After trailing at the half and taking a 13-point lead late in the game, No. 3 Georgia held on to beat No. 7 Notre Dame 23-17 in Athens, Georgia on Saturday night. The only matchup between top-10 ranked teams on the day was every bit as close as the final score suggests. Notre Dame had a chance to win in the final minute, but Georgia's defense ultimately held strong as Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book heaved up a prayer on fourth down that wasn't answered with the ball knocked to the turf.
Jake Fromm's final stat line in this statement win for the Bulldogs will not wow man -- 187 yards and one touchdown -- but he made a number of huge throws in the second quarter that helped Georgia take control of the game. Book finished with 275 yards passing and had two touchdowns, but he also threw two costly interceptions that loomed large in a one-possession game.
Here are four takeaways from Georgia's 23-17 win between the hedges.
1. Talent wins out: The Irish came out fired up and ready to play this game, and it showed in the first half. Not only did they hold a 10-7 lead at halftime, they outgained Georgia 163-114 as well. The Notre Dame defense was getting pressure on Fromm,and winning battles against a Georgia offensive line that's not used to losing many.
The second half was a different story, however. Georgia nearly doubled its yardage total in the first half from 114 to 225. De'Andre Swift, who struggled to find a lot of running room in the first half, began to see larger lanes as the Georgia offensive line started winning more of those battles. Fromm, whose final stat line wasn't amazing, made big throw after big throw to targets like Lawrence Cager and Demetris Robertson. Recruiting rankings don't win games on their own, but the talent sure does help in games like this one.
2. Kirby Smart's decision-making could still be a problem: I don't need to remind Georgia fans of some of the decisions Smart made in the SEC Championship Game last year that helped the Bulldogs blow a 21-7 lead over Alabama. It's possible Smart was giving them some flashbacks on Saturday night, though. There were a few key moments in the fourth quarter that had me scratching my head a bit. Some questionable timeouts called, as well as a decision to pass on third down late in the fourth quarter. The Irish had just scored to make it 23-17 and then made a questionable decision of their own, kicking off instead of attempting an onside kick. Notre Dame had no timeouts with two minutes remaining when Georgia opted to pass. It was incomplete and stopped the clock. Had Georgia run the ball, it could have run another 35 seconds or so off the clock.
That wasn't the decision I liked the least, though. What I don't like is when a coach has a chance to go for the throat of their opponent, and they let up on the pressure. That's what Georgia did in the fourth. The Dawgs were up 20-10 facing a fourth-and-1 at the Notre Dame 26 with 7 minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs had been running the ball effectively the entire second half. They should have been able to pick up the yard, and if they had, they might have scored another touchdown and put the game to bed. At the very least they could have run more time off the clock before settling for a field goal.
Smart instead opted for the field goal, which is defensible. It made a 10-point game a 13-point game, and that meant Notre Dame needed two touchdowns to win. I get it. I worry that kind of cautious approach could come back to bit the Bulldogs in another game down the line.
3. Notre Dame needs more skill-position talent: Between Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool, the Irish have two very large receiving targets. The duo combined for 15 catches for 174 yards and two scores. The problem is the Irish don't have a lot of talent elsewhere on offense, at least not of the game-breaking variety. The team's leading rusher tonight was Tony Jones. He finished with 21 yards rushing on nine carries. And while Claypool is a reliable target at the receiver position, there's nobody who can get over the top of a defense. That makes life a lot more difficult for an offense, particularly when it's going against a defense with the talent and skill Georgia's has. It's a problem that limits what the Irish can do.
4. This loss won't eliminate the Irish from a College Football Playoff berth: That's not to say I think it will happen for Notre Dame this season, because I don't. But if anybody tells you that the Irish have been eliminated from the CFP after this loss, they're just saying things for the sake of saying them. A seven-point loss to Georgia on the road shouldn't eliminate anybody. That said, considering the Irish don't have a conference championship game that can boost their resume, the margin for error is razor-thin right now. They can't afford to make another mistake.
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