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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Georgia

September 17, 2019
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Here we are during the week we’ve all been waiting for. I know Notre Dame has been waiting for this since 2017 when they fell one point short of Georgia at home.

Now they are off to Athens to take on a Georgia team that’s arguably more talented than the one they faced a couple of years ago. They have an Alabama level roster in terms of talent. They are fast, physical, and deep at just about every position.

That’s a big reason why the Bulldogs, 2nd in S&P+, are two score favorites in this matchup. They are in that category of program that the Irish have been chasing since 2012. Kirby Smart has brought them to that level (or at least on the verge of breaking through to that level).

Looking at everything Georgia is bringing to the table, it’s evident that Notre Dame has to rise up a level in order to win this game. We’ll find out if they can do it and change the narrative that the Irish can’t win big games like this one.

Injuries/Suspensions

The Athletic’s Seth Emerson has updates on some Georgia injuries:

The key one is Wilson at right tackle. If he’s back, but not 100%, that could be an advantage for the Irish with their defensive ends.

Robertson was a non-factor last year. This year he has shown signs of being the explosive playmaker he was projected to be. They have options behind him that are very talented, but young.

Campbell is their best corner.

Tyler Simmons is listed as a co-starter at receiver, but his targets are down because of some other young receivers on the roster.

All four are probable to play this weekend. They will be without wide receiver Kearis Jackson, defensive tackle Julian Rochester, and wide receiver Tommy Bush.

Offense

The Bulldogs offense has looked sharp in their three games under new coordinator James Coley. They are ranked 4th in S&P+ and 3rd in yards per play. It’s been efficient, balanced, and explosive.

They haven’t exactly faced stiff competition up to this point, though.

Murray State is an FCS program and both Arkansas State and Vanderbilt have defenses ranked in the lower half of college football through this early part of the season.

Expected Strengths:

The offensive line has given up only one sack in three games and the pressures haven’t been plentiful either. That was expected from a line that is one of the best in college football.

They are huge. They average 320 up front and are more than just powerful. They have athletes who can get out in space to help spring their skill talent for big plays. Even without Wilson, they might be the most talented group in the country. Left tackle Andrew Thomas is an All-American and the best player for them.

The running game is devastatingly good. They have averaged 7.61 yards per carry and are extremely deep at running back. They have four, maybe five, backs that would start at Notre Dame in my opinion.

The lead back is D’Andre Swift. He is the best back the Irish will face in 2019 and might be the best in college football. He’s so elusive, frequently making defenders miss. He can also run with power and be a tackle-breaker. He’s averaging a crazy 9.35 YPC.

Running back James Cook would be a star on most teams. He’s dangerous as a runner and receiver.

The passing game has been accurate and efficient with Jake Fromm a much better version of the player who visited South Bend two years ago. He’s completing 75% of his throws so far and was a top-five quarterback in pass efficiency last season.

They have six passing plays over 30 yards or more (tied for 18th) and though they lack experience at receiver, they don’t lack talent. Robertson can stretch the field and their pair of freshmen, Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens, look like they are both ready to be bigger parts of the offense.

Pickens leads the team in receiving and Blaylock had his first 100-yard game last week.

Potential Weaknesses:

Fromm is very good at making adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees from the safeties. That’s certainly a strength, but Notre Dame may be able to disguise some things pre-snap and move post-snap to mess up those checks because of the experienced players they have at the position.

The inexperience at receiver could be a factor and is something to watch. Those young players don’t run a complicated route tree at this time. Notre Dame’s secondary may be able to sit on some routes in coverage and make plays on the ball.

Fromm is a solid athlete, but not a threat to run. Not that anything would suggest they are easy to defend. It’s one less thing to worry about for Clark Lea and the staff, though. He’s run twice in three games and only had 25 carries all of last season.

Scheme:

Coley has tweaked some things from their offense last season. One is that they run more out of spread formations while trying to get a numbers advantage in the box. They have a tight end on the field on every play even when they are spread out and use 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) about ⅓ of the time.

Charlie Woerner is their blocking tight end and is very effective, but they play Eli Wolf more spread out. He’s the receiving threat.

They have run mostly out of two tight end formations, but the Irish must be aware of the potential for play-action over the top on early downs. It seems likely Coley will take at least one or two shots out of this formation to break tendency.

They mix in some tempo and have used it on 3rd down to keep personnel on the field. This is important because Notre Dame likes to put their Dime personnel out there and may not have the opportunity on some 3rd downs.

I mentioned Fromm not running and this is important because the Irish would be better off selling out to stop the backs when they show zone read or other potential designed quarterback runs. Maybe this is the week they break a few out, but I’d rather have Fromm running the ball than Swift or another back.

They will try to influence with zone steps by the line one way and give back to the running back coming the other way. D’Andre Swift had a big play on one of those against Vanderbilt.

Something they showed last week is Pickens moving around the formation. He lined up in the slot for what would have been a touchdown on a deep shot. The ball was overthrown or it would have been six.

I think of how Clemson used Justyn Ross in the slot in the Cotton Bowl and can picture Pickens doing similar things. When he’s in the slot, look out for them trying to get a matchup where he can win over the top.

Cook and Swift will line up on the field at the same time in split backs. They will motion out Cook and he has been in the slot quite a few times. Him and Swift are mismatches for linebackers in coverage and Coley will try and take advantage of that.

They attack the perimeter more than they did under the previous coordinator. With the way Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has had trouble getting off blocks out there, I expect they will target the perimeter a lot.

