Despite the defensive question marks, Dawg fans feel pretty good

Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs' ground game look to be a key to a Georgia win in Death Valley. (Associated Press)

Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs' ground game look to be a key to a Georgia win in Death Valley. (Associated Press)

Seems like just about everyone I’ve run into this week has asked me if I’m ready for Clemson and the new season.

Well, sure, but what I’m more concerned with is whether Mark Richt’s Bulldogs, especially the defensive secondary, are ready.

Overall, most fans are optimistic about Georgia’s prospects this year, despite opening with a September schedule from hell. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the wholesale remaking of Todd Grantham’s defense, and making its debut at Clemson against Tajh Boyd and the Tigers’ explosive, hurry-up, no-huddle offense certainly will mean a baptism by fire.

Also, the game will be played in a rather intimidating atmosphere — Death Valley — and Richt teams haven’t exactly come out of the gate with all cylinders firing in recent seasons’ opening games.

But you’ve got to feel pretty good about Georgia’s chances of scoring on Clemson. If the Tigers pack the box to try and stop the running game with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, that will open up the lanes for Aaron Murray and the Dogs’ talented corps of receivers, going up against a very suspect Clemson secondary.

Likewise, though, you’ve got to figure the Tigers also feel good about their scoring potential facing a Georgia defense that not only is inexperienced, but which will have one of its key players sitting out a suspension while another talented freshman who has star potential has missed most of preseason practice (including all the scrimmages) with injuries. In fact, in general Georgia’s secondary has been banged up.

On the plus side, the Dogs’ defensive front, while not as big as last year, looks more athletic, and the increased depth will allow more substitution (a big factor in the front wearing down last year against the run).

Dual-threat QB Tajh Boyd will be quite a challenge for Georgia's young defense. (Associated Press)

Dual-threat QB Tajh Boyd will be quite a challenge for Georgia's young defense. (Associated Press)

And while Clemson’s offense looks to be somewhat awesome with Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, the Tigers will no longer have 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and 1,000-yard receiver DeAndre Hopkins. So most of the onus for the Tiger ground game probably will fall on quarterback Boyd.

Of course, he’s shown he’s up to it, and Grantham’s defenses sometimes have had trouble dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks.

As for Georgia’s offensive prospects, it’s notable that Clemson last year was very susceptible to the big play (which Murray and Georgia specialized in). Clemson ranked 110th in the country in the number of plays yielded of 30 yards or more.

I think the key matchup, besides Boyd-to-Watkins against Damian Swann and company, will be Georgia’s experienced offensive line against Clemson’s not-that-big defensive front. A friend who’s a fan of the Gamecocks, who handled Clemson nicely last year, says if Georgia is able to get Gurley and Marshall going against the Tigers, the Dogs should be in good shape. (The added advantage of establishing the running game, in addition to opening up the play-action passing game, is that it will eat up more clock and keep Boyd on the sideline.)

Will Georgia try to slow down the pace? Maybe. As Richt put it the other day: “We have the ability to play at whatever tempo we want, and I think the fact that we have a lot of confidence in our running game helps because that’s the part of the game that can chew up a lot of the clock. If you can run the ball well and use all of your 40-second play clock, you’re going to chew up time. If you wait until zero to snap it, you’ll take double the time than if you go fast, so I think the fact that we have the ability to go either way is an advantage for us. We’ll just decide what’s in our best interest as we play the game.”

Damian Swann, the only experienced player in Georgia's secondary, most go up against Sammy Watkins. (Associated Press)

Damian Swann, the only experienced player in Georgia's secondary, most go up against Sammy Watkins. (Associated Press)

So while the game might confound all expectations and turn out to be a defensive struggle, I wouldn’t bet on it. A shootout seems much more likely. Richt said this week that Clemson’s offense most reminds him of Tennessee’s last year, and you’ll recall that the Dawgs finally came out on top in that contest (thanks to some key takeaways) by a score of 51-44.

