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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame's defense anticipates a stiff test from Georgia's two dynamic running backs – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The pair combined for 183 yards in last week's win over Appalachian State.

Saturday, September 09, 2017 1:00 am

Irish ready for power of SEC

Out to give fans a show against potent Georgia

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Death, taxes and the Southeastern Conference being college football's most dominant league.

At least that's the common perception. Perhaps the Atlantic Coast Conference, with two national championships in the last four years, caught up, but just prior to that the SEC won seven consecutive national titles, the longest such streak for any conference in history.

The question hanging over Notre Dame remains: Are the Irish good enough? They continue to hear about how SEC teams are bigger, faster and, well, better than them.

In 2012, Notre Dame went 12-0 to reach the national championship game, where Alabama, king of the SEC, inflicted a 42-14 beating. It was such a thoroughly lopsided loss that the Irish to this day remain haunted by it.

This is the backdrop of tonight's meeting between No. 24 Notre Dame (1-0) and No. 15 Georgia (1-0) at Notre Dame Stadium. It marks the Irish's first regular-season game against an SEC opponent since 2005.

“It's going to be a hell of a night,” Irish tailback Dexter Williams said. “It's definitely a test going up against an SEC team, knowing the SEC is supposed to be the power conference or whatever. We have to give our fans a show.”

Georgia talked a little smack this week. Starting safety Dominick Sanders told reporters he doesn't know anything about Notre Dame's storied history and wouldn't care to learn. Sanders also said he's intent on “punishing them from the start.”

“I think every team looks to punish us,” Irish left guard Quenton Nelson said, “so it's not a big deal if I hear that.”

Notre Dame has played only one game against Georgia, on Jan. 1, 1981, when the Bulldogs won 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl to clinch the national championship.

“I'm a Notre Dame history buff, so I kind of love that aspect of it,” Irish left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “This is one of those games you circle on your schedule. We're really, really excited about it.”

After being mediocre against the run in 2016, giving up 4.4 yards per carry, Notre Dame's defense is facing two dynamic running backs – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel – as it looks to regain its mojo.

In the Bulldogs' 31-10 win over Appalachian State last week, Chubb and Michel combined for 31 carries and 183 yards. The seniors totaled 5,835 rushing yards over the previous three seasons.

“Two guys that will be NFL players and have great careers,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “These two kids are extraordinary talents. They're difficult to tackle one-on-one at the second level.”

Notre Dame's all-time record against current members of the SEC is 26-18, a .591 winning percentage that sits significantly lower than Notre Dame's overall winning percentage of .728. More pertinently, the Irish are 1-2 against the SEC over the past 12 years.

Georgia likely isn't the best the SEC has to offer in 2017, but, for the Irish, it's a rare shot at denting notions of SEC exceptionalism.

“This is a huge game,” Irish linebacker Greer Martini said. “If we win, this could silence a lot of critics.”

cgoff@jg.net