Georgia had a rallying cry before and during its game against Notre Dame on Saturday night: You’re never out of the fight.
It came from a video the team watched while preparing for perhaps the most significant non-conference game in Sanford Stadium history. The video was about Matt Hughes’ victory over Frank Trigg in 2005, considered one of the greatest comebacks in Ultimate Fighting Championship history.
Tyler Simmons’ muffed punt, Justin Shaffer’s personal foul penalty and Jake Camarda’s poor punts were just a few of the self-inflicted obstacles the Bulldogs had on its way to a 23-17 victory over the Irish in front of the largest crowd in Sanford Stadium history.
But Georgia wasn’t going down easy.
“That’s what we talked about all week,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We’re never out of the fight. Then at halftime, we knew we weren’t out of the fight. The whole game, our kids kept saying, ‘We’re never out of the fight.’”
In the first half, Georgia had just 59 passing yards and 55 rushing yards. In the second half, the Bulldogs had 128 passing yards and 97 rushing yards.
“Our offensive line did a lot better job of picking up the twists and giving me a little more time,” quarterback Jake Fromm said.
Other than Rodrigo Blankenship's perfect three field goals on three attempts, the special teams had a rough night. Simmons’ muffed punt handed Notre Dame an easy score. Irish quarterback Ian Book threw a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal to give the Irish the 7-0 lead.
After the muffed punt, freshman receiver Dominick Blaylock took his turn catching punts.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll be catching a lot punts during the off week, and I’m sure Jake will be punting a lot of punts during the off week,” Simmons said. “Hopefully we can get that together and make some adjustments.”
With Georgia's up-and-down performance, a win was really all it could ask for. After all, the Bulldogs were losing 10-7 at halftime.
Still, a simple win wasn't really the goal, receiver Demetris Robertson said.
“No, no, no. We don’t ever want to just survive,” he said. “We always want to dominate our opponent. Notre Dame came out and played hard and played physical. We have to give props to them.”
Georgia fans should remember more than just the pregame hype, the new red stadium lights and J.R. Reed’s fourth quarter interception. Later in the season, this game will be remembered as the Bulldogs’ first true test. They passed the test, thanks in part to inspiration from the UFC.
“When you get tested, you find out something about yourself inside,” Smart said. “There were some guys that had to look inside themselves. They had not been tested yet. And how did they respond? They came out fighting.”