FOOTBALL

Five keys for Notre Dame at Georgia: A near perfect game needed for the Irish

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Here are five keys for No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0) at No. 3 Georgia (3-0) this Saturday (8 p.m. EDT on CBS).

STOP THE RUN

Slowing down running back D’Andre Swift and the Bulldog ground game might be the biggest challenge for the Irish. After allowing over 210 rushing yards to both Louisville and New Mexico, ND ranks No. 120 nationally against the run. UGA ranks eighth in rushing offense, amassing 286.7 rushing yards per game. Irish linebackers Drew White and Asmar Bilal will play a major role in trying to hold Swift well below his average of 9.4 yards per carry. That will require them to be gap sound, aggressive and able to make tackles in space.

FLUSTER FROMM

The nation’s No. 8 quarterback in passing efficiency has analysts projecting him as a high first-round draft pick. With his stout defense and rushing attack, though, Jake Fromm rarely needs to put UGA on his shoulders. An above average performance from Fromm gives ND a chance. That happens if the Irish makes him uncomfortable, especially if they force third-and-long often. Not many defenses have been better than ND on third-and-long situations this season (four pass breakups, three interceptions, two forced fumbles).

GREATNESS FROM BOOK

Ian Book showed signs of improvement from Louisville to New Mexico. The senior quarterback will have to take another leap to ensure success against UGA. The Irish ground game likely won’t be effective against the formidable Bulldog run defense. That would mean Book needs to air it out more than usual and produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 passing yards with three touchdowns. No longer can Book give up on plays early or lack the confidence to take a chance deep. As the 14-point underdog on the road, the Irish, and Book, cannot be tentative.

BE CREATIVE

By the end of the third quarter against the Lobos, the Irish running backs accounted for just 13 rushing yards on 12 carries. The absence of starter Jafar Armstrong (abdominal injury) was felt. Armstrong will continue to be sidelined in the coming weeks, with backup Jahmir Smith also out Saturday due to a sprained toe. Variance and creativity could be ND’s remedy for advancing the football on the ground. That was seen last week through forward toss touchdowns to wide receiver Chris Finke (54 yards) and running back Avery Davis (59 yards). Look for offensive coordinator Chip Long to empty the playbook against the Bulldogs to make up for ND’s losses.

MINIMIZE MISTAKES

Turnovers, special teams errors and shooting themselves in the foot are blunders the Irish cannot afford. The Irish do not enter Saturday with concerns in those areas. They rank No. 1 nationally in turnover margin, tied for No. 40 in penalties per game and have been better than expected in special teams. An interception-less game from Book, no glaring mistakes on special teams and a handful of momentum-shifting plays from the defense will help quiet the crowd of over 92,000 at Sanford Stadium.

Notre Dame’s Drew White (40) yells to teammates as they line up on defense during the New Mexico-Notre Dame NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Notre Dame in South Bend.
Georgia Football

NOTRE DAME (2-0) @ GEORGIA (3-0)

At Sanford Stadium (92,746), Athens, Ga.

Kickoff: 8 p.m. EDT

TV: CBS

Series history: Georgia leads 2-0

Betting line: Georgia by 14.5