2013 Georgia @ Clemson -- Game Preview

Streeter Lecka

It is very safe to say that calling this game a big one would be an understatement. Many Clemson fans, including this guy, have had this game circled on the calender since it was announced the two teams would play many, many years ago. Clemson / Georgia...a rivalry that is being reignited after a decade of hibernation. Death Valley will be rocking and the entire country will be watching these two Top 10 teams square off Saturday.

School / Coaching Information


Clemson Georgia
2012 Record: 11-2, 7-1 ACC 12-2, 7-1 in SEC
Rankings: 8 AP, 8 USA Today 5 AP, 5 USA Today
Location: Clemson, SC Athens, GA
Colors: Clemson Orange and Regalia Red and white
Enrollment: 20,768 34,816
Athletic Director: Dan Radakovich Greg McGarity
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney, Alabama ‘93 Mark Richt (Miami (FL) ‘82)
Record at Current School: 40-21 (.656) 118-40 (.747)
Career Record: 40-21 (.656) 118-40 (.747)
Offensive Coordinator: Chad Morris Mike Bobo
Base Offense: Spread Pro / Multiple
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Venables Todd Grantham
Base Defense: 4-3 3-4
Athletic Website: www.clemsontigers.com www.GeorgiaDogs.com

General Game Information

Game Time 8:00 PM EDT
Stadium Memorial Stadium
Host City Clemson, SC
Television ABC
Play by Play Announcer Brent Musburger
Color Commentator Kirk Herbstreit
Sideline Heather Cox
Clemson Radio Clemson Tiger Sports Network (WCCP FM)
CU Play-By-Play Pete Yanity
CU Color Commentary Will Merritt
CU Sideline Reporting Patrick Sapp

This week's contest is one of the most hyped openers in school history and will feature two offenses with extremely high potential and two defenses that have a lot of question marks--particularly in the secondary.  There are many questions in the special teams areas--as one would suspect in the season opener.  Clemson will be looking to improve in several areas here, most notably in kick coverage areas.  Georgia surely has the athletes to make Clemson pay if the Tigers cannot corral the Bulldog returners.

2012 Simple Statistical Comparison

General_statistics_medium

Head Coach Mark Richt

2013 will be the thirteenth campaign for UGa Head Football Coach Mark Richt in Athens.  Richt, began his college football career as a quarterback for the University of Miami in the early '80's.  Richt spent the last part of the '80's as a GA at Florida State, the 1990 season in East Carolina, then returned to FSU from 1990 through 2000.  Richt was the quarterbacks coach upon arrival in Tallahassee then was promoted to offensive coordinator prior to the 1994 season.  Richt's time at FSU oversaw one of the most prolific offenses in the nation during the '90's while Richt coached some tremendous athletes.  FSU won the 1993 and 2000 National Championships while he was there and had two of his QB's win the Heisman Trophy (Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000).

Richt arrived in Athens as the head man in 2001, taking over for Jim Donnan.  Richt was able to capture two SEC crowns in his first five seasons at Georgia and led the team to five total SEC East since his arrival.  Their 2002 team was, in my opinion, the best of the bunch and had Richt not been keen on playing musical quarterbacks during Florida game would have won the whole thing.  Richt had some issues in the middle of the decade as he had to replace his stellar defensive coordinator (Brian VanGorder) with Willie Martinez and his offensive coordinator (Neil Callaway) with Mike Bobo.  The Martinez decision almost cost Richt his job as the Bulldogs struggled mightily with him leading the defense. During the latter part of the '00's, it was not uncommon to hear Richt listed amongst the coaches on the "hot seat."  Following Martinez's departure, Georgia improved dramatically and won the East again in '11 and '12.  I'll also note that Mark Richt has recruited well at UGa--which now appears to be in reload mode year after year.

Georgia Offense

Georgia, much like our Clemson Tigers, fully expects to have a high-powered, potent offense during the 2013 campaign.  The Dawgs are led offensively by former UGa quarterback and current offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.  Following his playing career in Athens ('94 through '97), Bobo was a graduate/admin assistant there from 1998-99, coached quarterbacks the following season at Jacksonville State, then returned to UGa in the same capacity in 2001.  In 2007, Bobo was elevated to offensive coordinator following Neil Calloway's decision to leave Athens to become the head man at UAB.

If you've been over here often, you'll know that we-like a lot of Georgia fans you'll find out there-have been critical of the Bulldogs offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo.   Bobo for many years there looked to be in over his head, out-thinking himself, and always trying to get too cute.  Several years ago we routinely watched Georgia cram the ball down the opponent's throat on the ground for six only to come back the next drive guns-a-blazin' unsuccessfully trying to throw the football all over the field.  Their playcalling did improve last season-particularly at the end of the season.  The obvious response here is that the Dawgs had two studs (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) to carry the ball and a QB in Aaron Murray who many thought was NFL-ready.

