Will Dawgs’ defense be ready for prime time against Clemson?

Tajh Boyd and the Clemson passing attack will be a major challenge for Georgia's defense. (Associated Press)

Tajh Boyd and the Clemson passing attack will be a major challenge for Georgia's defense. (Associated Press)

The news that ABC plans an 8 p.m. national telecast of the Aug. 31 Georgia-Clemson game means Mark Richt’s 2013 team will kick off its season on the road in a prime-time matchup of what probably will be two preseason Top 10 teams.

Yeah, that’s a pressure-packed way to get started, but with South Carolina coming to Athens a week later and LSU closing out September Between the Hedges, it’s shaping up to be a month that will make or break the Dawgs’ championship hopes.

So, which game will be the toughest? The opener at Clemson? Steve Spurrier and South Carolina? The return of Zach Mettenberger to Sanford Stadium with LSU? Or the traditional pick of Georgia fans when asked this question each year: Florida in Jacksonville?

I put that question to several UGA fans Tuesday and I couldn’t get a consensus. The answers were all over the place, an indication of just how daunting a schedule the Bulldogs face.

On first glance, I’d rank the toughness of the games like this: South Carolina, then Clemson, Florida and LSU.

The South Carolina Gamecocks, led by Connor Shaw, may be the Dogs' toughest challenge. (Associated Press)

The South Carolina Gamecocks, led by Connor Shaw, may be the Dogs' toughest challenge. (Associated Press)

On paper, South Carolina looks to be the best team of those four, despite losing Marcus Lattimore, Kenny Miles and Ace Sanders on offense and a few key players on defense. Connor Shaw, once he’s healed from foot surgery, is the kind of mobile quarterback that gives Todd Grantham fits. And, of course, Jadeveon Clowney is back to pressure Aaron Murray.

As for Clemson, even though they have to replace running back Andre Ellington, the Tigers have one of the nation’s most potent offenses, with a troublesome hurry-up scheme led by terrific QB Tajh Boyd, who, like Georgia’s Murray, is likely to be a Heisman contender. Clemson’s defense — particularly against the pass — is pretty suspect, though, leading many to expect a high-scoring shootout between the Tigers and the Bulldogs. (ABC would love that.)

Georgia’s best hope probably is to establish the running game early with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, which would set up Mike Bobo’s play-action passing attack, keeping Boyd and the Clemson offense off the field as much as possible.

What worries a lot of us, though, is that in recent years Richt teams tend not to do well in high-profile openers on the road. Plus, an offense like Clemson’s is going to be a rather severe baptism by fire for a rebuilding Georgia defense.

Of the other games, Florida in Jacksonville is always tough, and the Gators should be great on defense again this year. Whether they’ll develop much of an offense remains to be seen.

And while LSU is always stocked with top-notch talent and Mettenberger will have a year of experience as a starter under his belt, I really think he’ll still be the second-best quarterback on the field when he faces old teammate Murray. And on top of LSU’s continuing problems with offensive production, the Tigers’ formerly imposing defense lost even more starters than Georgia’s after last season.

So, I’d say the first two games will be Georgia’s toughest. Picking between Clemson and South Carolina as the more difficult challenge isn’t easy, but I’m going with Spurrier and the Gamecocks, who will be going for their fourth consecutive win over the Bulldogs.

How about you? Which game do you think looks like the toughest for the Dawgs?

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70 comments Add your comment

Brannon

March 6th, 2013
10:22 am

Brannon

March 6th, 2013
10:23 am

Agreed Bill… Let’s see if the DAWGS can man up!

Cuz

March 6th, 2013
10:26 am

Depends on how many starters are suspended before the games. Not a dig at the Dawgs, just stating historical fact.

Clemson cause we seem to start off slow in our first game.

SimpleDawg

March 6th, 2013
10:50 am

The Clempson game will be the toughest, and he most important game of the year. Period.

With the way the Dawgs have stumbled out of the gate the past several years, the Prime Time match up with Clempson, and it’s high powered offense, will be either the catalyst for a great season or could be a harbinger of a string of disappointments to come.

The offense will be able to score, but can the defense limit the Tiger’s fast-break attack to a manageable number of plays? They like to run 80-90 plays a game, but struggle when held under 55. A young defense will be overwhelmed running around for 80 plays in their first game.

