UGA football: Clemson at Georgia preview and predictions
The last time the Bulldogs played a game, it was a 24-19 defeat at the Gator Bowl. During that game, they dropped two fourth-down passes in the closing minutes helping Nebraska close out its first bowl victory since 2009.
When Arthur Lynch dropped a fourth-and-3 pass that would have moved the chains with about 25 seconds remaining, a feeling of depression spread across the Bulldog Nation.
On January 12th, however, the weeping turned to rejoicing and the depression into optimism. It was on that day that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham resigned from the University of Georgia to become the new defensive coordinator with the Louisville Cardinals.
Just two days later, the Bulldogs hired Jeremy Pruitt away from the defending national champions, Florida State. Pruitt quickly helped change the culture and brought in an amazing coaching staff.
Hopes are high once again in Athens. The Bulldogs are absolutely killing it on the recruiting front and, despite some off field turmoil, are riding the wave of momentum in a way I haven’t seen since Matthew Stafford left campus.
As wonderful as the change of momentum has been, the Bulldogs will need to now win on the field to rise to their full potential. They have a chance to show that things have changed and this will not be like the recent season openers versus Oklahoma State, Boise State and Clemson.
Why Clemson can win this game
The Tigers saw a large portion of their roster head to the NFL last season Including all of their skill position players on offense. However, make no mistake about it, the Tigers are still very talented and have an SEC talent level roster.
Their offense will be led by Cole Stoudt, who was outstanding as a backup to Tajh Boyd over the last three years. Although his opportunities were limited last season, his .797 completion percentage was best in the nation among quarterbacks with at least 50 passes attempted. Stoudt completed 47-59 passes with five touchdown passes and no interceptions.
It is a safe bet that with Clemson’s playmakers and Chad Morris as offensive coordinator, this Tigers offense will be explosive. It is the defense, however, that is garnering all of the attention.
In fact, Clemson led all ACC teams with the three defensive selections on the preseason All-ACC team. Led by All-American defensive end, Vic Beasley, this defense is expected to be among the nations best. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Stephone Anthony were all named to four national awards watch list.
Why Georgia can win this game
You can’t talk about the Bulldogs probability of success and not talk about the best running back in college football Todd Gurley. Yes, Clemson should have a very good defense. However, when healthy, no defense in college football can stop the most complete SEC running back since the 80’s.
Last season, the Bulldogs had all of the momentum before Gurley went to the locker room banged up. The Bulldogs do have more depth and experience to overcome the void Gurley leaves when he is not in the game now, but hopefully that will not be an issue.
The Bulldogs will be without two of their deep threats at wide receiver in Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. However, there is so much talent at wide receiver that they will be able to overcome their absences.
The question marks about the Bulldogs headed into the season are on the defensive side of the football. However, with the best starting linebacker unit in college football, there is a high ceiling for this team.
After watching the South Carolina youthful secondary get lit up Thursday night, some Bulldog fans have extra anxiety. The difference is the Gamecocks had no pressure from the front seven. The Bulldogs have the most proven pass rushers in the SEC headed into 2014. The ability to get pressure on the quarterback will help shield the youth of the secondary.
Deciding factor of this game
In my opinion, if Hutson Mason takes care of the football, Georgia will win this game in impressive fashion. Mason has done a good job taking care of the football in the spring and fall. In fact, it was not until the fourth scrimmage that he had his first turnover.
I expect the Bulldogs to play much faster this season. However, with the high scoring potential of the Clemson offense, I look for them to pick their moments to play fast.
The Bulldogs need to strike fast in this game. Sanford Stadium is going to be electric, perhaps the most electric since the Auburn blackout game in 2007. They need to jump on Clemson early to test the nerves of the youthful Tigers offense.
Special Teams! On the positive, there is Marshall Morgan who is expected by many to be the best kicker in college football. However, Georgia finished 14th in the league in both kick returns and punt returns in 2013.
The Bulldogs were bad on kickoffs averaging 18.6 yards per return. The punt return team was even more woeful with a 2.9 return average on punt returns.
I also think defensive lineman Ray Drew has a shot to be the x-factor. He looked primed for an All-SEC season coming into the fall, but is not listed as a starter for this game. One thing about Ray Drew is that he is best with the lights on. If he can come in off the bench and harass the Clemson backfield, it could be the difference.
I have picked Georgia to win the national championship this season and the Bulldogs have no business losing this game in Athens. I expect the offense to come out of the gates quickly. With a prewritten script, they should be able to hurry to the line of scrimmage and strike first. If the stage is not too big for Mason, (and I don’t think that it will be) they should score within the first two drives. This will put the pressure on the young Tigers offense. The Bulldogs will pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. Both teams will have their moments, but Georgia will have more.
Score Prediction: UGA 38, Clemson 27
Stat Prediction: Todd Gurley 185 yards of total offense