I wanted domination. I didn’t get it. Nevertheless, Georgia beat Notre Dame 23-17 I’m a game that was, somehow, simultaneously closer and not as close as that final score indicates. It was a weird one.
Despite that lack of domination—and despite the fact I almost had a Kirby Smart-esque rage stroke a few times throughout four quarters, and I’m guessing y’all did as well—it was still a satisfying victory, not least of all because it appeared to be played in front of the rowdiest crowd in school history.
The biggest problems in this new era of Georgia football have been hanging in when things don’t go to plan—like what happened against LSU and Texas last year or Auburn in the regular season the year before—and closing out tough games, specifically against a Team That Will Not Be Named. On both those fronts, Georgia succeeded against Notre Dame. The Dawgs dug deep when everything seemed to be going Notre Dame’s way, made a comeback and created some separation, then stonewalled the Irish at the end when it mattered most, even though it wasn’t always pretty. In that way, the game was a resounding success, even if we all had to dig our hearts out of our stomachs when the clock hit zeroes.
We did ourselves no favors by making dumb mistakes. I’m thinking, chiefly, of Tyler Simmons’ muffed punt that gifted the Irish a touchdown in the second quarter and forced the Dawgs to play from behind. Without that one mistake, the score would have been significantly more lopsided. Ditto the late-hit penalty from backup Justin Shaffer in the red zone that relegated us to a field goal instead of a touchdown. That’s two mistakes that cost us 11 points and made the game much tighter than it should have been.
Injuries also hurt us, specifically in the secondary. Tyson Campbell, the team’s top corner, was injured and didn’t dress, while Eric Stokes, the No. 2 corner, went out with an injury on the second play of the game. Ian Book exploited that with 275 yards passing, mostly dinking and dunking, but was still picked off twice. The Irish also managed only 46 rushing yards. Had those two guys been healthy, I think we’d be looking at a much more dominant display from the defense than what we actually got.
I’ll admit that I was among those who underrated Notre Dame coming into this game. And even though I think if a few things went differently we may have covered the 14-point spread, I’m satisfied with merely surviving and advancing against a really good team. As much as style points matter, finishing the regular season 12-0 is the best way to boost our chances of returning to the College Football Playoff, and we’re still on track to do that.
Even though it wasn’t pretty, the mere fact we have this win on the résumé will be significant if we don’t go 12-0 or lose in the SEC Championship Game, forcing the selection committee to once again make a tough decision. The Irish will finish the season 11-1 or 10-2 and remain in the top 15 for the duration. It’s a quality win, no matter how it looked in real-time.
Mostly, I’m happy for all the Dawg fans in Sanford Stadium who showed why we have one of the best home field advantages in college football. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that without that crowd we might not have won. The noise forced five false start penalties to keep the Irish behind the eight-ball and also forced them to burn two timeouts in the third quarter. I’m happy the efforts of Bulldog Nation were not in vain and that what was, by all accounts, the most exciting gameday in UGA history wasn’t marred by a loss.
Now comes the bye week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The bye will give us an opportunity to get healthy and begin focusing on the post-Notre Dame portion of the schedule, when we’re not looking past all other games toward a single opponent. I think everyone involved in this game, from the players to the fans, could use a breather after that one.
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