SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Here’s hoping Georgia and its swarm of followers enjoyed the little visit to the Vatican of college football. Because this certainly was not the kind of guest anyone would want to invite back any time soon.
If this was a wedding, Georgia had a plus-one but instead brought the entire family. Including that cousin who stuffed his pockets with chilled shrimp.
Georgia was the guest at the baptism who kept showing pictures of his own kid. The neighbor at the housewarming who kept bragging on the bean dip he brought. The brother-in-law at the bachelor party who just had to jump on the main stage and take off his shirt. You know the kind – it’s always all about him.
But this was a football game, and the Bulldogs did the worst thing of all: Beating the home team and making a big noise while doing it.
The Bulldogs came to venerable Notre Dame and made it all about them, 20-19.
It wasn’t always pretty. Georgia’s emergency freshman quarterback Jake Fromm made a couple youthfully indiscrete turnovers. The Bulldogs committed more silly offenses than you’d find in a big city drunk tank on Saturday night. The offense sputtered, but certainly not as bad as the only other time Georgia played Notre Dame (in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, winning the national championship despite completing one of 12 passes for seven yards).
All that mattered was at the end, they had one more point than did Notre Dame. That feat still carries great heft even if the Irish aren’t what they used to be (but then, who among us are).
It was a victory that will hold more perceptual importance for the Kirby Smart regime than actual, since no road to the SEC Championship game leads through this pocket of Indiana.
“I still can’t believe we’re in Indiana,” smiled linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who headlined a defense that made Notre Dame re-think its running game (55 yards on the ground) and stubbornly refused it admittance to the endzone.
Hard to believe, indeed, because it felt just as much like Winder, Ga. as South Bend out there Saturday night.
As important as the statement made by this team in the beginning of Year Two of the Smart Era was that made by the invading horde of Georgia fans. They seized on the historical importance of a first-ever trip to Notre Dame and stormed the Knute Rockne gate of this old stadium.
“I saw a lot of red. It was a sea of red walking in here. It felt like the Dawg Walk (the home ritual of strolling through adoring fans on the way to the stadium),” Carter said.
Was maybe half the place painted red? It was enough that the Georgia fans greatly neutralized any home field advantage or home field awe that Notre Dame could usually command. Here’s something that should greatly disturb the Irish partisans, from UGA’s Smart: “You never felt like this was so much of a road game. Our quarterback was able to go on his own cadence which you don’t get to do on the road. You definitely don’t do it on the road in the SEC.”
When former Notre Dame back Jerome Bettis showed up for the game, he may have been the only Bus not carrying a load of Georgia fans in for this show.
And I think I saw Touchdown Jesus wearing a red Georgia visor.
For whatever else the Bulldogs make of this game – and the 12 penalties for 127 yards as well as an offense that still seeks an identity hint at much work to be done – this one had to do some wonders for the ol’ self-image.
That was Georgia just taking over Notre Dame, squatting defiantly amid all the Irish legend.
That was Georgia staging as loud a victory celebration in South Bend as just about any in Sanford Stadium. It is hard to imagine Notre Dame being any more surrounded by hostiles when it plays at Georgia in 2019.
“It shows that we can play with a team like this and play on a stage like this,” said receiver Terry Godwin, whose one-handed touchdown catch Saturday was of Odell Beckham/A.J. Green quality. “To put the Georgia brand back on top, it feels great for us. We hope for bigger things to come as well.”
“When you think about our players and this fan base, this will be a game they’ll talk about for a long time,” Smart said.
Here’s hoping that all parties enjoyed the experience fully because they ain’t getting invited back until the memory of this Bulldogs takeover fades locally – in a century of so.