An undefeated opening month of the season will set the Dawgs off on a Bon Voyage for the rest of the year……and will clearly make them a favorite to win the SEC Title….and the National Championship.

But then…..it’s all speculation and musings right now.

iagos yoda

March 6th, 2013
11:33 am

will there be drug testing immediately after spring break?

PS
Clempson still sucks

beanster

March 6th, 2013
11:46 am

The only thing that worries me about Clemson (assuming no suspensions) is that Richt’s teams start off slowly. Other than that, get real, they play in the ACC. Sure they can score 60 on Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Wake, NC State, GT and non conference powerhouses like Furman and Ball State, but against real defenses they struggle. The Dawgs D are unproven but even on the road I can’t see being outscored by Clemson unless the team shows up half asleep. Grantham will earn his pay this year. Clemson will be the easiest game of the 4. SC the toughest, followed by UF, then LSU.

bardawg

March 6th, 2013
11:50 am

We just gotta get by the evil genius, then run the table. Go Dawgs!

Brandon

March 6th, 2013
12:32 pm

I would say Clemson just because it’s right out of the gate, the first starts for so many on defense, and in a pretty tough place to play.

BKbroila

March 6th, 2013
12:40 pm

I’m looking forward to UGA-Clemson the most…The game will be decided on which Defense bows their back the best and holds the other team to FG’s rather than TD’s…both teams will move the ball between the 20 yd lines, but will stall a bit in the RedZone…Murray and company will have more weapons that Clemson, but Boyd will run 8-10 designed dives up the gut…we must have someone on that guy…Dawgs win a close one, 38-30…

Tyler

March 6th, 2013
1:13 pm

It’s hard to say, but I believe Clemson will be more difficult. Within the past few seasons, we tend to start sluggish and out of sync in our first game, especially one as big as this; ie: Boise State two seasons ago. Mobile QBs usually rack up huge numbers against Grantham and the D, such as Taj Boyd. Murray, Gurshall, and company needs to set a tone early in the game to help keep the Defense rested, which will help them last against Clemson, Boyd, and the hurry up offense that they run. I expect the new-look D to give up around 30 points to Clemson, but as the game goes on, the newbies will settle down and start making plays.

Final: Georgia-41 Clemson-30. Murray passes for 3 TDs and 300 yards (Bennett, Mitchell, and Conley will each grab a TD) ,Gurshall rushes for 2 TDs and for a combined stat of 300 yards. The Offense will be very balanced.

Holy Guacamole

March 6th, 2013
2:02 pm

That’s why they play the games.

Hope for no off season brownies.

Macclenny_dawg

March 6th, 2013
2:23 pm

No doubt its the South Carolina game. Spurrier has an extra 2 days 2 prepare by them playing there 1st game on Thursday night!!! Go Dawgs!!!

Bill Arp

March 6th, 2013
3:02 pm

Any game that has us playing a top ranked team will be tough. History doesn’t lie.

What happens if we come out of Sept being 1-3? Just asking.

Rooster

March 6th, 2013
3:25 pm

I hope Clemson, SC, LSU and Florida give them dawgs whoopins they won’t soon forget.

Rooster

March 6th, 2013
3:26 pm

I don’t even think the puppies make it to the SEC title game this year.

Stiffneck

March 6th, 2013
3:53 pm

Dawgs win all three without a doubt. SC will see the streak end in Athens.

Stiffneck

March 6th, 2013
3:59 pm

UGA has possibly the best offense in the SEC. No way Clemson keeps up.

NCDAWG

March 6th, 2013
4:23 pm

If the Dawgs get past Clemson and the defense is ok… not going expect good or anything but good enough to slow down Clemson then I think September could be a pretty exciting month. The confidence factor will be huge. The momentum gained by beating a ranked team in prime time will make facing SC easier. Spurrier always plays mind games and if you face him with wavering confidence then you will get beaten, usually embarrassed (see last year). If our offense is as potent as we think it can be then Clemson could be something like the bowl game and then SC becomes a matter of slowing down Clowney. Without Taylor on the other side we may be able to double team him with a back and run right at him with Gurley. If we run right at him we can use play action to set up double team and slow him down. If he is playing the run he will waste time on Gurley or Marshall and buy time for Murray.
Clemson is the key. Confidence gained or confidence lost… it is all about confidence. Beat Clemson in a convincing manner and SC become much easier. Lose or struggle but win and Spurrier begins the psy ops and that game becomes even harder. The young pups must be quietly confident… not meek or cocky. Meek gets you whipped, cocky gets you embarrassed.