Georgia will show an array of formations on offense.  You'll see I-Formation, four wide, Gun, Pistol, etc...  Bobo will alternate positions frequently and, sometimes, for no plausible reason.  Schematically, they don't do anything revolutionary-basic route running and pounding the ball with their dynamic back duo.  What sets this offense apart from the mediocre offenses we saw out of Georgia during the first portion of the Bobo era is Aaron Murray's ability to be a smart football player.  He does a good job taking what the defense gives him in drop situations.  I've seen Murray repeatedly move the football tossing little 8 yard stop routes essentially taking the "free yards" the defense gave him.  Georgia also likes to use a litany of screen passes.  I noticed various WR slip screens and bubble screens (typically to the field side) throughout last season.

I will say that I was impressed with use of formation in the running game at times last season.  Georgia throws many flavors of formations at you each week.  They lined up in the traditional I-formation and pounded the ball a good bit of the time.  They were also successful running the ball against Florida last season in large part because the Bulldogs chose to spread the field then run the ball.  The horizontal stretch gave their great backs lots of cutback lanes that resulted in some big gains on the ground.  Point of the story is that UGa would like to just line up and pound you but are dynamic and will change formation to run the ball if defensive scheme/personnel dictate.

Personnel-wise, Georgia brings back a lot of experience on the offensive front.  The line brings back all five starters from last season and have depth--eight linemen who will play against Clemson on Saturday.   These guys are experienced and will make Clemson mix things up and use all their athletic prowess to get penetration or put pressure on the quarterback.  The line will be blocking for two excellent running backs--Gurley and Marshall.  These guys were a tremendous force last season as freshmen and everyone expects this duo to be trouble for opponents throughout the '13 campaign as well.  Certainly the Dawgs are flat out deep on the line and in the backfield.

2012 Rushing Statistics

NAME CAR YDS AVG LONG TD
Todd Gurley 222 1385 6.2 55 (TD) 17
Keith Marshall 117 759 6.5 75 (TD) 8
Ken Malcome 57 272 4.8 30 2
Christian LeMay 16 67 4.2 21 1
Richard Samuel 18 65 3.6 20 0
Rantavious Wooten 1 24 24 24 0
Brandon Harton 8 20 2.5 5 0
Malcolm Mitchell 5 17 3.4 16 0
Alexander Ogletree 3 14 4.7 8 (TD) 1
Merritt Hall 2 10 5 5 0
Branden Smith 2 9 4.5 7 0
Totals 525 2556 4.9 75 32

Aaron Murray is the big name quarterback for the Bulldogs.  He will set his fair share of records this season as this young man is the real deal--All-SEC quarterback over the defending Heisman Trophy winner good.  He is supported at the receiver position by Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell.  You'll recall that Bennett was Georgia's leading receiver last season until suffering a season ending injury mid-year.  Mitchell is a stud.  He started the year at corner last season due to some issues the Dawgs had with secondary depth last season.  This young man is extremely athletic and can flat out move.  We are concerned that Mitchell could have a really, really big night against the Clemson secondary.  The major loss for the offense is Tavarres King.  King led the Bulldog receivers last season and is now playing on Sundays.

Murray attempted nearly all of UGa's passes last season and his passing stats can be seen below.  Receiving numbers will immediately follow.

2012 Passing Statistics

NAME CMP ATT YDS CMP% YDS/A TD INT RAT
Aaron Murray 249 386 3893 64.5 10.09 36 10 174.8
2012 Receiving Statistics

NAME REC YDS AVG LONG TD
Tavarres King 42 950 22.6 75 (TD) 9
Malcolm Mitchell 40 572 14.3 57 4
Marlon Brown 27 469 17.4 66 (TD) 4
Arthur Lynch 24 431 18 49 3
Michael Bennett 24 345 14.4 67 (TD) 4
Chris Conley 20 342 17.1 87 (TD) 6
Rantavious Wooten 15 187 12.5 38 (TD) 2
Jay Rome 11 152 13.8 24 (TD) 2
Rhett McGowan 12 150 12.5 20 1
Justin Scott-Wesley 6 135 22.5 43 1
Todd Gurley 16 117 7.3 23 0
Keith Marshall 11 91 8.3 24 (TD) 1
Alexander Ogletree 4 25 6.3 10 0
Sanders Commings 1 16 16 16 0
Merritt Hall 1 9 9 9 0
Totals 254 3991 15.7 87 37

The Bulldogs had a record setting year last year catching the ball and appear to be in prime position to keep that production going in '13 with a stellar quarterback and group of veteran receivers.  Combine this with a very good and experienced line and two stud runningbacks and you have a recipe for a very, very potent offense.

