Clemson usually steps off the bus with a significant raw talent advantage, but on Saturday in Charlotte the tables are turned. Before we dig into the numbers and analysis, let’s look at the methodology.
Using each team’s depth chart and 247 Sports recruiting metrics, a star rating and four digit rating ranging from .7791 to .9999 is given for each starter and second-string player. (Any unrated player is listed at .7791, which coincides with Clemson’s lowest rated player in the two-deep). For the blue chip ratios, four and five-star players are counted as “blue chip” prospects while all others are not. Blue chip ratios and average four-digit rating are shown for the starters and second-stringer on offense and defense. When combining the starters and the second-string, starters are weighed as 2⁄3 and the second string is weighted as 1⁄3 of the overall offense and defense averages.
The Bulldogs only have one player listed as an offensive starter that wasn’t a four or five-star recruit. From a pure recruiting ratings standpoint, the Bulldogs have Clemson beat.
Despite Georgia’s advantages in raw recruited talent, the Tigers generally have a more modern and prolific passing offense that generates more yards, points, and excitement than the more traditional, plodding Bulldog offense.
Last season, Clemson finished 10th in total offense (502 yards per game) while Georgia ranked 41st (424 yards per game). Those stats are somewhat skewed by tempo and strength of schedule, but when we look at the adjusted F+ advanced metrics, Clemson ranks 6th on offensive while Georgia is still well behind at 22nd. Similarly in 2019, Clemson finished 5th in F+’s offensive rankings while Georgia lagged behind at 23rd.
Why are performances of these offenses at odds with their recruited talent? It could be many things: play calling, culture, player development, scouting, etc. All of those are likely part of the explanation, but the biggest difference is quarterback play.
When Clemson and Georgia played in 2013, each team boasted all-time greats at QB — Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray. Since then, Hutson Mason, Greyson Lambert, Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, and Stetson Bennett have been their starting QBs. It wasn’t until the final four games of last season that JT Daniels took over at QB.
In 12 starts at USC, Daniels tallied 2,887 passing yards with a 15-11 TD-INT ratio. He averaged 241 yards per game and 7.3 yards per pass attempt. In his four starts at Georgia against Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri and Cincinnati, Daniels tallied 1,231 passing yards with a 10-2 TD-INT ratio. He averaged 308 passing yards per game and 10.3 yards per attempt.
Which is the real JT Daniels? If it is the latter, the Bulldogs have more than enough talent around him to finally have an elite offense. Four games is a small sample size though. That’s especially true in a wonky COVID year. On top of that, three of those game came against poor defenses (Miss St: 52nd, U of SC: 105th, Mizzou: 66th) and the other (Cincinnati: 13th) in a bowl game.
The Heisman odds say JT Daniels one of the top five best QBs in the country. If you believe that, Georgia has the advantage on offense. If DJ Uiagalelei is the clearly superior player then it will likely look more like it has the past two years in which Georgia has a good offense and Clemson has a great one.
There’s no getting around this one. Georgia has an immensely talented defense that lives up the the hype nearly every year. The F+ ranked the Bulldog defense #2 in the country each of the past two seasons. One of the few non-blue chippers on the defense is Jordan Davis, a 6-foot-6 340lbs behemoth listed on the pre-season All-SEC team.
Fortunately for Clemson, the Bulldogs have to replace loads of talent and have them ready in the season’s first week. CB Eric Stokes (1st rnd), CB Tyson Campbell (2nd rnd), LB Azeez Ojulari (2nd rnd), LB Monty Rice (3rd rnd), S Richard LeCounte (5th rnd), and nickel Mark Webb (7th rnd) all departed in the most recent NFL draft. Tykee Smith, a safety/nickel who transferred in from West Virginia to help replace some of that talent, is doubtful for Saturday’s game with a foot injury.
Typically only Alabama has been able to replace that much talent without a down season or two. Georgia — with the help of the transfer portal — may have collected enough talent to do the same.
Clemson, while not having quite the outrageous star-level, has a meaningful experience advantage. The defense boasts two sixth-year players (James Skalski and Nolan Turner) and after starting two true freshman last season (DE Myles Murphy and DT Bryan Bresee) is now a mostly veteran group. Safety Landen Zanders is poised for a bounce back campaign after struggling playing through a shoulder injury last season. Tyler Davis looks to breakout as a junior after being slowed by injuries last season. Defensive ends Xavier Thomas and Justin Foster are healthy after a year filled with COVID and other illnesses.
Both defenses could finish top five in the country. Clemson has the advantage in a season opener given their experience — barring significant COVID impacts — but Georgia boasts a raw talent level that only Alabama can match.
This game may come down to which QB and coaching staff you trust most. If JT Daniels can match DJ Uiagalelei play-for-play, the Dawgs have the advantage, but if Uiagalelei proves to be the clearly superior QB, the Tigers will be hard to beat.