AltamahaDawg

March 6th, 2013
5:24 pm

You have to take every opener at look at it seperately. each year, each squad has little bearing on what the next one will do. This is not remotely the team that opened against BSU.

also:

-its a bit of a myth that Richt’ team start slow. they have blown out many more openers than not.

-It’s very easy to identify what the issues were in the past 2 (road openers, top 10 opponent). its wasn’t the “history of”, it was very identifiable weaknesses in THOSE uga squads.

-could probably predict most any team to have a “history of” struggling on average in road openers against top 10 opponents.

Granthams The Man!

March 6th, 2013
5:31 pm

SC will be the toughest.

We all know that Spurrier won’t have any starters suspended, unless they decide to commit armed robbery and with boys being boys, Richt most likely will.

Dabo Swinney looks like he also believes in discipline so unlike SC, they won’t have an advantage there.

The good news, Ga has enough firepower to outscore every offense on the September schedule while the defense catches up.

Go Dawgs! GATA!

AltamahaDawg

March 6th, 2013
5:33 pm

Georgia rolled in 5 straight games to start out last year. I think it was some kind of school record start.

Go back and look at the history of opener for the past 10 yrs.

BSU and on the road at Stillwater are the exceptions. And I can tell you exactly why they struggled in both.

Clobbbered both of those teams in the past openers, also.

“slow starts” are a myth.

AltamahaDawg

March 6th, 2013
5:56 pm

Let me put it this way……………how would you like to roll into Clemson, with that 2009 team?
NOW, how would you feel if we took THIS team to Stillwater that night?

bubb4dawgs

March 6th, 2013
6:00 pm

I think the mobility of Tajh Boyd will be hard for the DAWGS to handle. It seems they have always had a problem with a mobile quarterback. It all depends on how Grantham has prepared them for this game.

As for the Chickens, the DAWGS owe them one badly! They should come out with fire in their eyes after that old fashion barn burning butt kicking they received in Columbia! Surely, they won’t let them come into their yard between the hedges and do it again. Frankly, I look for better results, a real slobber knocker of course, but a DAWG revenge. Just keep Shaw on the bench…..have him go buy a ticket and watch the game.

If and I say it’s a big “if”the DAWGS get by the kittens and chickens, I believe they’ll take care of the Bayou Boys. Let’s remember, they owe them one too! GO DAWGS!!

Whiskey Breath

March 6th, 2013
6:02 pm

Hey Bill, shouldn’t the picture in your article had Connor running ahead of the Ga defense?
I understand, must have ran out of GA/SC pictures.

My-Guy

March 6th, 2013
7:04 pm

TOP THREE TOUGHEST GAMES FOR THE GEORGIA BULLDOG’S 2013 SEASON

3. Clemson Tigers: Here’s the only problem, we open the season IN DEATH VALLEY, and since Clemson’s win against LSU, their fanbase and coaching staff will have a lot of confidence coming into this game, and with our defense rebuilding and having their first game of their career, trying to stop Clemson’s high powered offense will be tough. The crowd will be hostile as crap and playing up their could give our offense some fits. I predict we’ll pull the win out by a last minute field goal.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks: Spurrier always plays us hard! Mark Richt is 3-3 vs South Carolina in Athens, and they’ve always given us hard fought battles at home expect for the 2003 game. 2003, 2005, and 2009 were South Carolina wins in Athens under Richt. 2001, 2007, and 2011 were South Carolina loses in Athens under Richt. Expect another close game against the Gamecocks! Homefield advantage should help us pull out the win!

1. Florida Gators- I don’t care about this 20 year curse, Florida’s record or whatever it is, but this team has ALWAYS given us trouble no matter how good or bad Florida is at the point of the season, or whether we end up winning or loosing to them. In 2002 and 2005 we were undefeated until this team gave us our first loss of the season. Florida has always been known for spoiling your dreams. The 2004 and 2011 Florida teams weren’t good and we still barely got past them. 2007 and 2012 are the ONLY quality Florida teams Mark Richt has beaten. The 2013 Florida game worries me the most, however, I believe Aaron Murray will lead us to a 3 year streak against them. No doubt the gators will give it their all against us next year, just believe in our team no matter what!

Bulldawg35

March 6th, 2013
7:26 pm

Toughest game will be against the pathetic chickens…..spurrier will get the job done again. I’m afraid so.