Georgia Defense

The Georgia defense has a ton of question marks coming into this season.  The Dawgs lost a lot of firepower from last season and will have a lot of inexperience on the field when they come to Death Valley.  The group, though, is led by a very capable defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham.  Grantham spent the early ‘90's coaching linemen at VPI, spent a couple seasons at Michigan State, then took a tour of NFL teams beginning in 1999.  His tenure at Georgia began in 2010 after Mark Richt finally canned his buddy Willie Martinez.  I will point out that Georgia's fortunes on the gridiron-both on defense and overall-have vastly improved since bringing TG onboard as he is exponentially better at this job than his predecessor.

From a personnel standpoint, Georgia lost twelve defensive players that started a game last year.  This includes Jarvis Jones (OLB), Alec Ogletree (ILB), and Kwame Geathers (DL) who each chose to forego his senior season to enter the NFL draft.  The other nine lost to attrition were headlined by defensive back Bacarri Rambo but pretty much round out the entire defense.  To say some players will be cutting their teeth against Clemson is a drastic understatement.  I would not, however, write the whole unit off for the season.  Georgia has done a tremendous job recruiting and have the talent to backfill and be successful as an overall team-particularly when you consider how explosive their offense should be.  I'll make the obvious statement now...this Georgia defense should be much better at the end of the season than they will be when they take the field at Clemson or the following week against SCar in Athens.  For the Clemson game, though, you will see a largely talented and fast group who will-early on-be asked to use raw talent to keep opposing offenses in check.  Understanding of the defense and in-game situational items will have to evolve for these folks on down the road.

What you will first notice about the Georgia defensive philosophy is the 3-4 base set.  Dr. B put together an epic piece on Georgia's 3-4 attack several weeks ago here.  If you have not read that article DO IT prior to Saturday's contest.  Trust me, it will help you understand many, many items going on in the football game.

Grantham brought this scheme with him from his experience at the professional level and has implemented it well in Athens.  If you have questions about fronts, I highly recommend you brush up on them via an STS article from a while back.  You can find that here.  There are also quite a few articles on defensive fronts in our archives, and I'll also take this time to dig through there as well to get yourself ready for the start of a new season.  Regardless, the 3-4 is heavily reliant on the nose where they lost John Jenkins to graduation (third round selection by the Saints).  We'll be watching intently to see how Clemson manages the odd front.  You'll recall one of our biggest complaints last season was Dalton Freeman's inability to do anything when covered.  We are hoping that Ryan Norton can do a better job handling the zero than his predecessor.

All in all, I everyone is--properly--focused on the inexperience that Georgia brings to the table.  The Dawgs are replacing a lot of very, very talented athletes from last year's squad and are green in the secondary.  To say that I believe Clemson is going to try to exploit this inexperience is an understatement.  The Tigers have the weapons to stretch this defense and / or get after Georgia's young bucks.  Clemson's receivers are more than talented enough to be expected to have a huge, huge football game.  Combine this with an already young UGa secondary, the suspension of Josh Harvey-Clemons, and injuries to Trey Matthews, Corey Moore, Sheldon Dawson, and Shaq Fluker this fall leaves this secondary extremely vulnerable.

Special Teams

The big special teams item heading into this one for the Bulldogs is the availability of kicker Marshall Morgan.  Morgan was involved in an offseason BUI and plead guilty earlier this summer to the incident.  Similar incidents have warranted playing time suspension but Mark Richt has refused to definitively state Morgan's availability.  Reports out of the Georgia camp, however, indicate that Morgan has taken a limited role in game prep for Clemson and most believe he will miss some of or the entire contest in Death Valley.  That leaves Georgia to rely on Adam Erickson and Patrick Beless-both of whom are walk-ons.  This could be a huge issue for obvious reasons.

Overall, the kicking game has been one of ire for the Dawgs the past couple years.  They had so many issues in this area last season that Richt openly discussed becoming his own special teams.  In addition to placekicking, I'll be interested to see how Georgia's punt team matches up against the Clemson return team.  We complained a bit last season about the lack of return yardage and, if we can force Georgia into punt situations, should be able to gain field position in this portion if recent Bulldog history plays out Saturday night.

Overall

Most everyone looks at this game and expects a 38-35 contest based on the experienced talent each team returns on offense, previous seasons' output, and many questions surrounding each defense (particularly each defensive backfield).  I can't say that I disagree and really think that both Venables and Grantham will have their hands full trying to keep points off the board.  This sets up to be a good one and, obviously, a big one for both teams.  These are the ones you have to win to be discussed with the nation's elite programs.  I'd like to again point out that this game should be an annual contest as it makes no sense that these two football teams don't play every year given the history between the two and the relatively short distance between the universities.  Hopefully the ADs for each school will make this a priority henceforth.

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