Georgia head coach Kirby Smart talks with a referee on the sideline. The Georgia Bulldogs faced the Arkansas State Red Wolves in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. At the end of the half, the Bulldogs led the Red Wolves 34-0. (Photo/Gabriella Audi https://gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

Kirby Smart couldn’t think of a defensive line Georgia has faced recently that is anything like the one it will see against Notre Dame. 

The Fighting Irish’s defensive line combines speed and experience at a rate the Bulldogs have yet to face this season. Notre Dame’s defense boasts the third-best defensive passing efficiency in the Football Bowl Subdivision, averages nine tackles for loss per game and has the No. 1 average turnover margin in the country. 

To put it into Georgia football terms, Notre Dame creates havoc. 

“I can’t really compare them to anybody that we’ve played thus far up front,” Smart said. “Maybe some individuals that we’ve played up front, but not as a whole as a group.” 

Junior Daelin Hayes leads the Irish in tackles for loss this season, coming down with three in two games. Khalid Kareem, a senior, started all 13 games and finished second on the team in tackles for loss in 2018. Senior Julian Okwara tied for the team lead in sacks last year.

“Everybody on the defensive line is pretty talented,” Georgia graduate transfer tight end Eli Wolf said. “They’re going to be a challenge for us.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly likes what he has in his arsenal. 

“We’re getting exactly what we want in terms of pressure on the quarterback [and] making him get the ball out of his hands quickly,” Kelly said. “Those guys [on the defensive line] are doing a nice job for us.” 

The Irish’s ability to create turnovers was lethal in its first two games against Louisville and New Mexico. Notre Dame forced four fumbles and intercepted its opponents three times.

To contrast, Notre Dame has lost only one turnover against the seven it has gained. 

“[Turnover margin is] one of the key critical factors of winning football games,” Smart said. “And they’re beating everybody in the country at that.” 

Aside from Hayes, Kareem and Okwara, Notre Dame has several other playmakers that could make life difficult for Georgia. Junior safety Alohi Gilman leads the Irish with 13 tackles. Graduate linebacker Asmar Bilal follows closely with 12 tackles and junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has come down with 11 of his own. 

Georgia’s Cade Mays started at right tackle in the absence of Isaiah Wilson on Sept. 14. It’s unclear if Wilson will recover from his ankle injury by Saturday. Regardless of the lineup, Georgia’s offensive line has a lot on its plate.  

“They have a bunch of old guys on the defense with a lot of experience,” Mays said. “They’re not just fast.”

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