football Edit

Notre Dame used to the "Broadway lights"

The buildup for Saturday night’s game between No. 3 Georgia against No 7 Notre Dame continues to grow larger with the passing of every hour.

ESPN’s College GameDay is coming, tickets on the secondary markets, such as StubHub, are going for $315, and hotel rooms in and around the Athens area are almost impossible to find.

Yes, this is a big deal, as the eyes of the college football world will be squarely on Athens when the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish kickoff at 8 p.m. on CBS.

For Notre Dame, however, this is somewhat old hat. When it comes to being in the spotlight, the lights are always shining on Notre Dame.

“It’s a lot of the reason why kids want to come to Notre Dame. It’s like being on Broadway—it’s a Broadway show. You’re on stage every game you play, it’s on national TV. They know all their games are broadcast on NBC or CBS or ESPN or ABC, so they know they’re in that spotlight. Yhey choose to come to Notre Dame because they want that, they relish that opportunity,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a Sunday teleconference. “Obviously, this game being on national TV, it’s why they come to Notre Dame, and they really enjoy it. They don’t see it as pressure; they see it as a privilege. They enjoy it.”

Nevertheless, Kelly said it’s a game his team is certainly looking forward to playing.

As excited as Georgia fans are to see a storied program like Notre Dame play in Athens, the Fighting Irish are apparently anxious to test their collective mettle in one of the more storied venues in the SEC.

“We were looking for an SEC opponent, one that we felt like shared some commonality. The fact was we were going to be in that area, in the state of Georgia recruiting, so we liked that piece of it,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of alumni in that area, so that was a draw for us as well. It wasn’t only the school itself, but there were some geographical concerns we looked at, in terms of putting the schedule together, as well. I think that’s what made this an easy decision for us.”

Naturally, the Fighting Irish would love to avenge their 20-19 loss to Georgia two years ago in South Bend, a game for which thousands upon thousands of Georgia fans took over Notre Dame Stadium.

Since that game, Notre Dame has gone 23-3, its last defeat coming to Clemson in the semifinal round of the College Football Playoffs.

This will be a different team from the one Georgia faced two years ago in South Bend.

Brian Kelly and Kirby Smart shake hands before their last game in South Bend.
Brian Kelly and Kirby Smart shake hands before their last game in South Bend. (USA Today)

“I think the quarterback is obviously different. In Brandon Wimbush, we had more of a running quarterback, although he certainly played well that night.

"But I think you’re looking at an offense (with quarterback Ian Book) that has a little more diversity in terms of what it can do with the tight end position and wide receivers,” Kelly said. “I just think a little more diversity from an offensive standpoint, some similarities on the offensive line—we had a very good offensive line, and I think we’ve got some very good offensive linemen this year. The style is similar, but the quarterback is a little bit different, with a little more diversity in terms of play-makers.”

Of course, Kelly is well-aware of the play-makers his team will face on Saturday, starting with Bulldog quarterback Jake Fromm.

Fromm was making his first career start when Georgia faced Notre Dame, and he certainly left an impression with the Fighting Irish head coach.

“I thought he played with great poise; he was extremely efficient. He took care of the football. I think all the things you get a glimpse of with somebody when they’re a freshman—when they exhibit those kinds of traits, you realize you’ve got somebody who's going to be a special player,” Kelly said. “Obviously, put in that sense, he’s come along to being that special player. I kind of got a glimpse of that the first night we saw him, when he played with such poise, such confidence. He wasn’t afraid of the moment. He stepped up big. It doesn’t surprise me he's playing at the level he is playing at.”

Fromm isn’t Kelly’s only concern.

If there’s an area that worries Kelly and many Notre Dame fans, its how the Irish will fare along the lines of scrimmage, particularly when it comes to slowing down a Georgia run game that’s averaged 296 yards through three contests.

“We gave up two big runs against Louisville. It was just poor execution on some option things and zone read, but we cleaned that up, and I thought our guys did a much better job of executing the plan. What we were disappointed in was some poor defensive structure, where the ball got outside the defense. That can’t happen against anybody,” Kelly said. “That can’t happen against Georgia because, obviously, those plays are going for touchdowns. That’s attention-to-detail stuff that you know you can’t have against anybody, so I think our guys will learn from it and know that each and every play against a team like Georgia, if you’re not on it, all 11 players together playing great run defense—a guy like Swift is going to take it to the end zone. I think we’ll have their attention this week.”