What a frustrating game. Here’s what I wrote on Thursday:
Clemson reminds me of a more talented Ole Miss team. If you remember last year’s meeting, the Rebel Black Bears made a game of it in the first half by being very aggressive with their defensive line play and linebackers. I expect to see a similar effort in the Clemson defensive game plan, hoping to plug the run game and disrupt Murray’s timing with frequent blitzing. How well that works is hard to say. I expect Georgia’s offensive line play has improved from the Ole Miss game. But Clemson has a lot more firepower on offense, more overall depth and more experience in the secondary than Mississippi did.
And don’t get me started on how nervous I am about special teams play.
Add to that a motivated road crowd, Georgia losing its best receiver early in the game, Gurley missing much of the night… and the Dawgs lost by three to the eighth-ranked team in the country. Argh.
In the end, a fumble off a sack and a complete whiff on a first and goal from the Clemson five were the difference. Congrats to the Tigers for outlasting Georgia.
Bullet points? Okay, on to the bullet points.
- Holy mother of crap, Quayvon Hicks! He did a little bit of everything – his blow up block was a major contribution to freeing up Gurley on that 75-yard TD run, he had his own monster run, and a great catch and run. As I tweeted last night, he hit for the cycle. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch what he does this season.
- Saw some good things from Justin Scott-Wesley. If Mitchell’s gone for a while, JSW is going to be needed.
- Welcome back, Michael Bennett. Your hands haven’t missed a beat.
- Don’t know whether it’s on the coaches or Murray, but a delay of game call on the first play of the second half is inexcusable.
- Special teams were a mixed bag, at best. Barber was excellent on his punts and kickoffs. Coverage teams played well. Beless was flawless on his extra points. (Kicker controversy!) And the fake punt was huge. But the return teams were incredibly passive. And the botched snap was a killer, both on the scoreboard and in terms of momentum.
- Marshall’s TD run was impressive, but I thought he wore down a little as the game went on. The play calling didn’t help his stamina.
- Gurley’s first touchdown was great, but I really loved how hard he ran on his second one.
- Speaking of play calling, I’m sure Bobo’s gonna get targeted for some criticism. How much he deserves is hard to say. His quarterback came out struggling with his fundamentals. His best receiver went out early in the game and never returned. His All-American tailback missed half the game. Yet his offense still racked up over 500 yards, had more passing yardage, more rushing yardage and more first downs than did Clemson. But his offense struggled for a stretch in the second and third quarters when Georgia had a chance to put some distance between itself and Clemson. Much of that was due, no doubt, to a wish to run the ball to eat up clock and keep Clemson from running as many plays as it hoped to – which worked to some extent, as the Tigers ran less than eighty plays – but it also played straight into Venables’ aggressive playcalling on defense. As a result, Murray got left in way too many third and long situations, which contributed to a pretty sorry third-down conversion rate. And I bet Bobo wishes he could have back the third-down call giving Hicks the ball down near the goal line that got stuffed.
- What’s with only two completions to the tight ends?
- As for the defense, well, if you’re one of those people who said Georgia’s defense would be good at some point this season, but worried that it might not come together this early, give yourself a cookie. I saw plenty of playmaking talent on the defensive side of the ball last night. Unfortunately, the talent didn’t always make the plays. Plenty of missed tackles and bad angles. Mathews didn’t wrap up a tackle that would have stopped a drive. Toby Johnson should have had a huge sack, but let Boyd get away. And it seemed like half the defense had a shot at Boyd on his slow developing touchdown run that tied the score after the turnover. But I saw some good stuff out of Langley. Jordan Jenkins was his usual awesome self. Garrison Smith had a solid game. Leonard Floyd had some good moments, despite playing the star position much of the night. Amarlo Herrera’s pass coverage has clearly improved from last year. (I just wish he could have held on to that pick.)
- My biggest concern about the defense? It got pushed around some by Clemson’s offensive line. The Tigers’ running game was more effective last night than I thought it would be. Grantham claims his 3-4 (and, yes, I know the Dawgs weren’t in their base much last night) doesn’t need a ginormous nose tackle to be effective, so if that’s the case, there are some folks who need to step up.
- Not all the blame for the defense’s shortcomings should fall on the shoulders of wide-eyed rookies. Sammie Watkins’ answer to Gurley’s TD run was the result of Norman being faked out of position and Swann’s poor attempt at tackling.
- Oh, yeah, Norman reminds me – have I ever mentioned how much I hate the effing wheel route?
- Aaron Murray had an Aaron Murray game. Early on jitters that were reflected in bad mechanics and some poorly thrown balls that eventually disappeared as he got into a rhythm (he only had nine incompletions on the night). A couple of great throws on the run, like the 35-yarder to Conley than ultimately went for naught, unfortunately. The turnovers I can’t blame him too much for – the fumble came off a sack due to bad protection and the pick came on a play action move when he didn’t have much time to see the lineman drop in coverage, Venables’ best call of the night.
- The biggest disappointment of the night, by far, was the offensive line. And I have to say that after the beautiful way the right side of the line, along with Lynch and Hicks, parted the Clemson defense for Gurley’s first TD, I didn’t see it coming. But the line struggled once Clemson committed more defenders to the line of scrimmage and varied its blitzing. And it seemed like nobody who played left tackle could handle a speed rusher. Gates was terrible on one rush that came so quickly I was surprised Murray didn’t fumble when sacked. Houston did an equally poor job on one later in the game. Left tackle wasn’t the only weak spot. Andrews looked overmatched much of the game and got whistled for some obvious holding calls. Lee got beat on a couple of running plays that were blown up. That Georgia gained 500+ yards last night should tell you how good its skill position talent is, because it sure wasn’t a reflection of the line play.
If I had to sum things up, I came in fretting about the secondary and left freaking out about the offensive line. Clemson’s front is nowhere near in the same class as South Carolina’s. Clowney’s stomach feels a whole lot better this morning, I suspect. Georgia will be quite formidable in time, but time isn’t a luxury it has in September. Color me concerned.
That’s a funny feeling to have, when you think about how much the offense did last night in a hostile environment. But there’s a lot of looseness that needs to be cleaned up when you face top-ten opponents and not a lot of time to do it in. Let’s hope the old saw about big improvement between week one and week two shows up with a vengeance. Especially on the offensive line.