With neutral site games becoming all the rage in college football, the traditional “home-at-home” series between big time teams are becoming less and less frequent. It seems like some programs would much rather play in a big NFL stadium and not have to go to the other school’s campus. It’s unfortunate, because it takes away chances for fans to take these road trips to places they wouldn’t normally go. Luckily for some of us Georgia fans, we got to take one of these trips this last weekend. The Bulldog Nation definitely took over the Midwest, Chicago and South Bend in particular. It ended up being a great weekend for the Dawgs as they gutted out a win against Notre Dame, and here’s what I saw from the game and from an amazing weekend:
1. Dominant might be an understatement: Georgia won this game because of their defense. Period. Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, and Lorenzo Carter all played like animals and could not be stopped by what was supposed to be one of the best offensive lines in the country for the Fighting Irish. Three Notre Dame players ran for over 100 yards against Temple in their first game, but that definitely did not happen against Georgia. In fact, no Notre Dame player had a rush of over 8 yards against the Dawgs. Bellamy and Carter each forced fumbles on sacks, and Carter recovered both of them. Georgia’s defensive speed was a big problem for Notre Dame all night. On Carter’s sack/forced fumble, he ran straight at quarterback Brandon Wimbush basically untouched, and on the game clinching sack/forced fumble, Bellamy blew right past very highly rated left tackle Mike McGlinchey. Wimbush could not get comfortable at any point during this game, and it was because Georgia’s defense was the definition of dominant.
2. Fromm the freshman: This game was Jake Fromm’s first career start, and he played like it. He had some good moments for sure, but he never really got into a rhythm. It didn’t help that he had some dropped passes (including the huge one by Mecole Hardman), and it also didn’t help that it seemed like the coaching staff was hesitant to let him test Notre Dame deep. One thing that is often overlooked is when a player can or cannot tell if the coaches are confident in him. This being Fromm’s first start, in combination with that possible lack of trust (at least in this game), that’s a lot to deal with for a freshman. Granted, Fromm made some big mistakes (like trying to force a pass to a well-covered Isaac Nauta that got intercepted or the fumble on the exchange with Nick Chubb), but I also feel like Jim Chaney could have done some things differently to help out his freshman quarterback. I’d look for Fromm to be on a much looser leash against Samford this weekend.
3. Can’t shoot yourself in the foot: Georgia had a very big problem with penalties in this game. Any time you have 12 of them for 127 yards, that’s going to be very hard to overcome. The Dawgs should have had a kick return touchdown by Elijah Holyfield, but it was called back for a hold. There were also multiple times where Notre Dame had drives extended due to dumb penalties on Georgia’s defense. I’m not saying bad officiating isn’t partly to blame, because some of these calls were suspect, but both teams have to deal with the officials. Blaming them doesn’t make up for mistakes that a team makes. This is definitely something to pay attention to going forward, because if Georgia wants to get to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship, they’re going to have to cut out the penalties.
4. D’Andre is making a Swift impact: We all remember D’Andre Swift’s awesome commitment video. It showed off his hometown of Philadelphia and ended with Swift committing to the G. With Georgia getting Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to come back for their senior seasons, nobody was sure what Swift’s role would be for the 2017 Bulldogs. Well, after the first two games, I think Swift has proven that he needs to get more touches. In fact, Coach Smart said exactly that after the game. With the Dawgs down 16-10 in the 3rd quarter, Swift busted out a 40-yard rush that set up a go ahead Sony Michel touchdown. The Dawgs don’t win this game without that play. Georgia was having trouble consistently moving on offense, which makes the big plays stand out even more. Swift has game-breaking ability, and he will definitely be a big part of Georgia’s success for the rest of the season.
5. Goggles on scholarship: Despite missing a field goal in this game, Rodrigo Blankenship did hit two, including the game winner. The drama surrounding Georgia’s kicker is well documented, but it seems to finally be over now. After the game, Coach Smart told Rodrigo to tell the team what he found out the day before: that he had been put on scholarship. It was a great moment seeing the team’s reaction and how happy they were for their teammate. I wish his Dad had gone about the whole scholarship situation a little differently, but all’s well that ends well. It always felt like Georgia was going to take care of Blankenship, and this situation just proves that good things come to those who wait.
6. A neutral site game in South Bend: Notre Dame fans… What were you doing? I never thought in a million years that there would be as many Georgia fans inside of Notre Dame Stadium as there were on Saturday night. So many Notre Dame fans selling their tickets to Georgia fans was a big reason that the Dawgs were able to win this game. If I’m a player or coach for the Fighting Irish, I would feel betrayed by my fan base. I get it that Georgia fans were offering A LOT of money for the tickets, but this should have been a special game for Notre Dame fans too. An SEC team that won the only previous meeting between the two teams should have (and did) made for an attractive game. Instead, Notre Dame fans allowed Georgia fans to take that stadium over and provide the Dawgs a ton of support. As good as Georgia’s fan base looks for how many fans showed up, Notre Dame’s fan base looks the exact opposite for letting this happen.
7. A sports trip like no other: Outside of seeing the Dawgs win a National Championship or the Falcons win a Super Bowl in person, this weekend was easily the best sports road trip of my life. I got to see Vince Dooley throw out the first pitch AND Georgia fans call the Dawgs at Wrigley Field, UGA win at Notre Dame Stadium, and the Falcons beat the Bears at Soldier Field. Chicago was already one of my favorite cities in the country, but it will forever have a soft spot in my heart for providing me with a temporary home for all of these awesome events. I mentioned this earlier, but college football needs more of these home-at-home series with big time programs facing each other. Not every one would work out like this with two in state teams playing so close together on consecutive days, but the opportunity to see a place like South Bend or the Rose Bowl (which UGA will get to do in 2025) is something that every fan base should get. I know it’s a trip that I will never, ever forget.