The over-under set by Las Vegas on the expected combined points total for Saturday night’s game against Clemson is a whopping 71, and that doesn’t look out of line. No wonder the game is pretty much rated a toss-up.

Still, in a showdown of score-happy offenses, Georgia’s greater balance between its top-notch running and passing attacks would appear to be an advantage.

And by that I don’t mean half running and half passing. As Richt said at his press conference this week, “balance to me is the ability to take advantage of a team that is trying to double-cover receivers and run the ball well enough to get them out of that or vice versa. If people are trying to pack the box and stop the run, can we throw well enough or are we balanced enough to take advantage of throwing the ball? I think we are that type of an offensive team. If we do a good job of mixing the plays like Mike (Bobo) does and keeping them off balance, hopefully that will be a big key.”

I think the coach is right on the money there.

The other question I’ve been getting a lot lately is how I think the Dogs will do this season. Both my brothers are predicting 14-0 and national championship. I certainly think it’s possible Georgia could win them all and go all the way. But with the inexperience and injuries on defense, and the tough opening month, the odds are against it and I can’t quite take that leap of faith yet. (If Georgia somehow comes out of the first month of play unscathed, I’ll be happy to hop aboard that train.)

I did a little informal survey of a bunch of fans this week, and — aside from my brothers — their prediction was surprisingly unanimous: 11-1 in the regular season. As one friend put it: “We lose to Clemson or South Carolina and that’s all.” A couple of others said they see Georgia splitting the first two games but beating LSU and Florida. Added another fan: “Losing to Clemson, which looks more likely, won’t derail the season. I think Georgia can beat South Carolina in Athens this year and also will be better than LSU and Florida. That means another trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship.”

And that feels about right to me.

Go Dawgs!

JUNKYARD MAIL

Let’s get to a couple of quick questions …

Josh Thompson writes: Bill, I was wondering if you had an opinion on my hypothesis for the UGA-Clemson game. With Richt playing coy and not saying who will kick against Clemson, I’m feeling more and more confident that you will not see Georgia attempt a field goal the entire game, unless it is in a game-changing situation (tie the game, take the lead, or add an extra possession to your lead) late in the 4th quarter. First, statistics show that coaches are entirely too passive with their 4th down decision making to begin with. Once you throw in the fact that Georgia has what is expected to be one of the most efficient offenses in the country, as well as how unsure our kicking situation was even before [Marshall] Morgan’s suspension, it would only make it an even more sound decision for Richt to keep his offense on the field for any 4th down within field goal range. In the same regard, I would expect to see more pooch punts from the edge of field goal range, since I see more value in giving Clemson a longer field than trusting the backup kicker to knock one in from 50 yards. Especially with the expectation of a high scoring affair, shouldn’t Georgia try to maximize their expected points by keeping their most efficient unit (offense) on the field and their least efficient unit (special teams) off the field? Judging by Richt’s comments (or lack thereof), I am thinking more and more that this may be the case.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Georgia were to go for it rather than try field goals Saturday night. Even though backup punter Adam Erickson, Georgia’s likely placekicker against Clemson, is fully capable of kicking field goals, the coaching staff may well agree with receiver Malcolm Mitchell who recently was asked if he had faith in the kicking game. He said he did, but then added with a smile: “But if we get that close, I think we might as well get the most points.” That makes sense. Plus, as I’ve said before, in a shootout with a team like Clemson, if you’re going for field goals, you’re in trouble.

Andrew Smith writes: Hey Bill, This first month of the season might give me more gray hair! Honestly, if we HAD to lose one of the first two games I’d handle a loss to Clemson more than the Gamecocks. I have friends and family near Clemson and I get the feel that the Tigers season hangs almost entirely on the UGA game. Don’t you sense they desperately want to be thought of as legitimate again?

I think there’s something to what you say, Andrew. This game is actually much bigger for Clemson than it is for Georgia. The Tigers’ bowl victory over LSU was viewed as a major step toward gaining national recognition for the Clemson program, and a win over Georgia would secure that. A loss to Georgia will have most college football observers figuring “same old Clemson.” Georgia, on the other hand, could suffer a loss in the opening game and still have all its goals, both conference and beyond, intact. That can’t be said for the Tigers.

