SOUTH BEND, IND. – Well, you’ve got to say the Georgia Bulldogs have Notre Dame’s number … even if they have met only twice in the past 37 years.
Georgia, as every loyal UGA fan is aware, whipped the Fighting Irish 17-10 on Jan. 1, 1981 in the Sugar Bowl to win the school’s only undisputed, consensus national championship. Now, flash forward to Sept. 9, 2017, and in the Bulldogs’ first-ever visit to the hallowed Notre Dame campus here, Georgia has done it again!
In a football game in which the Bulldogs were frustrated by one 15-yard penalty after another – four coming in the game’s first five minutes – a Georgia defense that wouldn’t be denied, one that held the Irish offensive attack to one lone touchdown, enabled Kirby Smart’s second Bulldog edition to walk away from Notre Dame Stadium Saturday night by a winning shoestring. It was the 15th-ranked Dawgs 20, the 24th-ranked Irish 19.
The actually winning margin for Georgia came on Rodrigo Blankenship’s right foot as his 30-yard field goal with just 3:13 remaining put the Bulldogs up for good at the 20-19 tally. And, by the way, Blankenship is finally on scholarship at the University of Georgia after again winning the No. 1 place-kicking job for this team. But, don’t kid yourself, it was the Georgia defense that enabled the Bulldogs to boost their record in the young 2017 season to 2-0.
Shutting down the Notre Dame running game to just 55 net yards rushing, on 37 carries, and keeping the pressure on Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush the night long, the Bulldogs of Mel Tucker surrendered just the one touchdown over the four quarters, a 1-yard run by Wimbush early in the second quarter. With senior outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy coming off the edge with one sack each and junior linebacker Roquan Smith also sacking Wimbush, the Notre Dame quarterback could never set his feet comfortably in the pocket, even though with his athleticism Wimbush was able to pass for 210 yards. But hey, with the Irish running game completely stymied, he threw it 40 times, only completing half of those attempts. On Carter’s sack, he not only ripped into Wimbush untouched but, also, stripped the ball from the Irish quarterback and recovered it himself.
Folks, it looked for much of the night the Bulldogs were about to experience another frustrating road loss. That’s because they stopped themselves more times than not, with 12 penalties for a whopping total of 127 yards. One of the most painful ones came in the first period after the Irish had taken a 3-0 lead on one of Justin Yoon’s four field goals on the night. Elijah Holyfield returned the ensuing kickoff down the left sidelines to inside the Irish 5-yard line but, alas, it was nullified by a holding call on Jarvis Wilson and Georgia ended up punting the ball back to Notre Dame.
While elated with the one-point win, Smart said the Georgia players came into the dressing room at game’s end, looked at each other and said, “you know, we won this game but we didn’t play well.”
As for the Bulldogs’ offense, Smart said it was hot and cold and, there again, the nagging penalties prevented Georgia from maintaining any degree of consistency throughout the contest. Georgia rushed for 185 yards as Sony Michel showed 73 yards on 13 carries and Nick Chubb totaled 63 on also 13 carries, including a 30-yard scamper in the opening quarter. But Georgia’s biggest gainer against the surprisingly stingy Notre Dame defense came on a 40-yard gallop by freshman D’Andre Swift. Swift’s run to the Irish 13-yard line set the stage for the Bulldogs’ second and final touchdown on the night, a 6-yard run by Michel that put Georgia up 17-16 at the time. The Bulldogs’ first touchdown came with 6:45 left in the second period, with Terry Godwin making simply a spectacular one-handed catch in the right end zone corner while keeping his feet in bounds on a splendid individual effort to pull in the 5-yard pass from Jake Fromm.
And speaking of the Bulldog freshman quarterback, he acquitted himself quite well in his first Georgia start on such a national stage as this, completing 16-of-29 attempts for 141 yards and the TD pass to Godwin. Fromm did throw one interception and also lost a fumble on a handoff attempt to Chubb at the Bulldogs’ 32. That turnover led to the Irish’s only touchdown of the night.
Back to that Georgia defense, in addition to Carter, Bellamy and Smith’s sterling performances, sophomore cornerback J.R. Reed notched a team-high nine tackles. Smith and Carter each showed seven stops including their sacks and Bellamy was right behind with six tackles including his sack of Wimbush.
Smart, in his summary remarks, was happy with his defense’s tenacious performance but also said he was extremely proud of the Bulldawg Nation, those thousands, and thousands of folks in red who made the long trip north and were so loud and proud themselves that the Georgia players in their post-game remarks to the media, said it felt like a home game between the hedges.
Yes, Dawg fans, it’s Samford coming to Sanford Stadium next Saturday, before the first SEC test with Mississippi State arrives in two weeks, but as Smart said, this Georgia team must continue to get better, that it won’t keep winning with all the penalties and other mistakes it made in South Bend, Ind. on Saturday night.
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