This space does not typically manage to rewatch the weekend’s game until Monday night or Tuesday morning, but fast-forwarding to the third quarter of Notre Dame’s 23-17 loss at Georgia is already necessary. In the last 24 hours, Irish head coach Brian Kelly has been asked twice about the apparent injury to junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in Saturday’s third quarter, and he bristled at the suggestion Notre Dame defenders faked injuries to slow the Bulldogs’ tempo.
“Quite honestly, Georgia doesn’t play very fast, so I found that to be quite interesting that it would be such a number of questions on something like that,” Kelly said Sunday. “… It’s a non-story, non-issue. It happens in college football all the time. Guys go down, they have to be administered to. I’ve seen games played against us with many, many more.”
Kelly said Owusu-Koramoah was evaluated for a concussion while fifth-year linebacker Asmar Bilal went down due to cramps. The latter issue is harder to prove or disprove, but a believable one, at least. Could one player suffer dehydration? Certainly.
Owusu-Koramoah’s blow, however, was highlighted by the broadcast. In Sanford Stadium, it was met with a resounding chorus of boos.
Watching the tape, Owusu-Koramoah made a poor-form tackle two plays earlier (the exact play is pictured above), one possibly exacerbated by junior linebacker Drew White chasing down Georgia running back Brian Herrien from behind. The ensuing quick snap and throw saw Owusu-Koramoah asked to do nothing but shuffle a stride or two to the side.
It was in the next alignment that Irish senior safety Alohi Gilman can clearly be seen grabbing Owusu-Koramoah’s shoulder pads and pulling him to the ground. Clouding the question, fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford begins to crouch before turning around and seeing the Gilman/Owusu-Koramoah action. He was very much in Gilman’s sightline to the Notre Dame bench.
This space will give the benefit of the doubt that medical personnel or some member of the staff on the Irish sideline saw something concerning in Owusu-Koramoah. As long as he was standing, though, there was no real recourse to stop play, and thus they signaled for him to drop. In the path of that gesturing, Crawford was confused. If a gambit to slow tempo, Crawford would not have looked around, he simply would have fallen to the grass.
Once Owusu-Koramoah is down, Gilman can clearly and immediately be seen pointing to his own head, implying he had gleaned something of note in that exchange.
“Our protocol is if any player has suffered an injury and they’re not feeling right, we want them to go down,” Kelly reiterated Monday. “We want them to get medical attention. We have a medical spotter that is communicating with our trainers, and we don’t want to risk anybody that’s not feeling right. So I’m proud of our guys that they have made sure that that procedure is followed correctly.”
Logically speaking, if Notre Dame wanted to slow play, it would be to get a substitute in along the defensive line, not in place of a dynamic linebacker during a career performance. The Irish would have been more likely to feign pain at either defensive end position, simply given the caliber of those backups. No disrespect to sophomore linebacker Paul Moala, but Notre Dame was not eager to have him on the field in place of Owusu-Koramoah as the latter racked up eight tackles with 2.5 for loss.
“We’re not going to fake injuries,” Kelly said. “We’re a tempo team. We’re going to make sure that protocol is followed based upon what our training staff wants under those conditions.”
It seems more likely than not that Owusu-Koramoah taking a knee was a show of concern, an abundance of caution. At worst, the execution was inefficient and led to poor optics, but what else was Notre Dame supposed to do in that moment?
On previous injuries
Kelly said junior receiver Michael Young (collarbone), sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy (concussion) and sophomore running back Jahmir Smith (toe) are all “probable” this week. Each is needed for the Irish offense, with the running backs struggling immensely in Athens and the receivers missing Young’s and Lenzy’s raw speed.
Kelly said junior running back Jafar Armstrong (torn abdomen muscle) should be expected back “right around” the USC game on Oct. 12.
In appreciation of Athens & Sanford Stadium
If not for the crowd booing an injured player — never a good look, no matter the situation, simply because so much is unknown — there would not be a single complaint about the weekend. The hedges delivered, in every respect.
The food across the state of Georgia was delectable, the company was engaging, the bartenders welcoming.
Come Saturday, the feel of football was unavoidable. While the lore and tradition saturate campus at Notre Dame, the environment begins to dissipate within the Stadium. The Yale Bowl is the pinnacle of football history and the original standard-setter for college stadium architecture, but the stands remain empty. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum drips in non-football history, host of multiple Olympics, but that is more apparent than anything Trojans-related. Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium rocks during its one-of-a-kind team entrance, but then returns to relative normalcy, just as Stanford’s Farm is enjoyed because of the unique backdrop alone.
Sanford Stadium brought the history, the environment, the towering stands and, when standing at the top of those, a view of rural Georgia for miles.
Of course, once the game started — actually, for about 80 minutes before then, as well, considering that was how quickly the student section filled — one’s senses could barely fathom the events unfolding in front of them, let alone any bigger picture thoughts.
On Notre Dame’s false starts
That sensory-overload is what did in the Irish offensive line by way of senior quarterback Ian Book.
The blame for the false starts lands at the feet of those called out by the referee — in order: senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, junior right tackle Robert Hainsey, junior tight end Cole Kmet, Kmet again, Kmet a third time — but the actual mistake was made by Book.
Note: All those penalties occurred on the outside of the line, not one from a guard.
In a typical situation, Book claps his hands to initiate the snap, the center waits the appropriate beat and fires the ball to the quarterback. When using a silent count, Book raises his leg, the center sees that, bobs his head to alert both guards, waits the appropriate beat and snaps the ball.
The standing tight end can conceivably see either motion. The center very much cannot see the clap when looking for movement of the foot.
Book repeatedly defaulted to a usual cadence, therefore setting Kmet into motion without initiating the center’s timing. The subsequent delay also triumphing over the tackle’s anticipatory nerves as the opponent shifted.
“Unfortunately in the moment of the game, [Book] just went back to muscle memory and what he had done so much, which is the clap, and it cost us,” Kelly said. “We’ll have to continue to work on it and clean it up so it doesn’t happen again.”
Not expecting that mistake makes sense. When committing practice time to the silent count, Book is deliberately thinking about it. He is not going to revert to old habits then. When pondering defensive fronts, secondary coverages and route options, however, Book may not think twice about who can or cannot hear his clapping hands.
Looking forward, that should matter only at Michigan yet again this season, if even there, considering the current state of affairs for the Wolverines.
— No. 3 Georgia outlasts No. 7 Notre Dame’s late rally
— Things We Learned: Notre Dame one play(er) away from 2019’s best
— Georgia’s smash-mouth win over Notre Dame had the look and feel of a Playoff game
— Notre Dame’s playoff hopes still alive despite heavyweight loss to Georgia
— College Football Playoff takeaways: Irish in trouble, SEC rolling
— Separating contenders and pretenders
— At scandal-torn USC, can integrity save Helton?