If there were any certainties surrounding the Notre Dame offense entering the 2017 season it was these:
• The offensive line didn't lack for talent or experience
• The running back and tight end positions were tremendously deep and talented
• And junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown would be a handful for any opposing defenses to contain
Well, consider the Fighting Irish having to deal with a Southeastern Conference program serving as a healthy dose of truth serum for the Irish Nation to swallow. For everything that the Notre Dame faithful believed in their hearts proved not to be accurate, as Georgia came to South Bend and did everything to Notre Dame but convert a Catholic priest to Protestantism.
The Bulldogs (2-0) beat the Irish by a mere point Saturday (20-19), but in so many ways, the game wasn't actually that close, and the followers of Notre Dame have to accept the fact that this program remains a long way from being among the nation's elite.
“In a one-point game,” veteran coach Brian Kelly said in a postgame press conference, “there's going to be a play or two that decides the game, and credit goes to (Georgia coach) Kirby Smart and the Georgia football team for making the critical plays when they were needed.”
The outcome was indeed close, so Kelly, who is now 5-10 in games against higher ranked opponents at Notre Dame, is accurate in his assessment that “a play or two” could have swung the decision. But the reality is that the Irish showed that they are far from contending for any type of national relevance, which Georgia may not be either.
Until proving otherwise, Georgia is a mediocre SEC program. The Bulldogs finished 4-4 in that league a year ago, and on Saturday they did everything they could to keep Notre Dame in the game. If Georgia was playing one of the better programs in its league, it probably would've gotten rolled.
Smart's team was a dumb one, as it committed 12 penalties, and considering all of the areas in which it dominated, if Georgia had been at least somewhat disciplined, the Bulldogs more than likely would have prevailed easily.
Georgia's superiority was obvious in a myriad of ways, but most notably its defensive play against the supposed stout Irish offensive line.
Notre Dame couldn't move the football offensively to a large extent without the aid of Georgia committing penalty after penalty. The Irish were an anemic 3 of 17 on 3rd downs and a couple of those came not on their own merit, but by the Bulldogs' lack of discipline.
“We struggled with controlling any kind of continuity with the line of scrimmage,” Kelly said. “(Georgia) is physical up front.”
That was evident on the victory-sealing sack to end Notre Dame's hopes, a play in which preseason All-America nominee (left tackle) Mike McGlinchey got smoked by the speed rush of Georgia pass rusher Lorenzo Carter.
“Quickness wasn't an issue for us today,” Kelly said.
Well, it certainly was on his team's final offensive play.
The Irish running back position was thought to be a three-headed monster that could utilize any combination of power and speed. On Saturday, the Irish could muster neither, as Notre Dame averaged just 1 ½ yards per carry.
And that three-headed monster thing? Yeah, it was non-existent.
Josh Adams carried the ball 19 times, while Tony Jones Jr. (one carry) and Dexter Williams (none) were not factors at all.
“Dexter's a fine back,” Kelly said Sunday. “But we really have high regard for Josh Adams. We love Dexter, too. It's just really difficult to get them all in the game.”
That must've been the case for the tight ends, as well.
Kelly said during training camp that the Irish might implement as many as five tight ends into their offensive scheme, but only one (Alize' Mack) managed to have a reception against the Georgia defense.
The same problem plagued St. Brown, who caught just a pair of balls for a meager 16 yards.
“We felt like if we could get the ball into the second level and into the secondary,” Kelly explained, “we could have some success. But we didn't have, at times, the chance to do that.”
The 2017 season is not a wash, as the Irish can still achieve a great deal, and Kelly was adamant afterwards that he had complete confidence in this group (though he said the same things during last season's 4-8 debacle). However, what is clear is that Notre Dame remains in the background of the college football world for yet another autumn.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.
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