There’s an obvious question to ask about Georgia’s opener. If someone had told you before the game that the Dawgs wouldn’t score an offensive touchdown, whiff on a makeable field goal and lose the turnover margin battle, what kind of final result would you have predicted?
Yeah, me, too.
Instead, the defense bowed up, gave us a collective “we got this” and led the team to its biggest win since the Rose Bowl. Unlike that game, it was a grinder with only one truly thrilling moment, but, as it turned out, one thrill was enough.
And with that, on to our friends, the bullet points.
- If Georgia’s o-line didn’t have the best of nights, it was still better than Clemson’s. Daniels was only sacked once, on a perfectly executed stunt by Murphy that wasn’t picked up (Ericson?). Georgia averaged just shy of four yards per rush, which may not seem like much, but compared to Clemson’s two total yards rushing, was monumental. The problem was consistency, something that was exacerbated when Ratledge was lost for the season on the first series of the game. (Given how much Monken attacked Clemson’s perimeter, Ratledge’s ability to pull was missed.) All that being said, don’t forget how Georgia closed the game out with a 10-play, all runs, drive. You don’t do that behind an offensive line not getting the job done. The big question from here is how soon the coaches decide to move Salyer inside.
- One other thing about the o-line — it still feels like it’s transitioning from the pure power of Pittman’s approach to Luke’s preference for mobility.
- It was JT’s least effective game as a starter, but I really doubt he’s that broken up about it. Yeah, he was constrained by the injuries to the receiving corps and Venables’ emphasis on taking away the deep pass — I was surprised early on by how deep Clemson’s safeties were deployed — but he’s had better games reading the defense and finding the open man than he did Saturday night. The interception was a bad decision, plain and simple. I also wonder what would have happened on the play when the ball slipped out of his hands, because Smith had slipped open for what would have been a touchdown pass.
- Speaking of the receiving corps, it was noticeably depleted. And it did limit Georgia’s offense, not just in terms of catching options, but also, as I posted previously, in terms of blocking. There were several short passes that should have broken for decent yardage had a receiver been able to make and hold a block on a Clemson defensive back. Johnson did have one nice catch. McConkey showed that his future is working out of the slot. Mitchell looks like what he is right now, a talented true freshman with potential. He didn’t have a catch, but drew two PI calls; more work in the weight room will help his ability to beat defensive backs. Burton and Rosemy-Jacksaint look like they’re still working their way back physically. Robinson did some surprisingly good work as a blocker, but that’s only half the game. Let’s just say that there’s room for improvement and leave it at that for now.
- Tight ends were a different story. Fitzpatrick only had one catch, but he was a tenacious blocker all game long. Bowers was a pleasant surprise. Great hands and, for someone playing in his first college game, a good route runner. He almost pulled off a great touchdown catch, despite Arian Smith. (I can’t imagine the play was designed for both to wind up in the same area of the end zone.) This is going to be a formidable bunch once Washington returns.
- If there was any doubt before the game who running back number one was, Zamir White ended that. He ran tough, showed good vision and had a couple of beautiful cuts. He also contributed in the passing game, both picking up the blitz and also as a receiver. You also had to love the way he channeled his inner Richard Samuel, 2011 Cocktail Party version, to put the game away on that soul crushing final drive. Whatever rust he had from his injuries is gone.
- Cook played well, although his stats don’t really reflect that, especially in the passing game. He made a great decision to cut inside to pick up a critical first down on Georgia’s last drive.
- White may be the present, but Milton is clearly the future.
- The defense — jeez, what can you say? It’s hard to believe it’s gotten faster, but it’s definitely gotten faster. Just ask Clemson’s offensive linemen. There’s speed at every level. The way some of Georgia’s defenders burst out of scrums at the line of scrimmage to finish at the quarterback was stunning to watch.
- Every one of you who ignored Jordan Davis as a preseason all-SEC player ought to be feeling pretty stupid right now. He wrecked the inner part of Clemson’s o-line all night long.