UPDATE: Our subscriber website, MyAJC.com, has up a classic Lewis Grizzard column, written after Georgia’s 1991 upset win over Clemson. I think you’ll enjoy it. The subscriber site also has an expanded SEC section. Check it out.

One last note …

Even if Sundance Festival favorite “The Spectacular Now” wasn’t one of the most favorably reviewed films of the year, I would have gone to see it anyway because the director, James Ponsoldt, also hails from my hometown of Athens and shot the film there last summer. Athens locations are prominently featured, and the young stars, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, deserve the rave reviews they’ve gotten. But I wanted to share something that I got a real kick out of at the movie’s end: In the credits, after all the local businesses and institutions that helped out are listed, Ponsoldt gives a shout out to “the kind, cool, gracious people of Athens, Georgia.”

And then he adds: “Go Dawgs!”

How cool is that?

Got something you want to discuss concerning the upcoming football season or UGA athletics? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at  junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

172 comments Add your comment

indigodawg

August 30th, 2013
4:12 pm

dawgfan, I was one of the few predicting the Capital One Bowl when people were chanting “SEC Champs” or “National Champs”. They’ll tell you that you are crazy and there’s no way we lose to such and such. Then when UGA does lose the excuses come left and right. You’d think some of these guys would get tired of coming up just short year after year but hey at least we’re not Tennessee or Auburn right?

Lou "the toe" Groza

August 30th, 2013
5:03 pm

Placekicking for Dawgs will be just fine. Read my lips. The surprise will be better than anyone thinks.
Dawgs win by 10. Go Dawgs!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
5:12 pm

BS35 (aka Milk Dud)- Lithium won’t help you get off of Milk Dud dependency but it will keep you more calm. I suggest lithium for a more positive attitude.

Clempsun will load the box to stop the run and UGA will counter with the TE’s – Jay Rome & Arthur Lynch will be very active in this game. Also, expect more swing passes to Gurley and Marshall – in space they are more than a LB can handle.

On defense there is no secret – Shut down the run game by the RB’s and make Boyd carry the load himself. Do not let Tajh Boyd outside of the pocket – and force him left when he does get out of the pocket – where he is far less accurate throwing on the run. Despite all his big talk Sammy Watkins shy’s away from physical contact. Against Florida and LSU he was non existent. Hold Watkins up at the line and bust him when the ball comes his way.

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – Vegas says the Dawgs win by 1.5 points. How do you get half a point? Anyway they win and by ONE point is good with me. Just get the “W”.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
5:22 pm

Clempsun lost a lot of fire power on their offense, 1st round draft choice WR, 1000 yard RB and an NFL quality TE. I don’t expect them to as good on offense as they were last year…. don’t have a viable replacement for the TE, RB – do have good talent at WR but not 1st round talent.

Clempsun’s “D” may be better but it was awful last year. UGA’s OL is much larger and more physical than the Clempsun DL and they have enough depth to stay fresh if UGA goes to the hurry up offense themselves.

I expect UGA to start out with mid range passes and running mixed in. Long,time consuming drives ending in TD’s is most desirable but quick strike TD’s are good too. Just make TD’s when you get close – not field goals.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
5:27 pm

Clowney said he had a stomach virus a couple of days before the game…. causing his stamina to be lacking. Spurrier appeared to chastise Clowney and the entire defense for their lack of conditioning. That’s a strange thing to do if Clowney was actually sick, Still, N.C. only scored 10 points.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
5:31 pm

I was really pulling for Vandy to stick it to Ole Miss but -as usual- they found a way to lose.

Dirty Dawg

August 30th, 2013
5:36 pm

We’ve got experience and depth in the O-line…we’ve got depth and talent in the front seven on D…we’ve got the finest set of running backs and receivers in anybody’s memory – and a QB that can get the ball to em…

If those guys do their jobs like we know they can, I’ll take my chances on the D-backs…and thank you ESPN(all of em) for picking Clampson.

Mobile Dawg

August 30th, 2013
5:47 pm

Hope we see a few toss sweeps thrown in, we’ve got the back for it. I could go for that to open the 1st offensive series.

If we win the toss surely Richt will elect receive, right?

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
5:49 pm

Dirty Dawg – One thing disconcerting to me is that Lou Holtz picked the Dawgs. If that idiot that puts on the mascot head tomorrow chooses Clempsun then it’s a lock “W” for the Dawgs.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
5:52 pm

I read some where that Richt has only lost ONE game to a ranked opponent that he had a lead on going in to the 4th quarter. That loss? Bama last year. Amazing stat if true.

Mobile Dawg

August 30th, 2013
5:57 pm

I don’t see it that close, am I not giving Clemson enough credit? I see a relatively tight first half, then the Dawgs “methodically” pulling away the second.

krazywheel

August 30th, 2013
5:59 pm

I do not believe that Clemson will beat us if we use the clock. I think are second string is better than their first string defensive players. Tell me I am drinking the Kool-Aid .But I will have a long tall glass of it. If we control the clock Sammy will have to throw the ball deep. And we will intercept them when they do. I do not see them having the wind in the late 3rd. Go Dawgs.

krazywheel

August 30th, 2013
6:04 pm

Sorry tajh. Go Dawgs

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
6:17 pm

Mobile Dawg – With so many young & inexperienced guys starting it’s impossible to know what will happen on defense. Clempsun runs their offense at warp speed and it will be extremely loud at the beginning of the game with the crowd noise. These young guys must communicate and react at a fast pace to keep up with Clempsum’s offense. Dawgs have the talent on “D” but it is green and this is the 1st game. You have to trust the coaches to have them prepared. If Clempsun is not up by at least 10 at the end of the 1st quarter they will have a problem because UGA’s “D” will get better as it goes along.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 30th, 2013
6:17 pm

Mobile Dawg – With so many young & inexperienced guys starting it’s impossible to know what will happen on defense. Clempsun runs their offense at warp speed and it will be extremely loud at the beginning of the game with the crowd noise. These young guys must communicate and react at a fast pace to keep up with Clempsum’s offense. Dawgs have the talent on “D” but it is green and this is the 1st game. You have to trust the coaches to have them prepared. If Clempsun is not up by at least 10 at the end of the 1st quarter they will have a problem because UGA’s “D” will get better as it goes along.

NCDawg

August 30th, 2013
7:21 pm

I’d like to see them give it to Hicks on a quick hitter up the middle on the first play. After he mashes a couple of LBs in the process it sets the tone for the game. Then play action to Gurley and get the ball down field. Maybe a straight up go route to Mitchell.

I’d play call like a boxer… jab, body blow, body blow, jab, upper cut… kill the confidence in their defense. Off balance… all night long.

Dirty Dawg

August 30th, 2013
7:35 pm

Hey Flo (ri-da), you’re wrong about Holtz – unless he changes his predictions from show to show – cause he picked Clampson…the other guy picked The Dawgs…and it ain’t Holtz that does the mascot head thing on Game Day, it’s another senile former coach Lee Corso.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 30th, 2013
8:43 pm

Mobile

I will agree with you I honestly believe we should win by 10 or more

Mobile Dawg

August 30th, 2013
8:45 pm

I know the defense is green in terms, but the core of this group played some last year, and contributed. I know my expectations are high but they’re reasonable.

