Irish Fan Reaction (IFR): ND 17, UGA 23 - What a Sham(e)
This one was supposed to be different.
This time, the Irish were ready. Not since Oklahoma in 2012 had Notre Dame beaten a top 10 opponent on the road, or anywhere for that matter. But this was a game the Irish had circled on their calendar for years. A chance to prove to the college football world that Notre Dame was back in the spotlight, a premier program once again.
And yet, when the clock hits zero and the lights turned off, the Irish had once again come up short. Thankfully, this wasn't the blowout loss we've usually seen in this game. Though it wasn't pretty, Notre Dame hung around with Georgia right to the bitter end. In fact, for 30 minutes, Notre Dame appeared to be the better team, not just because they were leading 10-7 but because of how impressive their defense was and some critical mistakes by Georgia.
But as time ticked down, Georgia began to pull away. D'Andre Swift, the Bulldawgs' star running back, was flat out dominant. 98 yards on 18 carries doesn't tell the full story. Georgia dominated time of possession (20:30) during the second half. The Irish took 12 penalties, the most ever in a game under Brian Kelly, as Georgia's crowd had as big of an impact on a game as you'll ever see. Notre Dame's offense failed to move the ball with any consistency. They had just two drives of more than 30 yards all night. One ended in an incomplete pass on 4th & 2, the other on a field goal as time expired in the first half.
It truly is a shame that Notre Dame couldn't find a path to victory in this game, because it was a very winnable game. But Ian Book's slow starts and indecision reared their head again, stalling Notre Dame's offense for most of the game. After a stellar 2018 in which he went 9-1 as starter and led the nation in completion percentage, Book just hasn't look as dominant as last season, struggling at times even against mediocre teams like Louisville and New Mexico. He was far from the only reason the Irish fell short, but in a game where either quarterback could've stepped up and taken the game for their team, Ian Book was unable to take control.
Despite the loss, there will probably be a lot of people praising the Irish after this game. Many people, including myself, thought that another blowout defeat could easily be in the cards. Though Georgia barely scraped out a 19-18 win when the teams met in South Bend in 2017, the Bulldawgs have since become one of the premier programs in the sport. Notre Dame has been far from bad since then, winning 10 games in 2017 and going a perfect 12-0 in the 2018 regular season, earning a birth in the College Football Playoff, but have been criticized throughout the decade for their independent status, "soft" schedule, and (until last year) struggles at the quarterback position.
Unfortunately, with this loss, Notre Dame's path to a return trip has basically collapsed. Teams like Stanford, USC, and Michigan the Irish were on counting on to be premier opponents have all suffered terrible loses early in the season and also appear to be shells of their former selves. Unless one of them recovers and finishes in (or right outside) the top 10, Notre Dame will have a hard time convincing the playoff committee that history won't repeat itself if they are given a second chance on the sport's biggest stage.
The easy thing to do is commend Notre Dame for the valiant effort they showed in Athens on Saturday night. But there becomes a point when a valiant effort isn't valiant enough. For reasons both in and out of their control, it seems very clear that Notre Dame is now in the second tier of college football teams, and probably in the lower end of that tier as well. Sure, they're a good team that usually handles lesser opponents and can make some noise against ranked teams. But throw them up against the best of the best (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia), and don't expect them to come out on top.
However, an optimistic brain like mine doesn't allow me to fully think like this. Even though I never felt like Notre Dame was going to win this game at any point, I could never shake the hope that they would because of how close they stayed. All that did was make the heartbreak at the end far worse, but at least the ND fanbase can hang their heads high, a luxury in defeat we haven't always been afforded. Notre Dame is far from bad or mediocre - they are a very good team. But to be the best, you need to beat the best. And for yet another season, Notre Dame proved neither was in the cards.
Oh, and Georgia should've been called for pass interference on Book's 4th down pass at the end of the final drive. Thanks, refs.