VaDawg

March 6th, 2013
7:43 pm

Let’s hope we aren’t ending an extensive losing streak against Florida and beginning one with South Carolina!!

RED DOG 77

March 7th, 2013
1:07 am

Me?…………I see “my” Geeeoooorrrgia Bulldogs maning-up big time this year. The D will be green, but talented and hungry to prove themselves……….and the O well, well hell…………nobody’s gona keep-up with that O ……………nobody………toughest games?………..Clem, SC, N.Texas, LSU, Tenn, Mizzou, Vandy, Fla……………….Go Dawgs……………RED

Bama Fan#2

March 7th, 2013
5:20 am

Georgia is playing a rough first month of the season!!
If Georgia can go 3-1 or 4-0 in September WATCH OUT
ALABAMA!!!!

Old Dawg

March 7th, 2013
9:36 am

I really hate to say this, but the Darth Visor has UGA’s number for decades. He obviously remembers getting slobberknocked by Bill Stanfill and the Dawgs his Heisman year at Florida, so he has an unending passion for beating UGA.

I am always optimistic that new players will develop faster than anticipated, so we’ll see what this new group does against The Evil Genius, Connor Shaw and company!

Clemmons? That will be a good one.

LSU? A few COED from Georgia College will distract Mettenberger enough to slow down the Tigers’ Offense.

Florida? Florida’s always a war. The fact that both schools have a bye the week before insures that this will be a slugfest!

But what do you expect – this is the SEC!!!

Joey

March 7th, 2013
10:14 am

The toughest game has to be SC. Nobody else came close to shutting down our O last season like they did, and who’s to say they can’t do it again?

UGA Insider

March 7th, 2013
10:24 am

UGA wins all 3 and is ranked #2 in the country behind Bama by October 1.

Defense will be better than 2012 folks.

Bubbatavious

March 7th, 2013
10:28 am

Dumbo Dabo’s offense in the cow pasture at night will make Todd Grantham look clueless. If we think South Carolina was loud and a frenzy last year just wait till we play Clem & Son. Dawgs are gonna get completely embarrassed.

Bawbie

March 7th, 2013
10:33 am

FIRE DAVE PERNO!

McDawg

March 7th, 2013
10:50 am

Clemson is always over rated -toughest game will USC and UF–have a good feeling about our D but will need to see how our D-Line penetrates the backfield

Desert Fox

March 7th, 2013
10:54 am

SC will be the toughest of the first two games and w/a young defense dawgs may start the season 0-2 before they win vs LSU. Dawgs will be competitive vs SC and Clem due to what looks like a potent offense excluding any injuries and everyone is healthy again. Clowney is so disruptive and will arguably be the main factor in GA losing. SC offense is still good even w/o Ace and Lattimore. I doubt our defense will be able to get to either SC’s or Clem’s QB’s. GA has one decent pass rusher returning but the loss of Jones and Tree, et al, will be sorely missed.

Unless the def surprises and rises above expectations for a young squad the dawgs will be looking at several losses to start the season. Lets hope they surprise everyone.

Flo- Ri - Duh

March 7th, 2013
11:28 am

The answer to your question about who is best is simple .. of the three teams who has the best defense? That will probably be the GameCrocks. Defense wins the big games. Georgia will face Clemson on the road at night and Murray must keep his emotions even and be consistent. UGA will not have Tavarres King or Marlon Brown back and Bennett is still recovering from knee surgery. Expect UGA to run the ball and control the game from the ground.

DrDawg

March 7th, 2013
11:56 am

Clemson and SC will not be split. We either beat both or lose to both.

atlxman

March 7th, 2013
12:50 pm

FLA , LSU , SOUTH CAROLINA AND THEN CLEMSON. FLA AND LSU HAVE WAY BETTER TALENT THAN SOUTH CAROLINA AND CLEMSON. SOUTH CAROLINA WILL NOT HAVE THE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE IT HAD LAST YEAR AND CLEMSON IS IN THE ACC…

atlxman

March 7th, 2013
12:55 pm

uga defense will be much better than most people think. even though they are young, the young guys got some pretty meaningful playing time and experience last year with the early suspensions. so look for uga defense to surprise a lot of folks with how well they will play. south carolina offense will be worse than last years..clowney will be the only problem since the left DE ( adams i believe is his name) is gone

GTBob

March 7th, 2013
2:04 pm

Sure they can score 60 on Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Wake, NC State, GT and non conference powerhouses like Furman and Ball State, but against real defenses they struggle.

