Georgia hangs on for exciting win against Notre Dame at Sanford Stadium

Associated Press photo by Curtis Compton / Georgia tailback D'Andre Swift leaps over Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford to pick up a first down with quarterback Jake Fromm watching during the third quarter of Saturday night's game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
photo Associated Press photo by Curtis Compton / Georgia wide receiver Lawrence Cager (15) celebrates his touchdown catch with teammates during the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga. - Having played Notre Dame early last season and having faced Georgia earlier this month, Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason was asked last week who he thought would win Saturday night's anticipated showdown between the No. 7 Fighting Irish and the No. 3 Bulldogs.

"Georgia, to me, is probably a notch above," Mason said.

A notch was defined as six points as the Bulldogs improved to 4-0 with a 23-17 escape before a record Sanford Stadium crowd of 93,246 that was dazzled by the stadium's new lighting features that will make night games very popular for the foreseeable future.

"This is why you come to UGA - to get an opportunity to play in an environment like that and an atmosphere like that," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "You don't really know what's inside you, in life or in football, until you get tested. I thought we got tested tonight and found out a lot about our team."

Jake Fromm completed 20 of 26 passes for 187 yards and a crucial 15-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager with 13:19 remaining to give Georgia its first double-digit lead of the night at 20-10. Cager, a graduate transfer from the University of Miami, was Fromm's favorite target with five receptions for 82 yards.

"Notre Dame did a great job of disguising what they were doing," Fromm said, "but we kind of figured things out and started making plays."

The Irish (2-1) pulled within 23-17 on a 4-yard pass from Ian Book to Chase Claypool with 3:12 remaining, and they got the ball back near midfield with two minutes left. Notre Dame drove to Georgia's 38 before losing the ball on downs with 48 seconds to play.


Staff writer David Paschall breaks down the game in bits and pieces.SATURDAY’S STARGeorgia's offense was far from explosive, but junior quarterback Jake Fromm completed 20 of 26 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown. Fromm now has 31 touchdowns and three interceptions inside Sanford Stadium.SATURDAY’S STATSaturday night's electric crowd of 93,246 was a Sanford Stadium record, topping the normal sellout figure by 500 due to extra seating provided for Notre Dame. Georgia listed its 2016 G-Day crowd at an even 93,000.TURNING POINTGeorgia entered Saturday as a 14.5-point favorite, but a fumbled punt by Tyler Simmons that set up Notre Dame's opening touchdown early in the second quarter helped the Irish stay around longer than expected.HIGHLIGHT PLAYWith 11:11 remaining in the game and the Bulldogs having gone up 20-10, senior safety J.R. Reed continued Georgia's momentum by intercepting Ian Book with a diving sideline catch at the Georgia 33-yard line.WHAT IT MEANSThe Bulldogs raced out to a 3-0 start against inferior opposition but now have a quality win that can help them in the chase for a second playoff berth in three seasons. They will have a week off before visiting Tennessee.

Georgia junior tailback D'Andre Swift was expected to have a productive night against the nation's 120th-ranked rushing defense and eventually did, collecting 98 yards on 17 carries. Swift got going late in the third quarter after a first half in which he compiled 33 yards on seven rushes.

"They came out and stacked the box," Swift said. "We didn't get off to a good start in the first half, but then we pounded the ball pretty good."

Notre Dame traveled to Georgia seeking its first win over the Bulldogs. Georgia defeated the Irish 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl after the 1980 season to clinch the lone Associated Press national championship in program history, and the Bulldogs pulled out a 20-19 win two years ago in South Bend, Indiana.

Georgia had an estimated 40% of the crowd at Notre Dame, but the Bulldogs prevented the Irish from having a similar representation Saturday.

The two teams played to a scoreless first quarter, with Notre Dame compiling 81 yards to Georgia's 34. The Irish were fantastic while containing Swift during the first 15 minutes, holding him to two carries for 6 yards and two receptions for minus-6 yards.

Georgia produced the game's first major gaffe when senior receiver Tyler Simmons fumbled a punt that Notre Dame recovered at the 8-yard line. A pass interference on DJ Daniel in the end zone gave the Irish a new set of downs at the 2, and they needed every one of them, taking a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard pass from Book to tight end Cole Kmet on fourth-and-goal for a 7-0 lead at the 10:39 mark of the second quarter.

Kmet led all receivers with nine catches for 108 yards.

"That guy is a phenomenal player," Smart said. "They targeted him a lot, but later in the game when they targeted him, we had two or three pass breakups."

The Bulldogs answered Notre Dame's score with a 75-yard drive that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown run by Swift with 2:27 before halftime. A 14-yard completion to the 9 from Fromm to Cager on third-and-9 enabled Georgia to continue its first scoring possession.

Jonathan Doerer's 27-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter gave the Irish a 10-7 lead.

Georgia made the first big play of the second half when defensive back Divaad Wilson wrestled away a pass from Book to Chris Finke to give the Bulldogs the ball at Notre Dame's 22. An unnecessary-roughness penalty prevented Georgia from advancing, Georgia settled for a 40-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal and a 10-10 tie.

A 31-yard Blankenship field goal at the 4:21 mark of the third quarter gave Georgia its first lead at 13-10.

Like father, like son

When Georgia sophomore Cade Mays started at right tackle Saturday night, he joined his father in having the opportunity to play against the Irish.

Kevin Mays was an All-Southeastern Conference guard for Tennessee in 1994, but he was a reserve defensive tackle for the Vols as a freshman in 1991. The 1991 Volunteers traveled to Notre Dame and trailed 31-7 late in the second half, when Darryl Hardy blocked a 32-yard field-goal attempt and Floyd Miley returned the ball 85 yards for a touchdown to ignite a stunning 35-34 comeback triumph.

"My dad did play on that team, and he told me he played like four snaps in that game," Mays said. "That was definitely something he told me about when I was growing up."

Former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors became the first to guide two different programs to wins over the Irish in South Bend - having done so with Pittsburgh in 1976 - while former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz called the one-point defeat "the most difficult loss I've ever been associated with."

Odds and ends

Saturday night's 8:11 kickoff was the latest at Sanford Stadium since an 8:15 kick on Labor Day in 1985, when Alabama quarterback Mike Shula rallied the Crimson Tide to a 20-16 victory over the Bulldogs. Sophomore cornerback Tyson Campbell did not dress out due to a foot injury, resulting in Daniel making his first career start, while redshirt sophomore cornerback Eric Stokes was knocked out of the contest within the first minute. Starting left guard Solomon Kindley sustained an ankle injury with 4:53 remaining in the half and was replaced by Justin Shaffer.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.