Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs Complete Game Preview
The stage is set in Athens, Georgia, for the Clemson Tigers to take on the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday night. After what feels like an eternity leading up to the game, it’s time to completely break down the upcoming matchup. We will look at the keys to victory for both teams and also give a prediction for the game.
Dabo Swinney and the Tigers will look to pick up a big road win Saturday in Athens, but the Bulldogs will be aiming for revenge.
Clemson's Keys to Victory
Establish a Run Game
On the road in a hostile environment, this key is a must. The Tigers will need to get the running game going to take pressure off Cole Stoudt. Stoudt will have to make his fair share of plays in this one, but it will mean trouble if Clemson has to rely on him to do everything.
D.J. Howard was recently named the starter, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see three or four running backs get carries in this one. There has to be a solid run game in Chad Morris’ offense to establish rhythm also. Positive runs up the middle and to the outside will help set up the play-action pass that we have seen Morris go to early.
Make Hutson Mason Beat You
If the Tigers lose this one, it has to be because of Hutson Mason. Clemson will need to do whatever it takes, even if it’s loading the box, to slow down Todd Gurley. He is easily the best running back in the nation, and he has the potential to break off long runs.
The Tigers need to keep constant pressure on Mason and make him throw the ball. Clemson’s secondary certainly has a lot of potential, but Mackensie Alexander hasn’t played a college snap yet, and Cordrea Tankersley has seen a small amount of snaps on defense. If the Tigers are able to keep defensive linemen in Mason’s face, it will make it that much easier on the secondary.
Limit the Mistakes
This is the biggest key of the game for the Tigers. Being on the road, with new faces on offense, means that the window for mistakes is very small. Stoudt will need to play efficiently and not force throws down the field. The biggest thing for Stoudt is taking what the defense gives him and sometimes settling for the check-down receiver.
The Tigers have to also limit the mistakes on defense. We have seen the defense give up big plays, such as in the Orange Bowl versus Ohio State. As TigerNet.com’s Nikki Steele points out, the Tigers gave up 11 plays against the Buckeyes that went for 15 yards or more.
Georgia's Keys to Victory
Get Gurley Going
Gurley is the best player on the field in this game, so getting him going early and often will be huge. If Gurley is able to consistently gain positive yards, it will open things up for Mason to get the ball downfield.
If the Tigers load the box to stop Gurley, it will create one-on-one matchups for Mason to throw to against a talented but unproven Clemson secondary.
Give Mason Time to Throw
It’s no secret that Clemson has one of the best defensive lines in the country. Led by Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, this front four can generate enough pressure on their own to keep Mason off his game. Once you add in the other blitz packages that defensive coordinator Brent Venables likes to run, there’s not going to be much time for Mason to get the ball out of his hands.
Georgia lost three solid offensive linemen from last year’s team, but it’s unclear how much of a factor that will be. The one certainty is that the Bulldogs offensive line will likely need to play its best game of the year to stop Clemson’s pass rush.
Get Pressure on Stoudt
Last season, as the defensive coordinator at Florida State, Jeremy Pruitt was able to keep Tajh Boyd off his game with constant pressure from the defense.
Now at Georgia, we could likely see some of the same blitz packages that Clemson struggled with a year ago. Obviously, you have to take into account that Florida State likely had more talent on defense last year than Georgia this season, but having Pruitt is still a factor. Stoudt is making his first career start, so it’s possible that Georgia could pressure him into mistakes early.
Clemson Players to Watch
Stoudt is an obvious answer here, right? The Tigers need him to play well to win this game, and they also need him to be the vocal leader of the offense.
If Stoudt is able to play without major mistakes, this offense has a good shot at staying in the game. Playing in Athens will be tough, but Stoudt has the maturity to perform well.
Mike Williams/Charone Peake
One of these two players could be set to have a big game on Saturday. Georgia’s secondary wasn’t very good last season, as they were 60th nationally in pass defense. Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons are no longer with the team, so the secondary is a question mark for Georgia.
If Clemson is going to take shots down the field, Williams and Peake could both be in prime position to have a big game.
Going up against Gurley, Stephone Anthony plays a huge role in this game. He played very well last season, with a team-high 131 tackles, and could be the most important Tiger on the defensive side of the ball.
Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian—two starting linebackers from last season’s team—are now gone, so Anthony becomes even more important in stopping the run. Tony Steward is also another guy to watch as he looks to have his breakout season.
Georgia Players to Watch
Georgia knows what it is going to get from Gurley, but Mason is the question mark. It will be interesting to see how well he performs against Clemson’s front seven. With the talent the Bulldogs have at the skill positions, they need Mason to manage the game efficiently.
Another obvious choice, but this is a very good matchup. Clemson’s front seven led the nation last season in tackles for loss, and Gurley is one of the best backs in the country.
The Tigers can be very effective at stopping the run, as they held Ohio State’s rushing attack to only 193 yards in the Orange Bowl. They were also able to contain South Carolina running back Mike Davis to 22 yards.
As the Bulldogs try to keep pressure on Stoudt, Leonard Floyd becomes even more important. He was impressive last season as a freshman, leading the team with 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He could be set for a big year and could have a big game against a Clemson offensive line with question marks.
What They're Saying
Richt on starting quarterback Mason (per ASAP Sports): "Hutson has been in our system obviously going into his fifth-year. But there's been no change in our system. … I think we'll transition well."
Senior defensive tackle Jarrett said (per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier): "As far as anybody overpowering us and just running down our throats, that's not happening."
Senior defensive lineman DeShawn Williams said this about the Tigers' run defense (per Brenner): "Everybody's playing where they need to play and being disciplined. We're not playing over each other, everybody has an assignment and they're sticking to it."
Defensive coordinator Venables on Georgia's run game (per David Hood of TigerNet.com): "It's a huge challenge. They're very physical. They know what they're doing. They do it well. They're very aggressive in how they run the football. … They'll physically try to impose their will on us and be persistent about it."
Clemson 28, Georgia 24
Clemson will win this matchup because of its defense. While the offense has a few question marks, the defense will be among the best in the nation. The Tigers, who led the nation in tackles for loss last season, have enough talent on the defensive line to slow down Gurley.
If the Tigers can keep Gurley from breaking out, it will force Mason to make plays, and pressure from the front seven could turn into mistakes from him.
I’m also not sure that Georgia is ready to compete defensively. Pruitt is a great defensive coordinator, but will his system be able to yield positive results so soon? The Tigers have talent on offense, and if they are able to play up to their potential, things could go smoothly for that unit.
Also, the Tigers have played well when Swinney has extended time to prepare for an opponent. He has beaten Auburn and Georgia in season openers as well as LSU and Ohio State in bowl games.
Georgia is a very talented team, but Clemson is just a little bit better, in my opinion. Even on the road, the Tigers find a way to win this one because of their defense.