It's Georgia Week. It's the week Notre Dame has been looking forward to all offseason. The Irish said they were focused on Louisville and then on New Mexico, because they knew that if they overlooked those teams they could get upset. But they have had this upcoming game against the No. 3 Bulldogs circled on the schedule since offseason training began. For those who have been on the team for a few years, it's a chance for revenge: Georgia beat the Irish 20-19 in South Bend in 2017. For everyone else it's a chance to prove this team belongs on the same stage as the country's elite teams.
Coach Brian Kelly began his weekly press conference today with a lengthy discussion of the traits that make Georgia an elite team.
"The competition that we're playing this weekend will certainly require us to play our very best," Kelly said. "Kirby Smart and the Georgia program are synonymous with winning and being successful, and we're quite aware of that. We played them a couple of years ago in a hard fought game which we came up short."
"We'll try to muster together 22 guys, get them on a plane, go down to Athens and see what we can do," Kelly added.
Clearly, the Irish are taking Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs seriously. Kelly said they have one of the deepest and most talented defenses Notre Dame has seen. College Gameday will be in Athens for the game. This type of game is the reason players come to Notre Dame.
Here are some more highlights from Kelly's press conference today.
On Georgia's defense:
"Obviously Kirby takes great pride in that defense, and certainly has developed a great group again. This one is talented, but it is really deep as well. The depth that they have. Especially on the defensive line, that they can run six, seven, eight guys that are interchangeable within their 3-4 structure. All of them productive players.
"Both inside linebackers back, I think (J.R.) Reed has been there, we remember him being all over the field against us a couple of years ago. Campbell Stokes, the corners, just again an SEC top level defense, well coached. And attacking when they want to and can play zone coverage, man coverage.
"Again, probably not telling anybody here what you haven't seen. It is all true. It is all true. Very, very good defense. Depth, talent at every position, experience. And I think more than anything else, you know, from our perspective probably the deepest defense that we have seen in the sense that they can keep bringing players at you."
On Avery Davis, who had his first career touchdown in the win over New Mexico: "
"We saw (his talent). He ran almost 22 miles an hour. We haven't had that since Will Fuller, we know he has elite speed. Again, I think this has been much more about trying to find him playing time. We know his skill set. I felt that way when we moved him to defense (NOTE: Davis moved to cornerback before the season and back to running back before Week 3), that he had the skill set. It was just getting him on the field and getting him an opportunity. A skill set is one thing, it is getting him the opportunity, and I think he has the best chance of getting those opportunities on the offensive side of the ball right now."
On Notre Dame's theme this season of being "road warriors":
"(Strength coach) Matt (Balis) and I sit down, we plan out the themes that we want in the spring. We set it to an overall theme in terms of how we set that workout up. There is a video, there's a presentation, and it is really to build the mindset. Whether it is protecting the house that we play in, that mentality, or going on the road, those are important elements within the entire year. Being on the road, being able to build that mindset is really what this has been about and certainly we'll need that again this week against UGA."
On why Notre Dame has been so successful recruiting in Georgia recently:
"Well, obviously the high school football is outstanding. We have felt like it has matched what we're looking for relative to high quality, excellence in the classroom as well in the schools that we are targeting, and certainly from a football standpoint. So our mission is excellence and graduating all of our players and playing for championships. The schools we're targeting in the state of Georgia have a similar batch of schools that we feel like demographically we can hit, and they match the Notre Dame kind of model that we want from our recruiting base."
(NOTE: True freshman safety Kyle Hamilton, fellow freshmen K.J. Wallace and J.D. Bertrand, sophomores C'Bo Flemister and Tommy Tremble as well as safety Derrik Allen, who transferred before this season to Georgia Tech, are all from Georgia)
On whether he's considered that this could be the biggest win of his tenure at Notre Dame:
"No. It is not even part of what we do for preparation. To me, it's about our players, it's about our coaches giving them a great game plan, it's about my job to make sure we put together the best possible preparation for our team. The rest of that stuff, I really could care less about."
- Cole Kmet: Kelly said Kmet is cleared to play after tearing his collarbone in fall camp. He explicitly declined to state whether Kmet will start, but added, "He's a big, physical player, obviously can catch it. He's what you're looking for in a tight end, right?"
- Michael Young: The wide receiver, who also tore his collarbone in camp, is out this week.
- Jahmir Smith: Notre Dame's No. 3 running back missed the game against New Mexico with a toe injury sustained in practice during the bye week. He's questionable against Georgia.
- Phil Jurkovec: The Irish backup quarterback is dealing with a thigh contusion, which is why he only played one series against New Mexico before third-stringer Brendon Clark came in. He did not suffer the injury against the Lobos. Kelly said the Irish wanted to be careful with him, so they took him out after seeing what they needed to see (pushing the ball down the field and making some tough runs).
- Jafar Armstrong: The running back remains out with a "rectus abdominis" injury suffered against Louisville.