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Notre Dame loss to Georgia crosses up scheduling strategy

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 09: Georgia Bulldogs outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter (7) grabs a fumble after he sacked Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) during the college football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Georgia Bulldogs on September 9, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

One reason Notre Dame had scheduled Georgia was to gain a win over a Southeastern Conference school in a tough matchup. The Irish hoped to see it factor into their College Football Playoff selection hopes.

Notre Dame’s strategy was to play a tough 12-game schedule as an independent to overcome not having a 13th game, a conference championship contest.

But the flip side of the argument played out in the No. 24-ranked Irish’s 20-19 loss to No. 15 Georgia Saturday night in South Bend. Notre Dame is already in the CFP hole with a 1-1 record.

Georgia won on its first trip to Notre Dame Stadium, but this wasn’t a classic struggle. The Bulldogs left the door open to the Irish pulling off an upset. Georgia committed 12 penalties for 127 yards and gave up two turnovers.

“We’ve got to clean some things up,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the NBC telecast. “We’ve got a good football team, but you talk about sloppy. Penalties and turnovers; you can’t do that.”

Sony Michel’s 73 yards rushing and one touchdown and Nick Chubb’s 63 yards rushing were enough for Georgia to overcome true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm’s inexperience. He completed 16 of 29 passes for only 141 yards with one interception and one TD.

Notre Dame started the season unranked and moved into the Top 25 with an impressive season-opening win over Temple, but the Irish can be expected to tumble out of the Top. 25. They aren’t likely to climb back into the rankings with a win in its next game, at Boston College.

A year ago national champion Clemson lost one regular-season game, but the Tigers overcame the setback. They still won the ACC Atlantic Division title and subsequently the conference title to earn a CFP berth.

People keep reminding Notre Dame the conference avenue is not available to it, but the Irish cling to their treasured independent status. Notre Dame is certainly playing better than its 4-8 record last year, but this was the rebuilt Irish playing at home in a Top-25 matchup. Where was the magic that lives in the echoes of Notre Dame Stadium?

Notre Dame’s final possession ended with a blindside sack of quarterback Brandon Wimbush that resulted in a fumble. Georgia was able to recover the loose ball and run out the clock. Quarterbacks have to come up with magic to keep alive CFP hopes.

Wimbush is talented and will have better days, but in his second career start, he wasn’t ready to add his name to the list of Notre Dame quarterbacks that have pulled off memorable comebacks.

The 6-foot-1, 228-pounder was only 20-of-40 passing for 210 yards without a touchdown. He ran 16 times for a net 1 yard when sack yardage was subtracted from his rushing total. He was sacked three times.

That was a big drop off from his impressive play in the season opener against Temple, when he accounted for 290 total yards, threw two touchdown passes and rushed for one. But he wasn’t alone. A week ago, Notre Dame ran for 422 yards with Wimbush one of three backs to top 100 yards.

Against Georgia’s defense, Notre Dame managed only 265 total yards. The Irish rushed 37 times for 55 yards. Josh Adams led the team with 19 carries for 53 of those yards.

The passing game didn’t produce game-breaking plays. Adams was the leading receiver with six catches for 60 yards. Equanimeous St. Brown didn’t catch a pass.

Notre Dame faces a long climb back to CFP consideration without a conference championship game as a safety valve.

Follow Tom Shanahan’s FanRag Sports stories on Twitter @shanny4055

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