Before the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in Sanford Stadium, No. 3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) took time wearing down No. 7 Notre Dame (2-1) for a 23-17 victory Saturday night. Despite a handful of injuries before and during the game, Georgia managed to overcome an early special teams mistake and shut down the Irish in the second half. Georgia outscored Notre Dame 13-0 after halftime.
Georgia running back D’Andre Swift led all players with 81 rushing yards and scored Georgia’s first touchdown in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. Jake Fromm gave Georgia a cushion in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard pass to Lawrence Cager. The touchdown lifted Georgia to a 20-10 lead at the end of an 82-yard drive after Notre Dame had gone three-and-out.
Notre Dame’s second-half drive summary was not good, to put it kindly. After halftime, Notre Dame fumbled on the third play of their first offensive series, which led to a Georgia field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship to tie the game at 10-10. The Irish then went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, leading to another field goal by Blankenship to give Georgia their first lead of the night late in the third quarter. Another punt after losing two yards in three plays led to the Georgia touchdown drive, and Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book was picked off by J.R. Reed on the following possession at the Georgia 33-yard line. That was Notre Dame’s last chance to make things interesting because the Bulldogs began to work the clock. Keeping things on the ground, for the most part, Georgia killed nearly four minutes off the clock before one more field goal by Blankenship to extend the lead to 23-10.
If the atmosphere was a factor, it showed. Notre Dame was called for seven false start penalties in the game. A record crowd at Sanford Stadium of 93,246 was crammed in to watch the events unfold in person. Most of them ended up going home with a smile on their face.
Georgia did suffer some notable injuries in the game. Starting offensive linemen Isaiah Wilson (didn’t play; ankle) and Solomon Kindley (left game; left leg injury) were among the injured Bulldogs, and cornerback Eric Stokes left the game after injuring his knee on the second play of the game.
This all sets Georgia up for a playoff run. With a win against a top 10 opponent under their belts and a favorable schedule the rest of the season, Georgia should be a near-lock for a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a possible 12-0 record. A road trip to Auburn late in the year could be the biggest hurdle remaining, and that could be a nice boost to a playoff profile if things fall just right for Kirby Smart and his program.
While it would be premature to suggest Notre Dame has been eliminated in the playoff discussion, it is a safe bet to say they have a much tougher path back into the playoff mix with a loss. With no conference championship game to fall back on and Michigan getting steamrolled earlier in the day to take some of the luster off their late October showdown in Ann Arbor (note: just some luster), Notre Dame is already in a likely position where they will need to take care of their own schedule the rest fo the way to go 11-1 and then hope for a little help from around the country. The good news for Notre Dame is they likely won’t fall back too far in the polls and there will be teams that take losses the next few months. But it will be tougher on the Irish now.
Georgia will get next week off before jumping into SEC play in October. The Bulldogs will play on the road against a Tennessee program that continues to struggle. The Vols were blown out on the road at Florida earlier in the day. For Georgia, all eyes may be looking ahead to November 2 when Georgia meets Florida in Jacksonville. That game is expected to decide the fate of the SEC East Division, but Georgia must get past Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky first. Those three teams are a combined 4-8.
there will be no bye week for Notre Dame until mid-October, so the Irish will be back at it next week with a home game against No. 21 Virginia. The Cavaliers avoided a home upset to Old Dominion on Saturday. Notre Dame will play their next three games at home with Bowling Green and USC each visiting after Virginia before Notre Dame reaches their next bye week.