While Georgia’s game against Notre Dame isn’t the Bulldogs’ first of the 2017 season, it might be one of the most important. And with today being St. Patrick’s Day, there isn’t a better time to preview the Bulldogs’ Week 2 matchup.
For those who don’t pay attention to Notre Dame football, the Fighting Irish went 4-8 last season. But Notre Dame might not be as bad as its record indicated. Of those eight losses, only one came by double digits. And the schedule featured defeats to teams such as USC, Stanford and Virginia Tech.
Following such a disastrous season, the Notre Dame staff saw a number of shakeups and figures to have a very different chemistry. Mike Elko was brought in from Wake Forest to take over as the defensive coordinator after Brian VanGorder was fired midseason. Chip Long came in from Memphis to assume offensive coordinator duties after Mike Sanford left to become the head coach at Western Kentucky.
Notre Dame also has to replace starting quarterback DeShone Kizer, who is likely to become a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Malik Zaire transferred out of the program as well, likely meaning that Brandon Wimbush will be the starting quarterback. Wimbush, who has not officially been named the starter, was the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class and has thrown just five passes in his time at Notre Dame.
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Even with the loss of Kizer, Notre Dame returns a number of talented offensive players. Leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and leading rusher Josh Adams both return. St. Brown hauled in 9 touchdown passes last season and finished with 961 yards, while Adams totaled 933 rushing yards. Notre Dame also returns four starters on the offensive line, led by left tackle Mike McGlinchey, who some thought would be a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Notre Dame opens up with Temple in Week 1, so the Georgia defense will be an incredibly tough challenge for a player likely making his second career start. Especially if standout defensive tackle Trent Thompson comes back in the fall for the Bulldogs. Georgia is expected to bring back 10 starters from last season’s standout unit and complement them with a number of talented freshmen.
As for the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame is hoping that bringing in Elko can fix a unit that really struggled last season. Other than a 5.0-sack outburst against Miami, Notre Dame registered just 9.0 sacks in 11 games a season ago. The Fighting Irish welcome back seven defensive starters from that team, but that unit surrendered an average of 27.7 points per game. Given that Notre Dame struggled to get after the passer last season, Georgia’s offensive line could get a chance to change the narrative about its struggles.
Over the past couple of seasons, Notre Dame has recruited at a top 15 level, so the team isn’t devoid of talent. And after a 4-8 season, Brian Kelly is one of the few coaches in the country who might have more pressure to perform than Kirby Smart. Neither team has a cupcake in Week 1 — Temple and Appalachian State both won 10 games in 2016 — but with a primetime kickoff, this matchup figures to be one of the most exciting early season games during the 2017 season.
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