Photo Credit: CBS
Walking into Sanford Stadium on Saturday night, my expectations were low. I was expecting a blowout, one that would be reminiscent of Miami 2017 or Clemson 2018. But by halftime, with a 10-7 lead and a taste of a chance at winning, expectations had shifted. However, despite ultimately being unable to leave Athens with a win, my feelings about this Notre Dame team have completely changed. There were both positives and negatives to take away from this game, so here are a few of the biggest ones from the showdown in Athens.
Preparation for games away from home continues to be poor under Brian Kelly:
12 penalties, many of which were a result of being unable to hear signals through the noise of a record-breaking 93,000 person crowd, is inexcusable. Senior LT Liam Eichenberg had multiple false starts, something that should never happen to a player with his experience. Junior TE Cole Kmet, despite being the best player on the entire team all night, had three penalties. Kmet missed the first two games with a collarbone injury, but he dressed and reportedly could have played against New Mexico if he needed to. Maybe I’m crazy, but wouldn’t it have been better to give Kmet a few snaps against New Mexico to knock the rust off instead of having him play football for the first time in nine months on the road in one of the toughest environments in the country? Can’t help but think that might have eliminated at least one of his penalties. It just seems like Brian Kelly continuously fails to take common sense measures to prepare his team for a hostile environment. What is the point of practicing all week if you aren’t prepared for what is ahead of you? I’m sick of hearing Kelly apologize in post-loss press conferences for failing to do a good enough job to get his team ready. Get it done.
Notre Dame once again has inferior skill position players:
The same problem that we saw against Clemson was present this weekend against Georgia: we simply lack the skill at WR/RB to be a championship team. Chris Finke, whose ND legacy will probably be overall positive no matter what because of his miraculous catches against Michigan and USC last season, didn’t belong on the field in Athens. When you’re 5’9 180 with underwhelming speed, it seems like a reasonable expectation that you are out on the field because of your reliable hands and experience. But against Georgia, that reliability was actually a liability in the case of Chris Finke. His two crucial drops (one that resulted in a turnover on downs and the other that turned into an interception) probably single-handedly changed the outcome of this game. It’s time for Chip Long and Brian Kelly to make the tough decision to look toward someone else to play at wide-out. In addition, Notre Dame had no answer at the RB position. Tony Jones looked lost, and the depth at the position wasn’t nearly enough to provide him some relief. With all of this said, being without your RB1 (Armstrong), RB3 (Smith), and WR2 (Young) doesn’t help. I can’t help but imagine that if those players were on the field they make a few plays that help us win that game. Fortunately for the Irish, all three should be back by USC at the latest.
This defense is much better than anyone thought:
Many people, including myself, expected the Georgia OL and D’Andre Swift to run all over Notre Dame on Saturday night. However, the young front seven stepped up with the help of stud safeties Alohi Gillman and Jalen Elliot. Despite the lack of play-making from NFL prospect DE’s Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame’s defense only allowed 23 points to one of the best offensive teams in the country, and that’s something to be damn proud of. Looking at the remaining schedule, if Notre Dame can handle Georgia’s offense on the road then it should have no problem handling the rest of this year’s opponents.
Notre Dame’s playoff hopes are not gone yet:
Losing by six on the road in September to the #3 team in the country isn’t enough for the CFP committee to dismiss Notre Dame. With that said, the Irish will certainly need some help. Winning out seems like a strong possibility with the struggles that we’ve seen from top remaining opponents like Michigan, Stanford, and the entire ACC. But in addition to winning out, Notre Dame will need a couple of losses to the teams ahead of them including Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, and Auburn. Luckily for the Irish, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn all have to play each other this season, which means at most only one of them will go undefeated in the regular season. In addition, Oklahoma has tough games against Texas at the Cotton Bowl Stadium and in Stillwater against Oklahoma State, and Ohio State has to play at least four ranked opponents including Wisconsin and on the road against Michigan. The bottom line is this: hope is not lost for Notre Dame. If there is only one thing to take away from Saturday night, it’s that this was a statement that Notre Dame can compete with championship-level teams away from home.