Clemson played three SEC teams, went 2-1 and averaged 23 points and 430 yards of offense against them. They also put up 37 points and 426 yards against the #2 defense in the country. You have a weird definition of struggling.

DAWGMAN

March 7th, 2013
4:08 pm

1 It’s more correctly said that the Dawgs do play poorly against and lose to ranked teams.
2 Dawgs usually not in acceptable physical condition at start of season.
3 Ebereebody on the staffs got a pay raise. So Granthem’ gut will approach Phat Phil Fulmer proportions.
4 Mark Richt will not embarrass the university OFF THE FIELD, because “he knows what the hell he’s doing”.
5 So Bill, the ‘Dream Team’ having left the building, our CMR team will lose early and often. There will arise a new sport in NCAA: competitive projectile vomiting by fans in da stands only to be eclipsed by competitive projectile vomiting by fans in their own homes. Need tickets? Thousands available right outside the stadium (ours and theirs) on game day.

Paladawg

March 7th, 2013
4:15 pm

None of these teams concern me any more – or less – than any other. They’re all challenges, and for different reasons. UGA has the talent and the coaching to beat all three. It’s more a matter of the kids staying focused on each game as it comes than what the other teams will do.

yep

March 7th, 2013
4:17 pm

I’m think South Carolina is gonna be the toughest game. That visor wearing crap bag always has something up his sleeve against UGA.

DAWGMAN

March 7th, 2013
4:37 pm

Will someone please place Russ/UGA on a diet ! That poor hound will not last a whole game. Tough love is still love. I can’t stand the idea of having to watch the fire hydrant being towed off the sideline with our mascot splayed out on ice bags because he can’t take the heat. Better save room in there for Granthum. Put down the Dove Bar and step away.

GetTheWordToToddG

March 7th, 2013
5:58 pm

Someone please tell Coach Todd G. to take this spring and summer to learn how to get the defensive plays called on time. How busch league did they look in the last few games of the season. He is probably trying wait to see how the offense lines up. But it’s too late by then. He is playing right into the hands of the Clemson hurry offense. They are not going to wait while we get lined up. He’s gonna have to learn how to anticipate what the offense is going to do. That’s what $875,000 coaches should be able to do.

RED DOG 77

March 7th, 2013
7:13 pm

Grantham WILL have his troops ready for Clemson hurry-up……………He’s got from now till August 31st…………….I’m with the school of thought that “my” DAWGS” may be green on D but they will be hungry as hell, and very talented. Todd Grantham will have ‘em in attack mode………….The question is: Will Dabo have his D ready for our O ?………………..Clemson doesn’t have a D backfield…………I don’t see a problem………….run it 4 times, throw it two………….all night long…………..RED

LOL at UGA haters

March 7th, 2013
8:58 pm

UGA will win all 3.

SC will be the toughest.

Throw in North Texas and we’ll be 4-0 at the end of September.

Remember, we get SC and LSU in Athens. LSU is losing tons of talent from their defense and a couple running backs.

LOL at UGA haters

March 7th, 2013
9:01 pm

UGA’s defense will be a lot better in 2013. Why do people “assume” that Georgia won’t be any good on defense just because we lost some players? These guys may be young, but they are hungry as hell to make a name for themselves. Not a bunch of players that have already made a name for themselves trying not to get hurt before the NFL. These guys are ready to go. Names like Jordan Jenkins, Garrison Smith, Damian Swann, Sheldon Dawson, Tray Matthews, Josh-Harvey Clemons will be names to remember during the season. They’ll shine.

Richt has already stated that while we might not be as big we are “quicker, and more atheletic”…which IMO is a good. We are in better shape to last an entire game. We’ll be ready.

LOL at UGA haters

March 7th, 2013
9:04 pm

Since the offense is pretty much set, I’ll just do the projected depth chart of the defense in 2013:

DE: Garrison Smith
NG: Chris Mayes/John Atkins
DE: Ray Drew

OLB: Jordan Jenkins
ILB: Amarlo Hererra
ILB: Ramik Wilson
OLB: James DeLoach

CB: Damian Swann
SS: Josh Harvey-Clemons
FS: Tray Matthews
CB: Sheldon Dawson