CFB Predictions & Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Georgia Bulldogs

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 19, 2019

Georgia RB D'Andre Swift
Georgia RB D'Andre SwiftJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

Two years ago, Georgia at Notre Dame was a September showdown that went unappreciated in its own time.

Under normal circumstances, when the AP poll's No. 15 and No. 24 square off, it's one of the can't-miss affairs of the week. Heck, that matchup would have been the unrivaled top game on last week's unappealing slate.

Instead, the Bulldogs and the Fighting Irish were barely a blip on the radar during what might have been the most incredible evening slate in college football history.

All eyes were on No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State. No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson was the game on flashback. No. 14 Stanford at No. 6 USC was the fallback option when the other two were on a commercial break. And unless you've got a four-screen setup in your home, there's a good chance you didn't watch a second of Georgia's 20-19 victory over Notre Dame.

It ended up being one of the most important games of the entire season, though. In the first CFP rankings of 2017, Georgia was No. 1, and Notre Dame was No. 3. The Irish eventually faltered and finished at No. 14, but the Bulldogs held on to make the College Football Playoff and came one improbable Tua Tagovailoa-led comeback away from winning the national championship.

This time around, we're ready to soak up every second of the action in this potential CFP preview, which starts at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

So what should we expect when No. 7 Notre Dame heads south to meet No. 3 Georgia between the hedges?

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If it's anything like Notre Dame's recent road games against Top 20 opponents, it's going to be a tough night for Fighting Irish fans.

Notre Dame QB Ian Book
Notre Dame QB Ian BookTimothy D. Easley/Associated Press

Since the start of the 2013 season, Notre Dame is 0-9 in those "opportunities." The Fighting Irish were ranked in the AP Top 10 for six of those games, and they were also the higher ranked team in six of the nine. Aside from the one game at USC at the end of the 4-8 disaster in 2016, it's not like they were major underdogs in any of those contests.

Maybe things will go differently in quarterback Ian Book's first road start against a Top 20 team, but Vegas isn't optimistic.  

As a testament to how far ahead of the pack Clemson, Alabama and Georgia are, against the nation's seventh-best team, the Bulldogs are a 14-point favorite, according to Caesars. Georgia hasn't even broken a sweat in its 3-0 start to the season, allowing just one offensive touchdown while moving the ball at will against its overmatched foes. And the Dawgs have barely even needed to utilize D'Andre Swift, giving one of the most gifted running backs in the nation just 11.3 touches per game.

Notre Dame is a good deal better than Vanderbilt, Murray State or Arkansas State, but its inability to stop the run figures to be an insurmountable problem. Both Louisville and New Mexiconot exactly title contendersrushed for more than 200 yards and multiple touchdowns against the Fighting Irish. Putting that front seven on the field against a Georgia rushing attack that ranks eighth in yards per game (287) and fifth in yards per carry (7.6) could get ugly in a hurry.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame's attempts to establish the run will likely prove futile. Book is leading the Irish in carries, yards and touchdowns, which speaks volumes regarding the lack of dominance in the backfield. And Georgia's last two opponents combined to rush for 66 yards on 55 carries.

When these teams met two years ago, Notre Dame finished with 37 carries for 55 yardsand that team had a Heisman candidate in running back Josh Adams and mobile quarterback Brandon Wimbush. If those Irish couldn't run the ball against Georgia, these Irish have almost no hope of doing it.

That doesn't mean an upset is impossible. But it's not going to happen unless Book flings the ball like he did against New Mexico (15-of-24, 360 yards, 5 TDs) and Notre Dame continues to have the luck of the Irish when it comes to turnovers. Through two contests, they have forced seven turnovers while committing just one, good for the nation's best turnover margin per game.

Georgia hasn't allowed three passing touchdowns in a single game since the aforementioned national championship against Alabama, and it hasn't allowed 300 passing yards since Week 4 of the 2016 season. The odds of Book carving up this defense are slim. But as long as he avoids any self-inflicted wounds, Notre Dame's ball-hawking defense could be the difference.

In last year's somewhat stunning loss to LSU, Georgia committed four turnovers without forcing any. In the equally surprising Sugar Bowl loss to Texas, the Dawgs fumbled, threw a pick and had a regrettable turnover on downs without once taking the ball away from the Longhorns.

It doesn't happen often. Georgia has had a positive turnover margin in each of the past five seasons and has committed one or fewer turnovers in 25 of its last 30 gameswinning 23 of those contests. But its 2-3 record when turning the ball over multiple times at least leaves an avenue for Notre Dame's defense to pull off a shocker.

Thus, it all boils down to the big thing we've been wondering about Georgia for three seasons now: Will Jake Fromm be unflappable when it matters the most?

Fromm isn't a "Give me the damn ball and we're going to score" type of quarterback. He has only eclipsed 300 combined passing and rushing yards once in his 32-game career, and he has already been held below 160 twice this season.

With the exceptions of last year's game against LSU and the national championship against Alabama, though, he's not a mistake-prone guy. He's a great game manager who lets the running backs lead the way and usually makes high-percentage passes when necessary.

If the opposing defense shuts down Georgia's rushing attack and it's on Fromm to win the game, the Bulldogs are in trouble. Since he became the quarterback, the Dawgs are 27-0 when rushing for at least 155 yards, and they are 0-5 when they fall short of that mark.

It would take some kind of miracle for Notre Dame's defense to hold Swift and Co. below 155 yards, though. Look for Georgia to get that ground game going early and often in the type of statement victory that serves as a reminder there's a third horse in the race for this year's title.


Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

For more college football and NFL draft talk, check out the Stick to Football podcast with B/R's lead draft expert Matt Miller.