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Post Georgia 20 – Notre Dame 19: “I never played against a team with speed like that”

Friday September 15, 2017

Jake Fromm’s ability to lead the team on the road into that environment was one of the big unknowns entering the game. Further, regardless of the setting, how would he handle his first taste of adversity? His debut was in almost perfect conditions – he was at home, against an overmatched opponent, and the team was able to play in possession of the lead for the entire game. The conditions Fromm faced in Notre Dame game turned out to be nearly opposite. He was on the road, the opponent was more or less an even matchup, and Georgia played from behind for all but a few minutes.

Ignoring individual plays and decisions, I think that’s what impressed me most about the game. Georgia came back from a deficit four times. I think that’s where Notre Dame’s All-American offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey was coming from when he said, “We had them, for the most part, where we wanted them all game.” Notre Dame, a home favorite, had the lead for much of the game and forced a shaky offense with a freshman quarterback to answer not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. Who wouldn’t think they held the upper hand under those circumstances.

Will this go down as one of the great fourth quarter comebacks? Should it? I guess it will depend on how the rest of the season goes. This might be hindsight talking, but things never seemed that dire. Tense, anxious, and frustrated at times, sure, but I didn’t sense that Notre Dame controlled the game even as they maintained a close lead. Maybe the three earlier answers gave us confidence that Georgia had one more push in them. Perhaps the defense limiting the deficit to no more than six points kept the panic from taking over. As the defense forced field goal after field goal, you saw Notre Dame waste several opportunities to put Georgia in serious trouble and leave the door open for Georgia to tie or take the lead.

The Bellamy forced fumble, Wims using his size to set up the winning field goal, and Blankenship knocking it home were the highlights of the comeback. I’ll remember two additional plays. Before Georgia could drive for the win, they had to get the ball back. Notre Dame had possession and a two-point lead, and they faced a 3rd-and-3. Brandon Wimbush kept the ball and looked to have room around the left side to move the chains. Natrez Patrick shed his block and forced Wimbush further outside. J.R. Reed charged in from his safety position to stop Wimbush short of first down yardage, forcing a punt that led to Georgia’s game-winning drive. That drive started well enough with a 12-yard run by Chubb and a quick 8-yard pass to Nauta. Chubb was stuffed on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-1 near midfield. Sony Michel averted a disaster. Fromm faked the fullback dive and pitched to Michel. Notre Dame defensive end Daelin Hayes stayed home and was in position to stop Michel behind the line. Sony made a quick cut to the right to avoid Hayes and sustained the drive. Had Hayes made the tackle, Georgia would have faced a 4th-and-6 and likely would have punted with about 5:45 remaining. Even with the cut, Hayes got enough of the ball to knock it loose, but Michel recovered and finished the run. Fromm found Wims on the very next play, and Georgia was in position to take the lead.

There were so many of those individual moments in this game. Some had more frequent (Carter) or more spectacular (Bellamy, Godwin) moments than others, but it’s really tough to try to list them without feeling as if you’re leaving someone out. Roquan Smith was everywhere. LeCounte’s pass breakup was a sign of things to come for a talented freshman. Sanders made a touchdown-saving play on the game’s first snap. Thompson, Clark, and Atkins disrupted a very good offensive line so that Smith and the other linebackers had room to operate at full speed and make plays.

Yes, the defense was outstanding (with the exception of penalties.) I was surprised Notre Dame didn’t do more to counter Georgia’s speed and aggressive pursuit. A successful screen pass was key in setting up their touchdown, but we saw few plays like that – screens, quick passes to neutralize the pass rush, reverses to catch the defense going the wrong way, and similar tricks we’ve all seen coaches use to slow down an aggressive defense. They stuck with the read option plays that could be contained and funneled to the inside, and their pass plays often took long enough to develop that Georgia was able to tally far more QB hurries and sacks than they did in the opener. I expect future opponents who have the benefit of this film to be a little more deliberate about trying those countermeasures against Georgia’s defensive strengths.

I want to touch on one play on offense because it brings together a few themes that were a big part of the preseason and early season discussion: the running game, involving the tight ends, Fromm’s inexperience, and RPOs.

When we talk about RPOs, we’re often thinking about a quarterback who’s a credible threat to run. Fromm might have a little more mobility than Eason, but I doubt coaches want Fromm taking any more hits than he already does. He didn’t run the ball on any other read play when he could have easily gained some yards. So why, as on the second quarter fumble, would Fromm pull the ball back from the tailback as if he were going to keep it? Against Appalachian State, one of Fromm’s earliest completions was a quick-hitting 16-yard pass to Nauta down the seam after showing a handoff to Chubb. On the play that resulted in the fumble, again Nauta is releasing vertically while Fromm looks to hand the ball to Chubb. Even if Fromm isn’t a threat to run himself on either play, he still has two options: the straight handoff to Chubb is always there if the line shows a certain look, but that handoff option can have the same effect as play action. The option here isn’t run/keep; the option is handoff/pass. If the defense reacts to the run threat, Nauta is available down the seam. I think on the fumble we saw a misexecuted RPO rather than Fromm looking to take off running.

As a fan, I couldn’t have been happier with the weekend. It was an unforgettable trip, and the Dawgs won. As an observer of this team, I’m holding off talking about any kind of statement. It was a road win over a ranked team, and those are tough to come by. Hopefully the team found some things to build on and take into SEC play. But as a defining moment, it felt a lot more like a slightly better version of last season’s Auburn game. You were relieved to get the win, but the performance of the offense was sobering enough to take the edge off of a defensive highlight reel.



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