Big Game Hunting: Rush-minded Irish plan to show their ‘ID’ to Georgia

Notre Dame has more than a modicum of history with some of the iconic programs of the South, having faced, to name a few examples, Alabama seven times, Tennessee eight times and LSU 10 times. But only once have the Irish met Georgia on the field — in the Sugar Bowl to cap the 1980 season, with the national title at stake. Bulldogs freshman tailback Herschel Walker was too much to handle.

Thirty-seven years later, No. 15 Georgia at No. 24 Notre Dame (6:30 p.m., Ch. 5, 1000-AM) wouldn’t appear to have serious title implications. Nor does it involve an all-time-great college superstar along the lines of Walker. Oh, well. I’m loving this matchup of 1-0 teams anyway. Loving the clash of Midwest vs. South and the contrast of two of the most recognizable uniforms in sports. And, from a purely football perspective, I’m loving this battle of two potentially formidable running games.

Georgia backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have combined to rush for nearly 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in their stellar careers. Irish backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush all went over 100 yards in their opening romp over Temple.

Both teams — especially Notre Dame, coming off a ghastly 4-8 season — need identities in the worst way. How about becoming known as a team that can impose its will at the line of scrimmage? As identities go, that’s about as desirable as it gets.

Josh Adams and the Irish piled up over 400 yards rushing in Week 1. (AP/Rex Arbogast)

“They’re going to feature both their backs,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We’re going to feature our running game. And somebody’s going to come out on top. So it’s going to be an old-fashioned kind of find-out-who’s-got-that-grit-and-determination [game].”

Something to watch closely: the demeanor of Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who’ll be making his first start. Fromm, a former five-star recruit, steps in for Jacob Eason, who sprained a knee ligament in Week 1. New Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, whose unit amassed 11 tackles for a loss last week, will throw everything he has at the freshman. Georgia’s QB situation is a big reason the Irish are favored by 4½.

This is a test for Notre Dame — one it has to pass if there’s going to be any real reason for hope among its fans this season. How does a big day for Adams and a key late turnover forced by Elko’s crew sound? Irish get it done, 27-20.

No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7) is the rematch we deserve, dang it. Last September’s game in Norman went 45-24 in favor of the Buckeyes — a thrill for their supporters, but not exactly great theater for the rest of us. The spread is 7½ this time, but there’s no reason to think the Sooners, who are 11-0 since that defeat, can’t stay comfortably inside that number or even win outright.

“Everybody who was here for last year’s huge loss definitely remembers that,” said OU’s dazzling and highly motivated quarterback, Baker Mayfield. “[We’d] never been here for a team to sing their fight song on our field. Quite frankly, it’s just embarrassing.”

OSU’s peerless defensive line will try to force Mayfield into mistakes, making this an extra-large moment for a Heisman-hopeful quarterback and — in his first big game since replacing “Big Game” Bob Stoops — 34-year-old Sooners coach Lincoln Riley. Winner gets to 2-0; loser goes straight into desperation mode. Down-to-the-wire alert: Sooners by one point in a season-shifting upset.

No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson (6 p.m., ESPN) and No. 14 Stanford at No. 6 USC (7:30 p.m., Fox-32) bring the total of must-watch Saturday-night games to four. Do you see why we who obsess over college football — not just our school or our conference, but all of it — are essentially lunatics?

I look at Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and Clemson’s Kelly Bryant and think, wait a minute, hasn’t the quarterback edge flipped now that Deshaun Watson is in the NFL? Yet the voice of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney rings in my head: “There’s something special here when the lights are on.” Champs barely cover the 5½.

USC has the great Sam Darnold at quarterback, but its rush defense was terrible in the opening victory over Western Michigan. Stanford has Bryce Love, successor to Christian McCaffrey, ready to take full advantage after he plowed for 180 rushing yards in Week 1. Did we mention the Trojans, 6½-point favorites, have lost three straight to the Cardinal? Ugh, this one’s tough: USC by only a field goal.

Any chance Pittsburgh at No. 4 Penn State (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7) ends in a second straight Panthers victory over the Nittany Lions? In a word: Heck no. At first blush, the 21-point line seems kind of nuts given Pitt beat both PSU and Clemson last season. But I’m nuts for the Nits, who get their revenge in a big-time blowout.

My favorite favorite: Iowa -2½ at Iowa State (11 a.m., ESPN2). The Cy-Hawk series has been unpredictable, but the Hawkeyes are a lot better up front on both sides of the ball.

My favorite underdog: Nebraska +13½ at Oregon (3:30 p.m., Fox-32). Not saying the Huskers will win, but I’m taking all those points on principal. Weren’t the Ducks a sorry 4-8 just a year ago?

Last week: 6-1 straight up, 5-2 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 6-1 straight up, 5-2 vs. the spread.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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