Lawrence Cager (15) catches a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 at Sanford Stadium. Photo by: Associated Press
Georgia fans can take a huge sigh of relief after last night’s 23-17 win against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Sanford Stadium. It was a game in which the Bulldogs were a 14 point favorite and many expected them to dominate the Irish. For the Bulldogs, they received a much needed test while the Irish earned the respect of many teams around the country for their hard-earned fight.
Here are some takeaways from the game:
UGA is still learning how to win
Last night’s game showed that the Bulldogs are a young and highly talented team with much promise. It also showed how they got in their own way from turning a game that could have easily been a blowout to a last-second stop to seal their victory.
Although the Bulldogs had one turnover all game, that turnover was the difference in them being able to save seven points which the Irish fought hard to earn on the drive.
This, in turn, forced the Bulldogs to fight back and put themselves in pressure situations.
Speaking of pressure situations, the Bulldogs had six penalties for 43 yards. Not too bad, right? Not exactly. Many times as the offense headed into Irish territory, their drive was halted by penalties. An example of this is on the Bulldogs second offensive possession of the game. The Bulldogs were on the Irish 44 before a holding penalty by offensive lineman Solomon Kindley pushed the Bulldogs back to their own 46. A second and one turned into a second and twelve and put more pressure on Jake Fromm and the offense.
This happened a few times in the game as the Bulldogs would be finding their rhythm on offense but penalties killed their momentum.
The defense is great
This is no surprise but they could also improve. The Bulldogs held the Irish to 46 yards on the ground while giving up 275 yards through the air. All in all, the Bulldogs forced Irish quarterback Ian Book to beat them through the air and not with his feet. Book only had 21 yards rushing on nine carries due to the Bulldogs defense forcing Book to make plays and also the Irish coaching staff respecting a great SEC defense in the Bulldogs.
Senior linebacker Tae Crowder and safety J.R. Reed showed up and performed at a high level. Crowder led the defense with nine total tackles while Reed was behind him with seven. The defense forced two turnovers (both interceptions) by Reed and defensive back Divaad Wilson. They also held the Irish to 33 percent on fourth down (1-3) giving them momentum and confidence.
Although the scoreboard will say they gave up 17 points, the stats and eye test prove that the Bulldogs defense is legit and one of the best in the country.
Depth and health is an issue
Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart has said since the Spring that they are thin at many positions. Those positions include wide receiver, special teams, and cornerbacks.
“We just don’t have a deep group there, we are thin at wideout,” Smart said after last weeks win against Arkansas State. “We have to find some returners. The number one thing we have to do is find some return men,” said Smart after the Spring.
The Bulldogs have a lot of talent at wide receiver but are young. With being young comes growing pains and improvement and the wide receiving core still can improve on many things. Overall, they were able to gain 187 yards through the air and Miami Hurricanes transfer Lawrence Cager stepped up and made plays when needed.
Special teams is an area that needs improvement as the season goes on. Wide Receiver Tyler Simmonds muffed a punt giving the Irish great field position at the Bulldogs eight in which they capitalized and scored their first points of the game.
Also, a shank punt by Bulldogs punter Jake Carmada gave the Irish great field position at the Bulldogs 40 early in the first quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs were without standout cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, Jr. after an early injury prevented him from finishing the game.
“Yeah that was tough,” said Smart when asked about his thoughts when Stokes went out of the game in the first quarter. “If you told me one spot we couldn’t lose somebody at that point it was that one.”
Luckily, he was able to come back in but you have to wonder about the health of the defensive players such as CJ Daniel, Michail Carter (who did not play Saturday). The Bulldogs are BYE next Saturday and this may be helpful for the team overall.
Offensive play calling may need adjusting
Many fans and people had concerns about the play-calling early on and throughout the game. The Bulldogs ran the football 33 times while they passed 26 times. While they remained balanced, some thought that they should of ran the ball more and began it early.
Although they could have ran the football more, you have to give credit to the Irish defense for making necessary tackles and running downhill to stop the run early on in the game. Some also questioned Smart’s decision to punt on fourth and one with 6:24 to go in the fourth on the Irish 26. Many including myself felt they should of went for it but everything worked out for them in the end.
“We went for the points. We felt like they had to score two touchdowns to beat us and that ended up being the difference in the game,” Smart said on the decision to kick the field goal. “It’s a tough call.”
Overall, the Bulldogs got a much needed win at the end of the day. Many including myself thought they still should of won by more but at the end of the day, a win against a top ten opponent is what they need. The Bulldogs got a much needed test and win and they should be able to build off this win and win every game to get to the SEC Championship in December.
Many young players got much needed reps and this can only build them into better players as the season goes on.
Offensively, they should be able to improve and rush for more yards as the season continues. Runningbacks James Cook, Brian Herrian and others will and should get more touches as well. Jake Fromm played a great game. He did not turn the ball over and managed the game well. Although he could’ve made better throws, when the offense needed to answer, Fromm came through.
The Bulldogs have a BYE next week before heading to Rocky Top to face the Tennessee Volunteer Saturday, October 5.