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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 09, 2017 4:20 pm

Pregame: Notre Dame (1-0) vs. Georgia (1-0)

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND — Brandon Wimbush hadn't thrown more than five passes in a game since high school, so Notre Dame's season opener last week, a 49-16 win over Temple, had a work-in-progress feel for him.

"I am getting in sync," Wimbush said. "The more game experience I get with these guys, it means something. A full four quarters under my belt, I haven't done that in two years, and to be able to start a game and finish out a game, making reads, experiencing the speed of a college game, that was huge."

What shouldn't be lost as everyone evaluates Wimbush is his youth. He's a sophomore who got some mop-up work, and that's it, as a freshman. It will take time to learn, even though Wimbush's talent is off the charts.

That being said, Wimbush needs to beat No. 15 Georgia tonight at Notre Dame Stadium. Such is life at a program with expectations of national championships. To make your bones as the Irish's starting quarterback, you have to win a big game, especially at home.

That is true for the No. 24 Irish as a whole. Wimbush has to get plenty of help from his teammates and coach Brian Kelly.

Expect a raucous crowd for a rare night game in South Bend. It would help if the Irish jumped to an early lead to grab the attention of the masses and establish a true home-field advantage on a day the stadium might be split about 70-30 between Irish fans and Georgia fans.

"Coach Kelly spoke about the amount of tickets Georgia (received) and how they're going to bring their full support," Wimbush said. "I can only expect that from a marquee opponent like Georgia, but I know it's going to be a Notre Dame crowd, and they're going to be nuts, and we're pretty excited because they hype us up."

Here are some things to keep an eye on:

* Tight end Alizé Mack had just two catches for 17 yards in the opener, but those numbers figure to go up tonight, especially if Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker doesn't match a cornerback on Mack. That would mean the Irish can move Mack around in the formation and frequently get the matchup they want.

* Georgia's offensive line looked out of sorts at times last season. If that group isn't improved, Notre Dame's defense figures to get a steady diet of quick-hit passes as the Bulldogs try to adjust. Coordinator Jim Chaney has an extensive screen game in his offense, and Georgia runs many of those screens to either side of the field, to a variety of players. Notre Dame's linebackers will have to be disciplined in their pursuit.

* Georgia will want to be a ground-and-pound team that controls the ball and makes the quarterback a game manager. That's because starting quarterback Jacob Eason, who hurt his left knee in the first quarter of last week's opener, is out.  Can the Irish deal with running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? Eason's replacement is Jake Fromm, a freshman making his first start. Fromm's presence will allow Notre Dame's defense to sell out to stop the run.

* Remember, this is a litmus test for the Bulldogs, as well. Kirby Smart is in his second year as Georgia coach. No one quite knows yet what the Bulldogs will be under his leadership. They went 7-5 in the regular season last year before beating TCU in the Liberty Bowl. Their biggest win was against Auburn. With 10 returning starters on defense, Georgia might be the 2017 favorite in the SEC East, but that's been faint praise lately.

* The Bulldogs are already banged-up on defense, but they are loaded with upperclassmen on that side. Notre Dame's 9.6 yards per carry against Temple won't be duplicated. Dominick Sanders is really an impressive player. He can be a physical in-the-box safety or a center-field type. Sanders has 12 career interceptions. Georgia's school record is 16.

* Why do the Irish so badly need this win? They have lost 10 of their past 15 games against ranked teams.