Key Personnel:

RB D’Andre Swift  - He has a legitimate chance to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft, not something that is common these days for running backs.

QB Jake Fromm - Great when he has time in the pocket, which is often. Also not something who stares at the rush when it’s coming at him so edge pressure might be the best way to disrupt him.

WR George Pickens - Elite ball skills and will be a star.

LT Andrew Thomas - A dominating run blocker.

RB James Cook - His brother is Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings. His versatility makes him difficult to defend.

Key Matchup for the Irish:

Swift vs the defense - It’s not an individual matchup this week. Not one individual is going to be able to contain Swift. He’s going to make people miss. He’s going to get the corner on outside runs. He’s going to break tackles. The key will be for other defenders to help out when he does make a great play.

Don’t let one broken tackle turn into a touchdown. Notre Dame needs a team effort to slow Swift down.

Defense

This isn’t all that different from the offense. They are extremely talented and have played very well. They rank 7th in S&P+ and teams are averaging 3.84 YPP against them. They also haven’t faced quality competition yet.

New coordinator Dan Lanning has emphasized creating havoc and they have showed improvement there so far. Their Havoc Rate is to 18.9%, up from 15.6% in 2018.

Expected Strengths:

The run defense was not great last season, but has been outstanding to start this year. Some players up front have emerged and more athleticism at linebacker has helped. They are only giving up 2.14 YPC and have only had 8 runs of 10 yards or more against them through three games.

Nose tackle Jordan Davis is Louis Nix 2.0. He’s a monster who can move and makes it very hard to run inside. He’s the biggest impact player on early downs, but they are solid across the board.

There’s a mix of veterans and younger players at linebacker with junior Monty Rice a steadying presence and freshmen like Quay Walker and Nakobe Dean showing flashes on the inside.

They have a pair of very good corners in Campbell and Eric Stokes. They are productive at playing the ball.

J.R. Reed is an All-American candidate and is elite coming downhill to support the run.

The pass rush has gone up a level. All three games they have had over 20 quarterback pressures and if they get close to that against the Irish, I don’t see how Ian Book is going to have much success.

Maybe the strongest part of the defense is the depth. They play a lot of players and so many of them are capable. Out of their 21 TFLs, 18 different players have been involved.

Potential Weaknesses:

There hasn’t been many I have seen so far. One may be at nickel where they don’t have the same talent as the outside corners. One of the nickels, Divaad Wilson, was beat on skinny post for what should have been a long gain against Arkansas State.

They missed a bunch of tackles against Murray State, but played much cleaner against Arkansas State. Think of how the Irish tackled against Louisville and it wasn’t that different for Georgia in week two.

They are trying to play a lot of players, many of them whom are inexperienced. Athletically there isn’t a drop off, but young players in a big game could equal to mistakes. If Chip Long sees them playing with a young lineup on a certain series, Notre Dame needs to take advantage by testing their reads and responsibilities.

They don’t have a linebacker who is in the same class as Roquan Smith. Every Notre Dame fan knows how much of a difference he made for them against the Irish in 2017.

Scheme:

They want more havoc and in order to create that they are doing more with the defensive line to help that. They are stemming more before the snap and running more stunts.

Because of the speed they have at linebacker, they are able to blitz effectively from depth. It’s something Book and the protection need to be aware of. It might feel like he has time in the pocket when he doesn’t, which is a bit concerning when you consider some of the issues Book has had this season.

They have shown a rush where they engage, but then drop with their edge defenders. Clemson did this and confused Notre Dame’s protection.

They trust their corners to play man quite a bit and if Notre Dame wants to win on the outside, they’ll have to do it with some contested catches.

Key Personnel:

DT Devonte Wyatt - He’s been disruptive as an interior pass rusher. Notre Dame’s guards are going to have their hands full with him.

CB Tyson Campbell - Former 5-star recruit appears to have made a leap as a player as a sophomore.

DT Jordan Davis - Good to luck Jarrett Patterson in this matchup. It’s easily going to be the toughest he’s had in his short career.

Edge Nolan Smith - A 5-star true freshman who can with speed and power. JUCO transfer Jermaine Johnson and Azeez Ojulari are also threats off the edge.

S JR Reed - Tackles well in space and can take away a lot on the perimeter.

Key Matchup for the Irish:

LG Aaron Banks vs Wyatt - Banks has shown signs of being dominant as a run blocker and has been solid in protection. That was against some lesser competition. He’ll be tested much more by Wyatt.

Allowing Book to find lanes to throw through and step up and run will be critical. Banks winning his matchup with Wyatt when they are lined up across from one another would be big for Notre Dame.

Special Teams:

The good news is that Mecole Hardman graduated. He was fantastic as a punt returner. The bad news is that Tyler Simmons has replaced him and is also a threat. So far he’s averaged 19.57 yards per return on seven attempts.

Jake Carmada is the punter and was okay last season. He’s only punted seven times this year through three games.

Rodrigo Blankenship is one of the best kickers and kick off specialists in the country. If it comes down to the kickers in this game, UGA has a definite edge.

 A SPECIAL THANKS TO... 

ESQ Clothing has created exceptional garments for some of Notre Dame's most prestigious names, including Brian Kelly, Michael Floyd, Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph and Ronnie Stanley. Ge Wang has been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Inc., NFL Network and may other premier publications and currently counts over 150 professional athletes among his diverse clientele of high powered executives. Visit ESQClothing.com for more information. 

 
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