As we inch closer to the Georgia Bulldogs first game of the 2013 season against Clemson, the excitement level for the top-10 contest has increased.
However, the level of concern from both fanbases is high because neither team can afford to have an early loss on their schedule if they want to compete for a national title.
But does Bulldogs’ head coach Mark Richt have any concerns?
With this being his 13th season at Georgia, Richt is quite familiar with getting his teams ready for season openers. But the one thing that could (and probably should) concern Richt is the youth on defense, especially in the secondary.
Before fall camp, the starting secondary consisted of cornerbacks Damian Swann and Sheldon Dawson, strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and free safety Tray Matthews.
But when the Bulldogs hit the field on Saturday, Swann and Matthews will be there, but Brendan Langley will start at corner and Connor Norman will start at strong safety.
Swann has the most experience out of the bunch, as he became the full-time starter early last year. Norman has little experience but he does provide senior leadership. All eyes will be on Langley and Matthews because both players are true freshmen, and they will be tested by Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd early and often.
According to Georgiadogs.com, Richt addressed the youth of the defense during a Tuesday press conference:
I'm curious to see how they're going to do, but I'm not concerned so much. I am concerned about the injuries we've had, and the lack of practice time that some of these guys have had. I think even a week from this game, we're going to be in better shape from a safety standpoint, as far as health and guys that are available to play. Do we have all hands on deck right now? We don't, but the guys that are in there have to step up and play and do well.
Here’s more from Richt talking about how the success of the defense on Saturday.
I'm probably more curious than concerned. It's just going to be interesting to see how quickly these guys can get their feet under them and start playing with some confidence. I'm not saying they won't start out that way, but young people tend to be more apt to react to what happens early in the game. If things are going great, they feel great. If things aren't going well, they start feeling bad. That's one of the biggest things that they really have to understand. No matter what happens, you have to play the next down.
The reality of the situation is that the secondary will have to learn to not only build chemistry with one another. They also will have to pick themselves and each other up when they get knocked down. Plays will be made against them, but if they can learn to get ready for the next play and learn from their mistakes, there is no reason the secondary can’t make plays against Clemson’s offense.
With that said, the front seven for the Bulldogs will have to help the defensive backs. They have to apply consistent pressure on Boyd to get him out of sync with his receivers.
Jordan Jenkins will be the guy that will get the most attention because he had the most sacks a year ago (5) among returning Bulldog defensive players. But players like James DeLoach, Sterling Bailey, Ray Drew and Garrison Smith will have to play up to expectations and get after the skill players of Clemson.
Richt knows that his secondary will make some mistakes, and the defense as a whole will have some growing pains taking on an explosive offense like that of the Tigers. The one thing that he doesn’t want to see is the unit get down on itself and not be able to rebound on the next play, series or game.
If that happens, it will be a long season in Athens.