The Irish open as a 13.5 underdog against the home Dawgs. Using overall and unit rankings from SP+, I examine what to expect on primetime Saturday night.
You can jump over to ESPN for a quick primer on SP+ but it’s a method to quantify team and unit efficiency. I decided to compare the relative strengths of each unit as they’ll appear on the field, so looking at Georgia’s offensive ranking compared to the Notre Dame defensive ranking (and so on).
The first quick note: there are three teams in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive categories in 2019–they are Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson. Without further ado:
ND Offense vs. UGA Defense
First, some good news: when Notre Dame is on offense, their strength and efficiency is evenly-matched with Georgia’s defense — each unit is ranked 7th. This will come as a surprise to many Irish fans given last week’s run game frustrations against New Mexico.
UGA Offense vs. ND Defense
When Georgia’s offense (4th-best in SP+) has the ball, here’s where the trouble sets in for the Irish defense (29th-best in SP+). It’s a bit odd to discuss a top-30 defense with adjectives such as “overmatched” or “inconsistent” in late September, but a primetime road game surely conjures some negative flashbacks for Irish fans. In 2018 on the road in Blacksburg, Virginia, some timely turnovers and stout defense enabled the Notre Dame offense to find its footing in the second half for a dominating win against Virginia Tech. Despite the small sample size, it may be that the Irish front seven may not have the established consistency and personnel stability to equalize the Georgia offensive line.
To my untrained eyes, the special teams ranking suffers from the affliction of a small sample size given the early season performances for both teams. Neither field position nor field goal efficiency has factored much into either team’s early season performance. However, the Irish need to replace known, consistent (and in some cases, historic) special teams performers from 2018, so if this game gets tight this could tip the scales….but Georgia still gets the nod here, with the third-rated special teams (compared to Notre Dame’s rank at nine).
Georgia is ranked second in the overall SP+. Notre Dame is tenth. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, both have the opportunity to be very good over the course of this season. However, the betting lines and SP+ statistics make it pretty clear that Georgia should emerge Saturday night victorious.