Georgia's Front 7 Will Be the X-Factor vs. Clemson

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Georgia's Front 7 Will Be the X-Factor vs. Clemson
USA Today

Georgia's defense was more punch line than power in 2013, but new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was brought in to fix the glitch.

He'll have a tough test in the season opener against Clemson and offensive coordinator Chad Morris—the highest-paid assistant coach in the country, according to USA Today's coaching salary database.

This isn't your ordinary Clemson offense, though. The Tigers are replacing quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, running back Roderick McDowell and tackle Brandon Thomas.

They also recently lost running back Zac Brooks to a season-ending foot injury suffered late in fall camp.

Tyler Smith/Getty Images
Clemson QB Cole Stoudt

Cole Stoudt will step in at quarterback, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries at wide receiver, D.J. Howard at running back and Isaiah Battle at tackle.

As Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier notes, Clemson's starting offensive line has 25 career starts with two starters—left guard Reid Webster and right tackle Joe Gore—making their first career starts.

It won't be easy in the trenches for the Tigers.

Georgia's problems on defense stemmed from scheme and uncertainty in the secondary. At times last season, it looked like the Bulldogs' secondary was doing aerobics before the snap trying to get on the same page.

Up front, though, there's plenty of reason for hope.

Five of the six members of the defensive line are upperclassmen, including senior nose guard Mike Thornton, junior defensive end Sterling Bailey and defensive tackles James DeLoach and Ray Drew. Drew was a starter last year and notched six sacks.

The front three is loadedand is actually the weaker portion of the front seven.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more talented group of linebackers in the entire country. Inside linebackers Ramik Wilson (the SEC's leading tackler last season with 133) and Amarlo Herrera return, along with outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. The latter led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks last year.

There was one major surprise up front with sophomore Tim Kimbrough listed ahead of Wilson—a preseason first-team All-SEC selection—at "Mike" linebacker, according to Tanya Sichynsky of The Red & Black:

Will it last? Probably not. Pruitt came in and gave the entire defense a clean slate.

"Coach Pruitt told the guys that, 'I'm not going to give you what you want—I'm going to give you what you earn,'" head coach Mark Richt said during Pruitt's introductory press conference in January. "I think that resonated with all of the guys in the room, and I think they were very excited about it."

Since Wilson has missed several practices during fall camp with a concussion, it's not surprising that he is a little behind. If he's healthy by game time, don't expect him to sit for very long.

Georgia Individual Sacks 2013
Player Pos. Sacks
Leonard Floyd LB 6.5
Ray Drew DT 6.0
Garrison Smith DE 6.0
Jordan Jenkins LB 5.0
Ramik Wilson LB 4.0
Corey Moore DB 1.0
Jonathan Taylor DT 1.0
Chris Mayes NG 1.0
Mike Thornton NG 1.0
Sterling Bailey DE 1.0
Amarlo Herrera LB 0.5

CFBStats.com / Highlighted Players Return

Current Bulldogs accounted for 26 of the team's 33 sacks a year ago, which was the second-best mark in the conference.

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If they can repeat the feat against an new-look Clemson offense, it will help out the rebuilt Georgia secondary—which could use some turnovers to boost its confidence.

Everybody is going to focus on "strength vs. strength" in this matchup, with Georgia's powerful offense going up against Clemson's loaded defense. That won't decide the game, though.

Georgia's front seven holds the keys to the matchup, and its ability to rattle Stoudt will have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.

Don't be surprised to see the Bulldogs defense bounce back in a big way and set the tone for a title run

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.


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