Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Georgia

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Below are players to watch in No. 7 Notre Dame’s game at No. 3 Georgia on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).

QB IAN BOOK, Notre Dame

No Notre Dame player needs to shine more than Ian Book on Saturday. The senior quarterback may be asked to throw often, especially if UGA jumps out to an early lead. ND’s running backs struggled in starter Jafar Armstrong’s absence last week, accounting for just 49 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts against lowly New Mexico. The Irish now face a Bulldog run defense that ranks No. 5 nationally. If he needs to make up for a lacking running game, Book must minimize his mistakes. Staying aggressive deep and not giving up on passing plays early is a must for Book.

S ALOHI GILMAN, Notre Dame

An argument can be made that, in a way, Gilman is ND’s top linebacker. In obvious passing situations on third down, Gilman lines up like a linebacker would. In that Irish dime package (six defensive backs), Gilman has operated at the line of scrimmage, in the box or elsewhere in coverage. His prowess in that role has helped the Irish become elite in third-and-long. Should ND force UGA into those type of situations, look for Gilman to make himself known against the inexperienced Bulldog receivers. Gilman will also be important in tackling UGA’s rushers in space.

RB D’ANDRE SWIFT, Georgia

UGA’s strength happens to be ND’s weakness. The Bulldogs rush for 286.7 yards per game, which ranks No. 8 nationally. The Irish are No. 120 against the run, allowing 230.5 yards on the ground per game. Lead back D’Andre Swift ranks fifth nationally with 9.4 yards per carry and has the look of a first-round draft pick. Running behind the largest offensive line in UGA history and elite offensive tackle Andrew Thomas makes Swift even harder to bring down. The junior could also create matchup problems against ND’s linebackers in the passing game.

CB ERIC STOKES, Georgia

The heir apparent to former UGA cornerback DeAndre Baker may be in line to eventually fill his shoes. At 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, Eric Stokes brings elite speed. He’s capable of shutting down an entire side of the field like Baker, last year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner and first-round pick to the New York Giants. Look for Stokes to shadow top Irish receiver Chase Claypool at times. The matchup between Thomas and Irish defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem could be a sight to behold, but the matchup that matters the most might be Stokes against Claypool. Without much from Claypool, Book could have a tough time advancing the ball downfield.

Safety Alohi Gilman (11) tries to tackle running back Javian Hawkins (10) in Notre Dame’s 35-17 victory over Louisville on Sept. 2.
Georgia’s D’Andre Swift (7) makes a run against Notre Dame on Sept. 9, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN