ATHENS, Ga. - When it comes to how important this week is, Notre Dame isn't mincing its words. The anticipation has been building for some time, maybe since Georgia defeated the Fighting Irish in South Bend two years ago.
"We've been talking about this game for a while," Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book said following their 66-14 win over New Mexico on Saturday. "Once (Sunday) comes, it's Georgia week."
The excitement this game is generating is palpable. Both teams have yet to play a top-tier opponent. With an 8 p.m. CBS kickoff and the presence of ESPN's College Gameday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly compared the game to being on one of brightest stages in the world.
"It's like being on Broadway," Kelly said on his Sunday teleconference. "They (Notre Dame players) know they're in that spotlight, and they choose to come to Notre Dame because they want that. They relish that opportunity."
Like our Facebook page
That excitement will surely be equally matched by pressure. With national title aspirations, both Georgia and Notre Dame have a lot to lose. That's something the Irish fully understand.
"They showed the kind of improvement necessary in week one to week two," Kelly said of his team. "Make no mistake about it, they understand the caliber of play that is going to be needed against Georgia."
Specifically, Kelly is concerned about defending against the run. The Irish conceded only two touchdowns against New Mexico, but both came in an area of dominance for Georgia — explosive runs. The Lobos managed touchdown runs of 37 and 47 yards. Those were forgivable for the heavily-favored Irish, but Kelly understands that against Bulldogs, plays like that could be fatal.
"It can't happen against Georgia," Kelly said.
Kelly also noted that Notre Dame has been hurt in its first two weeks by plays where "the ball got outside the defense." That could be something Georgia can exploit, since it's an area where the Bulldogs have excelled in their first two games. Both D'Andre Swift and James Cook have made their livings outside the tackles this year, using bursts of speed to beat defenders on the edge. For Cook, it has resulted in two touchdown runs of more than 15 yards this season. For Swift it has been even better -- six runs of 15 yards or more. That has Kelly's attention.
"Each and every play against a team like Georgia," Kelly said. "If you're not on it, all 11 players playing together playing great run defense, a guy like Swift is going to take it to the end zone."
Kelly knows this from film study, but from seeing it up close as well. In Georgia's trip to South Bend in 2017, Swift only had two carries—one of them a 40-yard carry that put the Bulldogs on Notre Dame's six-yard line.
The pressure of this game has been building for months. It's finally here.
"They're excited about the challenge that's in front of them," Kelly said. "They know it. It's been on the schedule and one that they've been waiting for. They're ready to go."
For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution