Welcome to the 2021 football season, and what a way to start with a top-5 matchup between #3 Clemson and #5 Georgia, in front of a full stadium of fans. Games like this are what you live for if you have aspirations of being the best team in the nation at the end of season. The big question that seemed to be on the minds of most Tiger fans was how the offensive line would fare against the giants on the Bulldog defensive line. Most seemed confident that the Tiger defense would play better than the last time we saw them. In turns out that they were right on both accounts.
Georgia took the opening kickoff and returned it to the 25. The Bulldogs started their drive with three passes before picking up 3 on their first run. The Bulldogs ran the ball several more times, but the Tiger front seven pursued and tackled well. Eventually the Tigers forced a 3rd and long and kept Georgia from converting. The punt was downed at the Tiger 10 at the 9:42 mark.
A short run by Kobe Pace and and an incomplete pass led to 3rd and 8. D.J. Uiagalelei looked downfield but was sacked before he could get the pass off. Will Spiers had a nice punt and Georgia took over at the Tiger 49. At this point, the Georgia offense was operating a little more efficiently than the Tigers, with the Bulldog defensive front 7 posing problems for the Tiger offensive line.
The Bulldog drive started with an incomplete pass and then a short completion that made it 3rd & 6. Tiger CB Andrew Booth kept a Bulldog receiver from getting the first down by coming off the WR and tripping up the runner. Georgia set up to go for it on 4th, but decided to play the field position game and punted. The Bulldog punter got off another great kick and pinned the Tigers at the 2.
D.J. looked for Justyn Ross down the left sideline and got a pass interference penalty, but then getting the play in too slowly cost the Tigers a timeout. Ross picked up 6 on 1st down but he and D.J. had different ideas of the route to be run on 2nd down. On 3rd down, the Bulldogs brought pressure and got to D.J. again. Spiers’ punt was fielded at the Bulldog 37.
The Georgia drive started with a nice run, but Trenton Simpson got pressure on Bulldog QB J.T. Daniels on 2nd down, and he had to throw it away. On 3rd & 2, a false start pushed them back and on 3rd & 7 the Tigers appeared to make the stop, but were called for pass interference. Another 3rd & 7 came up and the Bulldog TE got free and moved the chains. On the play Bryan Bresee injured his right shoulder and left the game. The Bulldogs leaned on their running game for a few plays, but had to face another 3rd and long. They picked up 6 but a penalty pushed them back to the Tiger 27. The clock ran out on the 1st quarter with the score tied 0-0. When play resumed, Georgia faced 3rd & 13 but didn’t pick up the needed yardage. Their FG attempt sailed wide left.
The Tiger drive started slowly, but Will Shipley converted a 3rd down out to the 36. After a short run by D.J., the Tigers went tempo and D.J. connected with Joseph Ngata into Bulldog territory. A bad snap and a short pass put the Tigers at 3rd & 9. D.J. bobbled the snap and picked it up but could only get 4 yards. The Tigers set up a trick punt formation but didn’t like what they saw and called a timeout. They came back out in the same formation and Spiers put the Bulldogs at their 9.
The Georgia drive started well for them, with good runs and short passing, but Bresee came back into the game and stuffed the Bulldog RB on an up-tempo 3rd & short play to force the punt. The 52-yard punt put the Tigers at their 15 yard line.
Clemson tried to get Braden Galloway into the game but D.J. couldn’t connect with him. Ross and D.J. had another miscommunication and the Tigers punted. Clemson got a break when a Georgia defender touched the loose ball and the Tigers recovered it at the midfield. Catches by Ross and Galloway, and some short runs moved the Tigers down to the 30 and set up 3rd & 4. D.J. then made a big mistake , trying to hit Ross on a slant and not using his eyes to influence the defense. The Bulldog safety jumped the route and took the pick to the house. With 2:58 left in the half, Georgia led 7-0.
D.J. looked for Galloway on a crossing route but it was well defended. He came right back and hit Ngata on the right sideline out to the Tiger 49. On 2nd down, he hit Pace with a short pass, but the turf monster got Kobe before he could get the 1st down. Ngata made a great catch over the middle to convert at the Bulldog 37. The Tiger o-line was getting their butts absolutely whipped on pass rushes and the Tigers threw 3 incompletions. Spiers had a nice kick but the Tigers couldn’t keep it out of the end zone. Georgia ran a couple of plays before the clock ran out.
