With true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm making his first-ever star on the road at Notre Dame, there was little doubt that Georgia would need its veteran defense to make a few big plays to push the Bulldogs over the top.
That's exactly what they got, capped by a game-clinching forced fumble.
After a 17-yard pass to move Notre Dame to its own 36-yard line, down by one point, Brandon Wimbush dropped back to pass and was hit from behind by Georgia's Davin Bellamy. The ball popped loose, and Lorenzo Carter fell on it to give the Bulldogs the ball and, effectively, seal the win as a Notre Dame Stadium crowd featuring a lot of Georgia red celebrated.
In their first visit to South Bend, the No. 15 Bulldogs beat No. 24 Notre Dame 20-19, winning a back-and-forth game that, to this point, is the signature win of the 15-game Kirby Smart era, while also serving as yet another crushing loss for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame suffers 8th loss in a 1-possession game since start of 2016, most in FBS. Irish are 1-8 in 1-possession games over that span.- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 10, 2017
After a slow start featuring two field goals and lots of punting, Notre Dame scored the first touchdown, a one-yard Wimbush run after a Georgia fumble. But the Bulldogs responded with the best highlight of the game: a five-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Terry Godwin in which Godwin made a gorgeous one-handed catch over a defender in the corner of the end zone -- a play originally ruled incomplete but overturned by instant replay.
WHAT. A. CATCH. 😱 pic.twitter.com/6YNURDDYHX- NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 10, 2017
Georgia's only other touchdown came on a six-yard Sony Michel run in the third quarter, on a drive that was jumpstarted by a pair of Notre Dame penalties.
Despite its inability to find the end zone, Notre Dame led 19-17 after a Justin Yoon field goal with 10:21 left. That put the pressure on Fromm -- starting for the injured Jacob Eason, who sprained his knee last week -- to lead a go-ahead drive. He did just that, as Georgia went 63 yards in nine plays, ultimately settling for Rodrigo Blankenship's 30-yard field goal.
After a Fighting Irish three-and-out, Georgia gave the ball to fullback Christian Payne on a third-and-two but came up short, giving the Irish one last chance. Three plays later, Bellamy came up with the winning defensive play.
Georgia's veteran defense dominated the game, particularly up front. Notre Dame finished with 266 total yards and converted just 3 of 17 third downs. The Irish rushed 422 yards in a blowout win over Temple in Week 1 but managed only 55 rushing yards on Saturday, as their talented offensive line lost the matchup in the trenches.
After a disconcerting 8-5 debut under Smart -- Mark Richt was fired after back-to-back 10-3 seasons -- the Bulldogs got an early 2017 confidence-booster behind a freshman quarterback and what could become a dominant defense. Fromm completed 16 of 29 passes for 141 yards, a TD and an INT and was supported by 73 yards from Michel and 63 yards from Chubb on the ground. The performance didn't exactly ease the concerns about Georgia's offense, but the Bulldogs edged the Irish on both sides of the ball and emerged with a satisfying win.
The win was made even more satisfying for Georgia by how many fans made the trip to South Bend.
Northern trips are rare for Georgia, and Bulldogs' fans travel plans made this a highly anticipated game with in-demand tickets. The end result in South Bend couldn't help but feel a bit like Nebraska's infamous takeover over Notre Dame Stadium in 2000.
Georgia has to love its history against Notre Dame, too. The only other meeting between Georgia and Notre Dame happened in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, when the Bulldogs won 17-10 to clinch their only national championship.
The stakes of Saturday's game were far lower this time, but going to Notre Dame, taking over a big portion of the stadium and pulling off a dramatic win can't help but feel like a momentous occasion anyway.