- He got plenty of support from the likes of Walker, Wyatt and Carter, too. Carter and Walker notched sacks; Wyatt had a couple of pass breakups.
- If there’s one thing that surprised me it was how stout the linebackers were in pass coverage. Clemson took plenty of shots with wheel routes, to no avail.
- The best thing about Nolan Smith’s sack was watching the way Clemson’s left tackle kind of shrugged his shoulders after the play. (By the way, between holding and illegal motion, that dude should have had a bunch of penalty flags thrown his way all night.)
- Nakobe Dean is really coming into his own. I know it’s easy to make the Roquan comparisons, since they play the same position, but one reason the defense is faster is because Dean knows exactly what he’s doing, down after down.
- Channing Tindall played like someone who wants a lot more playing time. And it’s hard to see how the coaches deny him.
- No, the secondary wasn’t perfect, but their performance will do until perfect shows up. At least two of Georgia’s seven sacks were coverage sacks. There were a number of plays where there simply weren’t any open receivers.
- Ringo got picked on, but you can see why the staff is so high on him. Tons of physical upside, great speed. Just has to work on improving his technique.
- Outside of that, it’s hard to be critical. Cine, outside of whiffing on one tackle, had a brilliant night, with a key pass breakup on a play that otherwise would have resulted in a critical first down.
- Speed and Brini have become real assets. Brini almost single-handedly kept Clemson out of the end zone on its biggest scoring threat of the night.
- And then there’s Christopher Smith, who turned in the play of the game (duh). That was a fantastic job of baiting the quarterback into making the wrong throw.
- I didn’t understand Dabo’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-five at the time and I still don’t today. Clemson had all its time outs, its defense had been playing almost as well as Georgia’s and a good punt would have pinned the Dawgs deep. It was the kind of decision that, had Kirby made it, would have garnered all sorts of criticism.
- Georgia’s special teams effort was, to be kind, something of a mixed bag. The biggest mistake, Milton’s accidental touch of a punt, was bailed out by Smith’s pick six. But Podlesny’s whiff on a very makeable field goal attempt really kept things closer then they should have been. That being said, in a grinder of a game like that, field position was extremely critical and Georgia’s punting game absolutely killed it. Clemson had zero punt return yards. Aside from Camarda’s placement wizardry, Arian Smith had a huge play where he downed the ball inside Clemson’s five. He’s an inspired choice as a gunner.
- One thing I have to admit is that Dabo is elite at working the refs. That pass interference call on Speed was all on him.
- Okay, it wasn’t Monken’s finest hour, either. But I suspect it would have looked better if some of those perimeter plays had been blocked properly. That being said, it felt like attacking the perimeter was a deliberate strategy to wear down Clemson’s defense and judging from the last four and a half minutes of the game, that strategy was a success.
- Dan Lanning had a monster night. The man knows how to dial up just the right blitz call.
- So did Kirby Smart. It was a heavyweight fight against the number three team in the country and his team maintained its composure all night. It was Dabo Swinney, not Kirby Smart, who took a chance on a questionable call late in the game. In a way, the night reminded me of that moment in the 2002 Cocktail Party, when I suddenly realized that Georgia felt comfortable and on the same level with an opponent it had struggled with for a decade. (Admittedly this was better, since Georgia won.) I’m not predicting that the Dawgs are winning a natty this season, but they certainly looked like they belong in the conversation — even on a night when the offense didn’t get in the end zone. That’s a helluva thing.
There was a lot to overcome, now that I think about it. A tough, well prepared (at least on defense) opponent. An offense that was missing quite a few quality parts. And yet, when all was said and done, Georgia won a game in which it never trailed and in so doing, answered a lot of questions about itself. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, as there obviously is on the offensive side of the ball. But this team seems to have its collective shit together for 2021. Enjoy the ride, folks.