At halftime, it was clear that concerns about Clemson’s offense line were justified. They were getting manhandled. There was no running game and D.J. was frequently being hounded by Bulldog linemen and linebackers. Too many times I saw Bulldog defensive linemen just throw Tiger offensive linemen aside. The Tiger defense, as expected, was playing pretty well. It was good to see Bresee come back into the game after appearing to injure his right should. Now it was time to see if the Tigers could make some adjustments and get back into the game.
The Tigers started the 2nd half from the 25 after a touchback. The first two plays yielded nothing but got a pass interference penalty to keep the drive alive. Ngata continued his good game with an 11 yard gain and Ross picked up 5 on a reverse to move into Georgia territory. On consecutive plays, D.J. was hit behind the line of scrimmage as the Tiger line continued their impersonation of a sieve. Spiers’ punt was fair caught at the Bulldog 12.
Georgia began their drive with some good running but the Tiger defense stiffened. Baylon Spector stepped in front of a Daniels pass, giving the Tigers the ball deep in Georgia territory. But poor pass protection and indecision by D.J. led to another couple of sacks. A tremendous opportunity ended with another punt.
Perhaps feeling some confidence with the defense’s play, the Bulldog offense opened up a little and quickly moved into Tiger territory with a balanced approach. But some good defense and a holding penalty against Georgia set up 3rd & 7. The Bulldogs converted. A pass interference call against the Tigers set up 1st & goal for Georgia. The Tigers held, however, and forced a FG attempt which was successful. Georgia led 10-0 with 2:41 left in the 3rd quarter.
A chop block penalty and spectacularly bad blocking doomed Clemson’s drive. Spiers had a nice punt and a block in the back penalty meant the Bulldogs would start at their 35. A 13-yard first down pass ended the 3rd quarter at this point. The Tiger defense came through after a couple of short runs when Myles Murphy sacked Daniels and forced the Bulldogs to punt.
Clemson started from their 13 needing a good drive to get themselves back in the game. The Tiger offense looked listless until D.J. hit Ngata down the sideline to the Georgia 42. Lyn-J Dixon had a nice run for a first down. From the 20, Frank Ladson drew a pass interference call on his defender, putting the ball at the 5. On first down, D.J. had to throw the ball away because of good coverage. He tried to hit Ladson in the back of the end zone but the coverage was good. He looked for Ladson again in the corner but couldn’t connect. B.T. Potter punched the short FG through and the score was 10-3 Georgia with 9:08 left.
Clemson’s defense decided they were going to keep the team in the game. With some good play by Skalski and Booth, Georgia’s possession was a 3 & out. After review, Clemson was called for running into the kicker, and Georgia had 4th and 2. The officials missed a clear out of bounds hit on the punt though. The Bulldogs punted again and it was fair caught at the Tiger 24.
On the first play, Ladson drew another pass interference call. A wheel route to Dixon looked good early but D.J. stared him down and Georgia forced him to throw it away. Another sack put the Tigers at 2nd & 14, but D.J. picked up 9 on a designed run. Galloway appeared to have a first down but couldn’t hold onto it. The Tigers went for it on 4th but Georgia brought the house and D.J. was running for his life. He couldn’t find a receiver and Georgia took over on downs,
At this point, it seemed the Tigers’ only hope was for a game-changing play by the defense. Georgia predictably went to the ground game and drove down the field deep into Clemson territory.
Tonight was a wake-up call for the Tigers. The offensive line play was the worst I have seen in a very long time. D.J. needs to improve his pocket presence and decision making. The coaches need to improve their play calling, especially against blitzing linebackers. Clemson’s defense looks pretty good and is of playoff quality. The offense? They have a long way to go if the Tigers are to be considered playoff contenders. It’s usually the case that offenses are a little slower to get going, but some serious work has to be done with the offensive line. Games are won or lost by the play in the trenches. What’s your take on the status of the team? Let us know in the comments section below. As always, thanks for making us a part of your Clemson football experience. See you next week in Death Valley.