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Dominant Defense Raises Stakes for ‘Dawgs

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but Georgia did enough to win a “road” game at Notre Dame on Saturday night, 20-19, in front of as close to a neutral crowd as Notre Dame Stadium has seen since Nebraska’s visit 17 years ago.

So, that’s why they came back to school.

It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but Georgia did enough to win a “road” game at Notre Dame on Saturday night, 20-19, in front of as close to a neutral crowd as Notre Dame Stadium has seen since Nebraska’s visit 17 years ago.

The Irish curiously attempted to test the Bulldogs on the ground and in the short, lateral passing game, but Georgia held Notre Dame to a mere 1.5 yards per carry, confusing quarterback Brandon Wimbush for most of the night.

Lorenzo Carter made what seemed to be the biggest defensive play of the night for 58 minutes, a sack-strip-recovery trifecta of Wimbush in the third quarter that led to a Georgia touchdown. Despite the drive not resulting in points, it shook Wimbush and an offensive line that was looked overmatched despite having two potential All-Americans.

That helped lead to the last play of the night for the Georgia defense, a strip-sack by Bellamy that the ‘Dawgs fell on with less than two minutes remaining to wrap up the victory – sending thirty to forty thousand of their fans back to Chicago, where the Falcons play the Bears Sunday afternoon, full of joy.

I stupidly tabbed Texas’ Malik Jefferson as my preseason Butkus Award winner. Georgia’s Roquan Smith is my new choice after two weeks. Smith was everywhere on Saturday night, cutting down screens, chasing down read option plays, and bringing heat on Wimbush.

As a sophomore last year, Smith was ineligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, but Carter and Bellamy could have left. They returned to Athens, and it’s quite fitting that they forced the two huge second-half turnovers that now have Georgia dreaming of much bigger things than just beating a team that is 4-11 in its last 15 games.

The Georgia offense is a work in progress, but the running game hit enough big plays against a stingy Notre Dame defense to overcome an up-and-down starting debut for true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who lost a fumble, leading to Notre Dame’s only touchdown, and threw one interception.

Notre Dame’s offensive line had two potential first-round NFL Draft picks in left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson. Both probably lost some money on Saturday night, as they were overwhelmed by the Bulldogs front. It was McGlinchey who was badly beaten on Bellamy’s game-ending demolition of Wimbush.

The Bulldogs now enter a workable part of their schedule with home dates with Samford and Mississippi State before a trip to Tennessee. Fromm is the man under center for a while at least, and if he fares well enough, Jacob Eason may never get his job back. That, of course, means natural true freshman growing pains. Fortunately for Georgia, they have the perfect elixir.

This isn’t quite a Nick Saban defense, which carried some very shaky offenses (remember 2011?) to championships, but it’s good enough to navigate Georgia to a 7-0 start before things get difficult in late October with a stretch of Florida, South Carolina and Auburn in consecutive weeks. It bailed out the offense in South Bend, and will probably have to do it again on one or two occasions in the next month if the Bulldogs hope to be in the College Football Playoff mix when the leaves change colors.

Great teams can’t be completely great for 12 weeks. The key to navigating a long season is part of the team being great when another is not. Georgia did just that Saturday night.

Carter and Bellamy refused to leave Georgia on a sour note after a disappointing 8-5 junior season. They returned for nights like Saturday, for plays like their forced fumbles in the second half, and for opportunities that now are in play for the 2017 Bulldogs.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.