Georgia’s season opener at Clemson is bound to be a shootout.
Clemson returns Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and an offense that is always prolific against a Georgia defense that is plagued by youth and inexperience.
Meanwhile, Aaron Murray returns with the bulk of his record-setting offense from a year ago, as Mike Bobo and company try to poke holes in a typically susceptible Clemson defense.
According to Odds Shark, Las Vegas oddsmakers expect the teams to combine for roughly 70 points. Both teams are going to score early and often. Points will abound in this game.
Unless they don’t.
If one believes the preseason hype—and there’s certainly been plenty of it—neither of these teams has a defense capable of stopping the offense that will line up on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Georgia can’t stop Clemson’s offense any better than Clemson can stop Georgia’s offense. That may very well be the theme for the game.
But if both teams are going to struggle defensively, wouldn’t it be beneficial for a team to keep its defense off of the field? All things being equal, wouldn’t the team which can keep its offense out on the field for the longest period be in a better position?
And, wouldn’t a team which is able to conserve an early lead by milking the clock have a greater chance at coming away with a victory?
The answer to all of those questions is "Yes." Only one of these two teams is capable of running the ball with that degree of proficiency, and that's the Georgia Bulldogs.
Last year, Georgia reached unparalleled offensive success (school records for points, yards per game and first downs) by utilizing a balanced attack.
Aaron Murray spread the ball around evenly through the air while freshman sensations Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall iced the cake with their elusive runs.
Murray, who is on the cusp of virtually every major SEC career passing record, is expected to distinguish himself as a Heisman candidate as the senior-most star of this offense—provided the Bulldogs successfully navigate a tricky early schedule.
Any Bulldog fan will tell you that Murray is more than worthy of consideration for such an accolade, but Murray is a team-first leader. He did not come back for his fifth season in Athens to win a Heisman Trophy. He came back to win games, win a conference Championship and win a national championship.
That path begins on Saturday against Clemson, and it may very well begin with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
One fallacy surrounding this season-opening clash of titans is that Georgia will not pursue a ground-and-pound game plan, as such an approach would deviate from the Bulldogs’ typically balanced offensive approach.
But, as the players, coaches and promotional materials put out by the University of Georgia are quick to remind everyone, this is a new team. This is not last year’s team. This is not last year’s offense.
While the offense in 2012 was certainly not “broke” enough to require fixing (to the contrary, Bobo’s offense functioned masterfully last season), any offense fortunate enough to showcase this many weapons is uniquely qualified to establish a new identity when necessary.
For at least one game, that identity might be a run-heavy offense.
Lost in the celebration of Clemson’s victory over the LSU Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl was a statistic that should have the entire Georgia offense licking its collective chops. Clemson’s defense allowed 140 yards on just 19 carries to LSU’s running backs. Leading rusher Jeremy Hill racked up 124 yards on just 12 touches.
Now consider that Georgia returns its entire two-deep depth chart along the offensive line. Remember that Gurley and Marshall combined for over 2,100 yards on the ground and that each back averaged over six yards per carry (Gurley came in at 6.2, Marshall closed at 6.5).
Lastly, recall the alleged weakness of this Georgia team: the defense.
The Georgia Bulldogs will win this game, and they’ll do so thanks to a superior running game and decisive edge in time of possession. The young Georgia defense will make enough plays to conserve a lead and Aaron Murray will be an efficient passer.
One of the running backs, however, will be the game’s MVP. One of the running backs will be Georgia’s Heisman candidate...at least for a week.