Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:40 am
Red flags evident after Irish's big-game flop
CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette
SOUTH BEND — It was a deflating loss straight out of 2016, when Notre Dame found any number of ways to lose close games.
Sure, it's just one game, and Georgia's probably pretty good, but the ugliest part of Saturday's 20-19 loss to the Bulldogs was that it reopened some of those old wounds.
The No. 24 Irish (1-1) raised some red flags. Here's a look at how this one got away:
* If you love watching old-school, hit-'em-in-the-mouth football, then you enjoyed watching Notre Dame and Georgia this weekend. The problem is the Irish didn't measure up. OK, their spirit didn't break. That's true. But their run blocking and pass protection certainly did. If the defensive line performed well for the most part, it didn't finish strong. The Bulldogs moved 138 yards on their two scoring drives in the final 20 minutes.
* When you take away Equanimeous St. Brown, as Georgia's secondary did, the Irish aren't the same team. Their secondary pass-catching targets were exposed. Cameron Smith had four catches for 44 yards and Chris Finke three grabs for 36 yards, but no one could create enough separation to make up for the fact that St. Brown was invisible.
* Georgia committed 12 penalties, but, from the Irish's perspective, that doesn't make the eight flags they earned any more palatable. A pass interference call on Drue Tranquill contributed to the Bulldogs' field-goal drive in the first quarter. On the touchdown drive in the third quarter, Julian Okwara's dumb penalty, a personal foul for a late hit, cost Notre Dame 15 yards, and later in that drive Irish safety Devin Studstill got caught grabbing the facemask. Lack of discipline is a killer.
* Notre Dame's special teams, at least the coverage units, were shaky. Mecole Hardman returned two punts for 25 yards, and Georgia averaged 28 yards on four kick returns, nearly breaking the first one for a touchdown. Again, that reminded people of last season.
* Obviously, Notre Dame is going to fall out of the rankings. The perception is going to be that this program lacks the mental and physical toughness to finish against the highest competition. Until they prove otherwise, that's the biggest cloud hanging over the Irish.
"We're a different team," McGlinchey said. "(A repeat of 2016) is not going to happen. There's too much character in our locker room."
Time will tell.