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Notre Dame Football

Next Step For Irish: Detailed Execution

September 22, 2019

Notre Dame is too storied a program to pass any time in the company of moral victories.

But the Fighting Irish likewise didn’t leave Sanford Stadium as Saturday night stretched into Sunday morning believing they couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with college football’s elite.

“I certainly know a lot more about our team,” coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s hard to measure your team early in the season. We played good teams, but we didn’t play the No. 3 team in the country. We’re a physical team, we’re a fast team. We’re a team that’s persistent that will play for four quarters. I asked our coaches, ‘Raise your hand if you’d like that to work with?’ And everybody raised their hand.

“We were a little sloppy today, uncharacteristically. That goes to coaching; we’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to clean up some mistakes that hurt us today. Those are correctable. But the core of this football team is one that’s gritty, hard-nosed, it’s physical. We’re short a number of playmakers we’re going to get back in the next few weeks. Yeah, we feel pretty good about our football team even though we’re disappointed with what happened today.”

The Irish were candid that if they had made a play here, one less penalty there or perhaps had saved one or two timeouts for the closing minutes that it might have been a different ending in a 23-17 loss to No. 3 Georgia.

“This is why you come to Notre Dame, to play in games like this,” said quarterback Ian Book, who completed 29 of 47 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns and his first two interceptions of the season. “Again, it goes back to really focusing on the small details, whatever the cadence may be whenever it’s loud, whatever it is.

“Focusing on the small details and focusing on ourselves. That’s what we’re going to do, just really the attention to detail. Maybe the atmosphere played into a little bit, but I thought the guys really did a good job this week in preparing for this atmosphere.”

The Fighting Irish never physically backed down in this rugged, throwback affair; both Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Kelly touted the game’s physical nature.

Book’s two interceptions came on just-missed plays. A slightly late pass to Chris Finke across the middle that glanced off Finke’s back shoulder pads and into the arms of Divaad Wilson first shifted momentum to Georgia; the Bulldogs later uncorked a sublimely timed corner blitz on a play that the Fighting Irish happened to run a flea-flicker. As he scrambled to his right, Book fired toward the right sideline and Georgia’s J.R. Reed just dragged his foot in-bounds to secure the pick.

While Notre Dame had just 11 total penalties for 73 yards coming into this game, beneath the constant den of noise inside sold-out Sanford Stadium the Irish committed a dozen penalties for 80 yards and were forced to utilize four timeouts in various stages of play-clock management to avoid further penalties.

This after coaches had blared loud music from Guns n’ Roses to hip hop all week on the practice field in advance of this game.

“We practiced in a louder environment,” Kelly said. “We’re very disappointed that we didn’t handle it better. They were much more of a coaching … I think we needed to do a better job of silent cadence longer. They handled it so quickly and so easily, but their repetition on the clap, which is our cadence, was so ingrained that when we went to silent cadence, they forgot and went back to the clap.

“I should’ve taken that into consideration and just forced them to be in it longer. I’ll take responsibility for that one.”

Still, Notre Dame had its chances. The Fighting Irish led 7-0 on Book’s 2-yard pass to Cole Kmet on fourth-and-goal after Georgia had muffed a punt for its only turnover.

They likewise briskly marched inside the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line in the waning moments of the first half, but, after a false start penalty and without any additional timeouts, settled for a Jonathan Doerer field goal for a 10-7 halftime lead.

Even down 20-10 and Georgia on the march, Notre Dame’s defense stiffened to force a field goal that kept the contest a two-score game with just left that seven minutes left on the game clock.

Book pieced together a gutsy drive that featured a heavy dose of Chase Claypool --- including Claypool’s acrobatic, tip-toe catch on the sideline and culminated with Claypool’s touchdown haul for a 23-17 game.

Kelly emphasized that nothing that transpired Saturday night between the hedges had inked any defining moment on this Notre Dame season.

“The defining game will be next week,” Kelly emphasized. “We’ll know who we are truly next week. How you come back on Monday will certainly define who this football team is. I know who you are tonight, based upon what I saw.

“But you want to talk about defining games, it wasn’t tonight. It will be next week.”

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