Butcher: The Good and the Bad - Georgia vs Clemson
Georgia and Clemson met in a top-five match-up during week one of the College Football Season in Charlotte, North Carolina.
UGA sought to establish itself as a true contender for a national championship. There is one main question on the mind of Dawg fans: Can quarterback JT Daniels lead the offense to the caliber needed to compete with the best?
On the opposing side of the field, Clemson looked to rebound after Ohio State trounced them in the College Football Playoff semi-final game last season. After losing quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, the Tigers wanted to prove they could re-load in the way that Alabama has been able to do year after year.
However, both teams were missing key players in this match-up. Georgia lost star receiver George Pickens to an ACL injury in the spring, and several other receivers were limited in action. Clemson had a starting defensive lineman miss the game, as well as one of its promising running backs, who was held out of the first half for disciplinary issues.
In a defensive struggle, the Dawgs were able to prevail 10-3, scoring on a pick-six in the second quarter. The Georgia defense dominated throughout the night, despite the offense’s struggles.
Here’s what I saw:
The Front Seven: I can only think of two games that I’ve watched where UGA completely dominated the line of scrimmage as they did against Clemson. The other game was the 2008 Sugar Bowl against Hawaii, where UGA forced eight turnovers and recorded eight sacks. UGA was able to force seven sacks from six different players. Junior linebacker Nakobe Dean was able to torment Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei repeatedly throughout the night. Dean, who also added two tackles for loss, looked like Roquan Smith with his ability to fly all over the field, tackle efficiently and pressure the quarterback. Nose tackle Jordan Davis commanded double teams throughout the night, allowing linebackers like Dean, Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith to get into favorable matchups. Travon Walker and Jalen Carter also added a sack as well.
Lewis Cine: Junior safety Lewis Cine led the team in tackles with nine. He also had two passes defended, including a crucial break-up late in the game on third down. He played all over the field. Frequently, former walk-on Dan Jackson would play safety while Cine lined up in a more traditional role as a cornerback. He anchored the secondary and his contribution was immense.
Jake Camarda: Camarda had a fantastic game, averaging 43 yards per punt. His longest kick of 51 yards added to his ability to place four of five punts inside the twenty, including one inside the five-yard line. Camarda helped Georgia flip the field and pin back the Tiger offense throughout the game.
Chris Smith: Scoring the lone touchdown of the game, Smith intercepted Uiagaleilei’s slant to receiver Justyn Ross and took it 74-yards to the end zone. Smith added three tackles to his game-changing play.
Players who stuck it out: Several players who have stuck with head coach Kirby Smart and the Dawgs for years, only to just now see the field, had solid performances. Christopher Smith saw playing time last season when Richard LeCounte was injured. Now, as a senior, he made the key play to beat No. 3 Clemson. Senior cornerback Ameer Speed played throughout the game and recorded three tackles. Linebacker Channing Tindall had two massive tackles, showing off his speed and agility. Redshirt senior Devontae Wyatt tipped two passes throughout the game.
Senior interior defensive lineman Jordan Davis made his presence felt on nearly every down he played. Plus, don’t forget Latavius Brini, who played the STAR position, and made two clutch plays in the end zone to keep Clemson from scoring. Senior running back Zamir White led the team with 74 yards on the ground. His tough runs, especially when trucking a Clemson defensive back late in the 4th quarter, sealed the game. Senior tailback James Cook also helped convert a crucial third down to finish off the game.
All in all, if UGA has a special season, it will be because of the players who could have transferred and left but have stuck it out.
After the game, Jim Nagy tweeted a comment made by an NFL scout who said, “Just send a Senior Bowl bus to Athens and have them all get on.”
Brock Bowers: My God a Freshman! Did you say that too, when you witnessed tight end Brock Bowers lead the team in both receptions and yards? Bowers notched six receptions for 43 yards. He also showed some blocking prowess as well. Bowers received a lot of praise in fall camp, but few expected him to contribute as much as he did against Clemson
The Offense: UGA faced a talented Clemson defense, but failed to show anything promising during the game. The Dawgs’ offense only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and 4.5 yards per completion. JT Daniels noted after the game that Clemson surprised the UGA offense with how they played a soft zone throughout the game. Yet, UGA’s longest play from scrimmage was 21 yards. They didn’t have a single explosive play during the game and failed to score a touchdown. While UGA was severely hampered by missing players, they did not execute consistently throughout the game.
Injuries: On the first drive of the game starting right guard Tate Ratledge left with a leg injury, only to be put in a boot. Left guard Justin Shaffer left the game with a hand/wrist injury. Wide receiver Kearis Jackson was relegated to special teams duty as he was not fully healthy. Fellow receiver Jermaine Burton was unable to play on key downs because he was not 100 percent after spraining his ankle during the first fall practice. Darnell Washington, George Pickens and Arik Gilbert were greatly missed in the passing game. Receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint picked up a ding during the game as well. UGA, especially on the offensive side of the ball, has to get healthy as quickly as possible.
Penalties: UGA got 10 penalties for nearly 100 yards. Strangely, Kirby Smart is 7-0 when his team commits 10-plus penalties. A few of those penalties extended drives for the Tigers.
This game had a bit of a similar feel to the 2016 game against Auburn. No offensive touchdowns scored, but a pick-six from Mo Smith, which won the game.
UGA held Clemson to two yards rushing, a team who averaged over 150 yards per game and two rushing touchdowns per game last year.
Clemson HC Dabo Swinney has never been held to three or fewer points before.
Clemson only allowed 14 sacks to Trevor Lawrence last season. They gave up seven to UGA.
11 different UGA players had a reception.
UGA moves to 43-18-4 all-time against Clemson
Clemson wide receiver Joseph Ngata was their only offensive weapon, recording 110 yards on 6 catches.
Wide receiver Ladd McConkey saw a lot of playing time in this game with Kearis Jackson and Dom Blaylock out. He got to record his first collegiate catch against the Tigers.
Overall, UGA fans should be thrilled to win this game, especially considering how depleted they were on offense. I have to wonder what kind of statement the Dawgs would have made had they been healthy. While the game wasn’t pretty and the Dawgs have clear deficiencies, their mental and physical toughness won out. UGA didn’t get 300 yards, lost the turnover battle, didn’t score an offensive touchdown and still won. That only comes from grit. The exciting part is that Georgia will only improve from here on out as its offense gets healthy and its secondary gains experience. In the meantime, the Dawgs should have enough firepower on both sides of the ball to be just fine before they face another truly difficult test. Don’t sleep on UAB, they’ll put up more of a fight than Vanderbilt will.
Offense: C - They don’t get an F because of the defense they faced and the players that were missing. They did start to move the ball more efficiently in the second half.
Defense: A+ - Near-perfect performance for the Dawg’s D.
Special Teams: C - Camarda was excellent, but placekicker Jack Podlesny missed an easy field goal and Kendall Milton accidentally touched a live ball on a punt, causing a turnover.