Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer 345d

Georgia gives fans something big to cheer about after holding on to beat Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Georgia coach Kirby Smart didn't want Rodrigo Blankenship thinking he had to kick well to earn a scholarship, so he informed the sophomore Friday that he finally had one.

On Saturday night, Blankenship kicked a 30-yard field goal to put the No. 15 Bulldogs in front of the No. 24 Fighting Irish 20-19 with 3 minutes, 34 seconds to play, and then Georgia's defense did what it did all night.

With the Irish driving for a go-ahead touchdown, outside linebacker Davin Bellamy sacked quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind, and linebacker Lorenzo Carter recovered his fumble to seal Georgia's second-ever victory over Notre Dame.

"It was a great play," Smart said of Bellamy's sack. "If they get that first down, it's probably a different outcome. I was actually wanting to get him out of the game because I thought he was a little winded. He'd been in two or three plays on that drive. He made a great play and changed the game."

So did Blankenship, who had missed a 44-yard field goal earlier in the game. The former walk-on emerged as Georgia's starting kicker last season.

"He won the job," Smart said. "We told him on Friday because we didn't want him thinking he was kicking for a scholarship. He earned that, and we're happy we were able to give it to him."

Bellamy and Carter nearly left for the NFL draft as juniors, but Smart persuaded them to come back for their senior seasons. Carter had seven tackles, two quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one sack, and Bellamy had six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and the forced fumble that ended Notre Dame's hopes of coming back.

Georgia's defense smothered the Irish offense, holding Notre Dame to 55 rushing yards with 3 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 2 turnovers.

Georgia's offense, with freshman quarterback Jake Fromm making his first career start, mostly sputtered as well. The Bulldogs were penalized 12 times for 126 yards, and Fromm lost a fumble and threw an interception.

"It was very sloppy at times," Smart said. "There were a lot of penalties. We tried to make it as difficult as possible, which is frustrating because we have a chance to be a good team. We're not going to beat teams down the road with those mistakes."

The Bulldogs probably won't see another road environment like this one. The teams hadn't played since Georgia defeated Notre Dame 17-10 in the 1981 Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 national championship, and tens of thousands of UGA fans made the trip to South Bend to watch the rematch.

"It felt like a home game," receiver Terry Godwin said.

"I'm proud of our fans," Smart said. "I'm proud of them coming out and showing up. It never felt like it was a road game. There were times when our quarterback was able to go on his own cadence, which never happens in the SEC."

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