ATHENS, Ga. -- For 30 minutes, the battle between No. 3 Georgia and No. 7 Notre Dame was a heavyweight fight. The Bulldogs and Fighting Irish felt each other out, waiting to throw the knockout punch. In the second half, the Bulldogs threw haymakers on both sides of the ball en route to a 23-17 win inside a raucous Sanford Stadium.
Make no mistake, this was a statement. A statement that the Bulldogs still belong on the national stage with the best teams in the nation. A statement that quarterback Jake Fromm is a superstar without superstar stats.
He couldn't find anybody downfield in the first half, but made NFL throw after NFL throw deep -- primarily on back shoulder fades -- to lead an offensive surge that put away the Irish. The highlight of his second half was the 15-yard strike to Lawrence Cager early in the fourth quarter to cap off an 8-play, 82-yard drive to push the score to 20-10.
It was the ace up Fromm's sleeve.
"I can think back to a moment in practice this week when we did that, so it's nothing new," he said. "It's something that we've come out and worked on in clutch situations."
Speaking of clutch situations, the Georgia defense clamped down on the Irish in the third quarter, allowed just 19 yards and set the tone for the second-half statement. Senior safety J.R. Reed put the exclamation point on it with an interception on a flea flicker in the ensuing drive after the Cager touchdown. It was no ordinary interception. Reed came from way out in center field to step in front of the Ian Book pass and drag his foot in bounds.
"I was just keeping my eyes on my man and stayed disciplined," Reed said. "They ran that trick play, and I kept my eyes on my guy and made the play."
Former Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson had a famous call in which he said Georgia "stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose" in a win at Tennessee in 2001. The two-drive sequence in the fourth quarter was the modern day equivalent of that famous call.
The Bulldogs smelled blood and attacked, ultimately devouring their prey.
"We have a team full of warriors," Fromm said.
This game personified it. They took punch after punch from a very good Notre Dame team, waited for their moment and pounced.
It's an experience that great teams need. Georgia had it two years ago in South Bend in the first game of this series in Fromm's debut, which came in Week 2 of his true freshman year. That was the catalyst for the run to the College Football Playoff national title game.
"This is a huge win for us, this team, this year, finishing after adversity," Fromm said. "This is a big time opponent, and one that the University of Georgia and Dawg Nation's going to remember forever."
Forever, indeed. The Bulldogs have been on the brink of their first national title since 1980 in each of the last two seasons. If they get over that hump in 2019, think back to the knockout punch they delivered in the second half vs. Notre Dame. It is the moment that this year's Bulldogs proved they're worthy of wearing the title belt.
"I want to get that natty with my brothers," Reed said.
They're well on their way.