If No. 7 Notre Dame’s greatest areas of concern are running the football and stopping the run, the obvious tenets to much of football, then Irish head coach Brian Kelly knows this week will either prove those problems overcome or otherwise become costly.
No. 3 Georgia (2-0) is known for its defense, though the Bulldogs offense is hardly subpar, either.
“This [defense] is talented,” Kelly said Monday. “But it is really deep, as well. The depth that they have, especially on the defensive line, that they can run six, seven that we counted last night, eight guys that are interchangeable within their three- and four-down structure. All of them productive players.”
That onslaught of stellar defensive linemen will be pushing up against a Notre Dame offensive line that has paved the way for 387 rushing yards through two games. That number could assuredly be higher if Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long had not put an impetus on developing the passing game, but Notre Dame has still undeniably struggled to move the line of scrimmage in certain short-yardage situations.
Kelly acknowledged the offensive line may not yet be in the form he hopes it will be by season’s end.
“We’re two games into it, we’re still evolving,” he said. “… It’s where we should be probably after week two in that process of working to get better as a unit, individually, and finding what works best for the group relative to where we want to go.”
Unfortunately for that process, the Irish face their stiffest challenge of the year Saturday night (8 ET; CBS). The same can be said regarding Notre Dame’s linebackers. Eight saw action in the 66-14 rout of New Mexico, with seven notching tackles. A few played better than previously — namely fifth-year Asmar Bilal (eight tackles with two for loss) and sophomore Bo Bauer (four tackles with one for loss) — but none played well enough to secure a primary role moving forward.
“If two guys emerged clearly and said we’re your two, we would go that way,” Kelly said. “… We saw some really good things from Asmar, closed on the ball. His lines were better to the football. He’s really getting to that point where he’s playing and closing space to the football with really high-level elite traits. The guy’s got traits, I mean physical traits. So now he’s bringing along some of the things that he was lacking experientially in terms of playing the position.
“… Bo Bauer played at times out of control. He’s playing so much more in control. We’re seeing a guy that’s not over-running a play but staying in the backside, big gap and bouncing and doing some things.”
Yet, the Irish may also need to rely on juniors Drew White and Jordan Genmark Heath in Athens. Or maybe sophomore Shayne Simon alongside Bilal. The permutations remain numerous.
“All of the other guys are playing pretty good, too,” Kelly said. “I just think we’re going to keep on letting this thing play out until we find them and when we find them, we’ll have two really good players in there.”
Life would just be simpler if those two players were already there, and by life, what is really meant is stopping Bulldogs star running back D’Andre Swift.
On Georgia QB Jake Fromm
Fromm’s first career start came in the Bulldogs’ 20-19 victory in South Bend two years ago. Since then, his development has trended in only one direction.
“When you get down to the really great teams, you’re going to get (Clemson’s) Trevor Lawrence,” Kelly said. “You’re going to get the great quarterbacks that are going to be the reason why they start to separate. Fromm is one of those guys that gets you to start to separate.”
On Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet’s health
Kelly confirmed the junior tight end will play Saturday, recovered from a broken collarbone, but was vague about Kmet possibly starting, though that seems far more likely than not.
“He’s a guy that can control the point of attack with his physicality,” Kelly said. “He can go down the field, he can catch the football. He balances it out now with two other tight ends that give us versatility within our formations.”