This will be the first in a series of posts breaking down the Georgia Bulldogs 2014 football schedule, where we will take a close look week-by-week at UGA’s opponents.
This week we’ll focus on the rematch of last year’s opening week thriller against the Clemson Tigers, to be played on Aug. 30 at Sanford Stadium, with 5:30 pm kickoff.
Clemson and Georgia almost always put on a good show, and although they don’t share a conference rivalry, the bad blood between these two programs goes back to the early 1980s. Last year marked the rebirth of the series, and outside of Georgia coming up on the short end of a 38-35 score, the game was not disappointing and lived up to all the preseason hype.
2014′s game promises to be no less competitive and has all the earmarks of another non-conference game that could come into play at season’s end, when the inaugural College Football Playoffs are held.
The Tigers are returning five starters on offense, and seven on defense, with some of the departures being some of their key personnel.
Clemson Key Departures
You can’t overstate the loss of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins enough to this offense. While Clemson may have some adequate players stepping in for those two, Boyd and Watkins were special and had skills that are rarely found.
Cole Stoudt is likely to get the starting quarterback job after the dismissal of Chad Kelly, and unlike his counterpart on the opposite side of the field – Hutson Mason – he won’t have the luxury of any experienced running backs to whom he can hand the ball
On defense, the losses of Christian and Shuey in the linebacker corps will only exasperate what was already a ragged situation for the Tigers. Georgia should be able to find room in the middle of the field with their flankers, and be able to create some holes in the Tigers’ defensive line when their linebackers are forced to drop back.
Clemson Key Returning Players
While the Tigers will struggle to replace their big offensive stars, they aren’t without some good talent on that side of the ball. Humphries and Seckinger will really have to become large targets for Stoudt (assuming he’s the starter), and running backs D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks will have to make themselves into workhorses.
On defense, the entire defensive line (which was a good one in 2013) returns, and should provide some stability for what could be a treacherous secondary. Teams will probably be able to run the ball on Clemson if they can force the linebackers to drop into pass coverage support, and the Georgia Bulldogs have the weapons to do that.
Clemson Suspended Players
This game is going to end up being known as the Suspension Bowl in future seasons, with all the players from both sides being forced to sit out for disciplinary reasons over the past two years. This year Clemson is sitting (to this point) four players, including two starters.
Losing Crawford and Beasley hurts, and Clemson knows it. They’ll be hard pressed to be able to match the production of those two linemen. The other two are depth issues, but as nasty as this game has been known to get, having depth at any position will be crucial.
Clemson Possible Impact Incoming Freshman
The Tigers nabbed 20 commits in their 2014 class, five of whom have already enrolled at the school. Dabo Swinney knew what his needs were and went out and recruited hard to fill them, and some of those players may see a lot of time on the field against the Bulldogs.
On offense, 4-star wide receivers Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt could become factors, as both have high expectations and are two of the early enrollees.
On the defensive side, 4-star inside linebacker Chris Register also has a chance of working his way into a starter’s role this fall, and could become an impact player in a depleted linebacker corps.
Other possibilities include; 4-star WR Trevion Thompson, 4-star OLB Korie Rogers, 4-star OLB Richard Yeargin III, 4-star ATH Adam Choice; all of whom have a better than average chance of becoming starters for the Tigers, but have yet to really do any work with the team.
Outlook for Game
This year’s Clemson team isn’t nearly as deep, experienced or talented as the 2013 squad, and Georgia played that team down to the bitter end without a handful of their best players.
Many may point to the numerous dismissals and transfers the Bulldogs have gone through this offseason, but really it only puts them in a very similar spot to last year’s team – fielding a young but talented secondary.
You have to give the edge to the Georgia Bulldogs on both sides of the ball, and on special teams as well. While this may still be a nasty battle between a couple of bitter rivals, the Dawgs will prevail by at least a touchdown margin.
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