Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Irish Fall Short In Athens

September 22, 2019
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Georgia’s speed didn’t kill Notre Dame.

The Bulldogs’ size and tempo, however, did knock out the Fighting Irish before a sold-out crowd of 93,246 --- largest ever to see a college football game in the state of Georgia, winning the primetime showdown 23-17.

Notre Dame had an early lead of 7-0 and a 10-7 lead at the half, but the third-ranked Bulldogs outscored the No. 7 Irish 13-0 through the first 17 minutes of the second half to take command in this battle of Top-10 titans of college football.

Trailing 23-10, Ian Book led No. 7 Notre Dame to a fourth-quarter touchdown on a pass to Chase Claypool in the right, front corner of the end zone.

The Irish then had one final possession with two minutes left on the clock, but Book’s final heave, under tremendous duress, fell incomplete as the Bulldogs survived, 23-17.

On the road in a hostile environment and forced into 12 penalties, as well as untimely usage of their timeouts, the Fighting Irish nonetheless flashed grit and resilience through the final buzzer, eliciting praise from Georgia head coach Kirby Smart after the game.

“That’s what college football is all about,” Smart told CBS. “I hate that somebody had to lose that game. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way they played, and all the negative things they’ve heard, and come out and play like they did, they played really physical as a team.

“And so did we. We persevered. I’m proud for our university. Just a great team effort.”

Stymied by Notre Dame’s aggressive defense throughout the game’s first 30 minutes, Georgia’s offense got untracked with its bevy of skill players and an accelerated tempo from quarterback Jake Fromm. The junior, who two years ago made his first career start at Notre Dame, threw for 128 of his 187 yards in the decisive second half, when the Bulldogs outscored the Irish 16-7 to secure the win.

Fromm led four second-half scoring drives, three of them ending in Rodrigo Blankenship field goals and a precise touchdown pass to Miami transfer Lawrence Cager that lifted Georgia to a 20-10 lead less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. D’Andre Swift closed with 98 rushing yards on 18 carries, including Georgia’s first score.

The Bulldogs outgained Notre Dame, 339-321, won the turnover battle 2-1 and commanded a nine-minute edge in time of possession (34:31 to 25:29).

The first half saw the Fighting Irish with a commanding statistical edge, having outgained the host Bulldogs 163-114 including Book’s 146 yards passing.

And it also featured the onset of a coming-of-age performance from just-returned junior tight end Cole Kmet. After suffering a broken collarbone in preseason camp, Kmet made his 2019 debut and gathered a game-high nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Still, the Irish’s lone touchdown in the first half came on a 9-yard possession after Georgia muffed a punt. Book hit Kmet in the shallow front of the end zone for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2.

Short field or not, the touchdown marked the first red-zone score allowed this season by the Bulldogs’ top-five scoring defense.

Georgia evened the score at 7 some two-plus minutes before the intermission, when Swift rode the interior of the Bulldogs’ offensive line into the end zone.

That proved too much time for Book’s most efficient scoring march of the first frame. The junior quarterback connected on five consecutive passes to Finke and Kmet twice and Lawrence Keys III for 28 yards to move inside the Georgia 10.

The drive stalled, partially due to confounding clock management and a false start penalty that required a 10-second run-off, and Jonathan Doerer gave the Irish their final lead, 10-7.

“Well, Ian playing well, seeing the field,” Kelly told CBS at halftime. “Obviously getting Cole Kmet back allows us to do some more things in the passing game. And again, just being more diversified offensively allows us to spread the ball around a little bit.”

Notre Dame must regroup quickly from the loss as its returns home Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. The Irish host No. 21 Virginia, which rallied from a 17-0 deficit against Old Dominion in a 28-17 victory that pushed the Cavaliers to 4-0.

 
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