Georgia Bulldogs vs. Clemson Tigers Complete Game Preview
The Georgia Bulldogs kick off the 2013 football season with the renewal of an old rivalry with the Clemson Tigers.
The Dawgs and the Cats fought for 15 consecutive seasons from 1973-1987 and have faced off a total of 62 times, but this will be the teams' first clash in 10 years. Mark Richt and the Dawgs are hoping to replicate that last meeting, a 30-0 road victory for the Bulldogs in 2003.
Clemson is looking to build on an 11-2 campaign from 2012 that was capped off by a thrilling 25-24 win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Georgia hopes to take another step forward after coming just a few yards shy of the national championship game while posting 12 wins.
Here's what you need to know:
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network
Spread: Georgia by 1.5 (via Covers.com)
Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer preview the matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers.
Georgia Keys to Victory
The youth and inexperience of Georgia's defense is well documented. Long gone are stars like Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo. Georgia returns just three full-time starters: defensive end Garrison Smith, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrerra and cornerback Damian Swann.
Defensively, Georgia needs these three veterans to step up, not only with their play but also with their on-field leadership. Clemson boasts a high-powered offense, and the Bulldogs cannot afford to get rattled and fall behind early.
Additionally, Georgia needs to rely on its speed and depth on the defensive side of the ball while playing as a cohesive unit. Last year's defense boasted loads of talent but disappointed more times than not. If this unit's calling card is athleticism, consistency and intelligent play, the end results will be more than acceptable.
Slow Scoring Drives
The best way for a young defense to thrive against a prolific offense is to stay off the field altogether. This responsibility falls squarely on Mike Bobo's offense.
Georgia must control the clock to win this football game. The Dawgs have plenty of depth on the offensive line and arguably the best running back duo in the nation. The Bulldogs need to rely on their running game. Clemson's defense has been generally porous, but long, slow, methodical scoring drives will help the Dawgs more than quick strikes.
Don't expect Georgia to abandon the passing game, but Aaron Murray's number one responsibility is to avoid turnovers. Murray has had seven multi-interception games in his career. He can't have one on Saturday.
Clemson Keys to Victory
Clemson's offense is tasked with the unique task of matching wits with Georgia's. Fortunately for Dabo Swinney and his staff, the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country who might be up to the task.
Clemson's offense needs to score early and often. A few quick scoring drives will go a long way in deflating the confidence of a young Georgia defense. The best way to do this may be to take advantage of a Georgia secondary that is both inexperienced and banged-up.
Make Big Plays on Defense
Defensively, Clemson's own set of defensive backs must be prepared to capitalize on errant throws. Sometimes it take Murray a few passes to find his rhythm. The Tigers need to seize such opportunities and seek out big plays. If a deep ball sails, Clemson's safeties need to snag it. If a pass is behind a target, a corner needs to collect it.
Embrace the Crowd
The best advantage Clemson has in this game is a home crowd. The Tigers need to do whatever it takes to keep fans engaged. Exciting plays on offense and big stops on defense will accomplish that goal.
Players to Watch for Georgia
The Offensive Line
Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend said recently that he will play eight offensive linemen against Clemson. That's one heck of a luxury. If Georgia is going to protect Aaron Murray while physically dominating the line of scrimmage and opening up holes for Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, these eight players need to be ready play when called upon.
The general consensus is that scoring points will come easily for Georgia. If that proves to be the case, then Georgia needs to focus on clock management and giving a young defense time to regroup. Todd Gurley (and Keith Marshall to a lesser extent) will be the key to this. In fact, if Gurley stands out more than Aaron Murray in this game, that may be a very good sign for Georgia fans.
Jenkins is the heir to the gaping void left by Jarvis Jones. That's a lofty calling, but his production as a true freshman (31 tackles, 8 for a loss, 5 sacks) while playing a limited role implies that he is up for a challenge. Jenkins must put pressure on Tajh Boyd but must not over-pursue and open up running lanes.
Last season Damian Swann was an unheralded playmaker who capitalized on mistakes opposing QBs made against fierce pressure and tremendous safeties. He no longer has those safety nets and with lockdown cornerback Sanders Commings departed for the NFL, Swann is now the guy. His first test should be fun: Sammy Watkins.
Players to Watch for Clemson
This Georgia defense may be young, but it is talented and Boyd has struggled at times against SEC defenses. Like Murray with Georgia, Boyd must limit turnovers if Clemson is going to win this game. Boyd has been the primary man under center for eight Tiger losses over the past three seasons. He's thrown 11 career interceptions in those losses. A turnover early could jumpstart a young, hungry Georgia defense.
Watkins is hit or miss. He has seven career 100-yard receiving games. But, he also has six games with fewer than 50 receiving yards. He must show up big for Clemson, and he's certainly more than capable. He registered 10 catches for 155 yards and 2 TDs against Auburn as a freshman. He torched Wake Forest for over 200 yards last season. Clemson needs a 150-yard effort from him on Saturday.
Blanks, a sophomore, is the lone returning starter in Clemson's defensive secondary. He'll be all over the field but will be tasked with keeping an eye on Georgia's weapons (Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett, Arthur Lynch, Chris Conley, etc.) while also aligning his less-experienced teammates. He can ill-afford a mental lapse.
What They Are Saying
According to Seth Emerson of Macon.com, Georgia wants to force turnovers on defense:
There are indications that Georgia may be strategizing around [inexperience] by emphasizing turnovers a bit more -- although Grantham will never come out and say that. But the fact freshman Brendan Langley vaulted to a first-team cornerback spot -- over sophomore Sheldon Dawson -- is a hint, along with fellow freshman Shaq Wiggins earning playing time. Langley and Wiggins have only been on campus a month, but in that time they’ve continually been credited with interceptions, whether it be in scrimmages or game-like situations in practices.
According to ESPN.com, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is most concerned with keeping emotions in check:
[You] focus on your job and not get caught up in the surroundings and the hype of [being] on the road or the big game or big environment. It’s tough. The beginning of the season is always exciting no matter who you play, and then you add an opponent that has the same talent you do and is capable of beating you any Saturday. You have to do the little things and execute -- and that’s what it comes down to is executing, no matter how excited and how fired up you are.
Meanwhile, Mandrallius Robinson of GreenvilleOnline.com says that Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables believes that "the Tigers' front seven has matured and should improve against the run."
Georgia 34, Clemson 24
Both teams will trade scores early before Georgia works out a lead thanks to a few defensive stops and continued offensive success.
Clinging to a seven-point lead at half-time, the Bulldogs will run the ball and eat up the game clock while silencing the hostile crowd.
Todd Gurley will be the game's MVP, the offensive line will be the unsung hero and the defense will develop an identity.