dame is a team likely to win 10 or 11 games this season. But Georgia didn’t prove its passing game was dynamic enough to beat a College Football Playoff-quality team, and barely hanging on at the finish after seemingly having the game in hand at the start of the fourth quarter is something to keep an eye on because blowing leads has been a problem for Kirby Smart’s teams against Alabama each of the last two years.

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