Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush took a beating. It was easy to tell the hits Georgia’s defenders put on him were affecting him at times. He was slow to get up after some plays, and a lot of his passes were errant.
There were times where he had open receivers in the flat but couldn’t get the ball to them because of how quickly Georgia’s edge rushers would get to him.
Georgia’s defense proved to be a major reason why the Bulldogs left Notre Dame Stadium with a 20-19 win over the Fighting Irish on Saturday. And while Wimbush wasn’t surprised by anything schematically, he noticed a big difference as to why Georgia was able to have so much success defensively.
“It was everything I thought it would be, but I never played against a team with speed like that,” Wimbush said. “All 11 positions, all the guys were really physical and had speed. That was a little different. It’s hard to emulate that during the week, but our scout guys do the best job they can do.”
Containing Wimbush inside the pocket was a focal point of Georgia’s game plan. After he rushed for 106 yards against Temple in the first week of the season, Georgia kept Wimbush to only 1 yard on the ground. He was sacked three times and rarely broke contain.
From the start, Wimbush rarely found any lanes to run through when plays broke down. Georgia’s defense stayed fundamentally sound in this department to keep Wimbush in check.
“We knew we had to limit the plays he made because he’s an explosive player,” outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “We came out with a plan and I think we executed pretty well.”
Carter was a star for Georgia against the Fighting Irish. He forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles, recorded a sack and totaled seven tackles. On Carter’s sack, he knocked the ball loose from Wimbush and recovered it by himself, after blowing past the Notre Dame line untouched. The play was crucial, coming with Notre Dame reaching the Georgia 35-yard line in the third quarter.
It was a defensive performance that will be talked about for quite some time. It came after the Fighting Irish had put up 606 total yards against Temple the week prior.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart singled out a couple of plays that helped decide Saturday’s game. The first, obviously, was outside linebacker Davin Bellamy’s sack and forced fumble on Wimbush on Notre Dame’s final offensive play, which Carter recovered.
Another came from defensive back J.R. Reed, who prevented Wimbush from running for a first down on a third-and-3 at the Notre Dame 32-yard line in the fourth quarter. If Wimbush breaks through Reed, perhaps that drive continues further and Georgia isn’t able to move ahead 20-19 with a field goal on the ensuing drive.
Reed finished the game as Georgia’s leader in tackles with nine. He also added two quarterback hurries. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith kept showing his speed by running down Notre Dame skill position players trying to attack the edge.
Aware of Smith’s efforts, Notre Dame, at least on occasion, broke the rules of football to stop him in pursuit on one play. Smith, who had seven tackles and a sack, was tackled from behind on a third-and-10 in the third quarter by running back Josh Adams. But Georgia still prevented Wimbush from running for a first down on the play, even with officials missing the penalty.
Notre Dame was held to 265 yards against Georgia — with 124 coming in the second half.
“We have the No. 1 defense in the nation,” Georgia receiver Terry Godwin said. “Any offense that goes against this defense, they’re going to have problems. We go against this defense every day at practice. We know what they have. We know what they’re going to bring. For an offense not to practice against this and come out for a game? It’s going to be hard on them every Saturday.”
It was an elite-level defensive performance against Notre Dame, albeit early in the 2017 season. For Georgia to prove its defense is among the best in the nation, it will need to continue playing like this against better opponents.
Georgia will have an upcoming stretch of games where it will be able to further prove how good it is on defense. After Saturday’s game against Samford, Georgia will begin SEC play and face Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Missouri in consecutive weeks. Missouri (No. 1, 619 yards per game) and Mississippi State (No. 3, 507) are at the top of the conference in total offense, with Vanderbilt sitting at No. 6 with an average of 384 yards through two games.
Georgia finished its win over Notre Dame with three sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, nine tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries.
“I can’t say enough about how hard they played, the toughness, effort, relentless, all the words we talk about, they personified,” Smart said.