Mobile Dawg

August 30th, 2013
8:46 pm

I think we win by 17, going away in the second half.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 30th, 2013
9:25 pm

Mobile

you might disagree but Grantham last year keeping the starters in to try for shutouts and so called more time on the field to pad stats I feel hurt the defense in the SEC championship game as those same starters were winded and tired at the start of the 4th

I wished that time was spent giving these guys more playing time last year instead of trying to pad stats

ARdawg

August 30th, 2013
10:11 pm

Flat
You’re grasping here aren’t you? Trying to pad stats, really? They gave up 350+ ypg

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 30th, 2013
10:20 pm

ARdawg

No Im not grasping

I was referring to keeping them in games like GSU Ole Miss and GT

ARdawg

August 30th, 2013
11:02 pm

Flat
The defense last year struggled with both GSU and Ole Miss. Tech, not so much but it was important for obvious reasons to keep them out of the endzone

ARdawg

August 30th, 2013
11:04 pm

Surely you have another example. Not trying to bust your bawls here guy, I’m just not following that statement

Eddie...Lee...and..Ivory...

August 30th, 2013
11:43 pm

FLO-Ri…10:20am..U da man!!! TheBuckeye is a child w/o a team!

Eddie...Lee...and..Ivory...

August 30th, 2013
11:46 pm

Flat tire…9:25..u r delusional! W all watched ur dogs..thats a farce of a statement..lmfao..

Eddie...Lee...and..Ivory...

August 31st, 2013
12:00 am

omg, delusional one..upon further reading..Realize you are a blown engine! D was gassed because of depth and Bama shoving it down your throats! Thought your DC doesnt know what to do w/ his players quit crying and try to beat Clemson!

HotDawg

August 31st, 2013
5:58 am

Heard a ga tech player wore his football uniform and won best fantasy costume at dragoncon.

fan

August 31st, 2013
6:51 am

aaron murray is not good enough to overcome grantham.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
8:14 am

ESPN just reported that Florida has 6 players suspended for the game against Toledo today and McShay has predicted that Toledo upsets the Reptiles – FOR REAL!

Don’t know about that one…… talk about going out on a limb.

PigIron

August 31st, 2013
8:26 am

Eddie…Lee…and..Ivory…

August 31st, 2013
12:00 am

omg, delusional one..upon further reading..Realize you are a blown engine! D was gassed because of depth and Bama shoving it down your throats! Thought your DC doesnt know what to do w/ his players quit crying and try to beat Clemson!

—–

It is critical for all of the fans to unite as one in support. The team can’t possibly win if there is disunity within the ranks.

Light a candle.

Say your prayers.

Be sure to wear your lucky underwear! ;-)

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
8:33 am

NC Dawg (11:11) – Got to believe Ole Miss offered Tunsil something – once he visited there he wouldn’t even answer UGA’s calls any more…… after saying they were his favorite for two years. YES – I heard the story about his girlfriend getting a free scholarship. May be true – don’t know. That was a har one to take as Tunsil is the real deal.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
8:39 am

PigIron – Both team’s “D” were gassed……… Bama’s too. If you don’t believe that then go back and look at the 2nd half and see how they hand their hands on their hips and several were on their knees between plays. It was a very physical game and UGA’s offense also “dominated” Bama’s defense – 400 yards.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
8:41 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – This is the year of the DAWG and Clempsun is DAWG MEAT.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:09 am

Get ready folks…in about 10 hrs…Brent mustberger and Kirk Herbstreit will be making fun of us again! We would win this game if JHC and Moore were playing today! Once again suspensions and injuries are going to do us in! We could win the mnc…if our players could get their minds right…but some of them just like to party way to much…I got throw in Marshall Morgan in this too. It’s going to be a damn shame to start 0-2 again!

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:11 am

You people who were calling me out about not being a fan….should be calling out pig iron…he is a UGA troll…that’s for sure!

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:14 am

I wish we opening up at home against California or Utah state or Syracuse…or somebody! This was just crazy to open up on the road with Clemson. These types of games are season killers

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:17 am

Did anybody see the interview with Dabo on game day earlier! Boy he sure is confident….I’m sick to my stomach! We are in trouble today folks

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:22 am

Clemson is very good now…they have the best OC in the nation…..it’s a sad day now that Clemson and SC have a better football team! I miss the Dooley days…when he use to put them in their place! I wish Dooley was coaching in today’s game. The man is still in great shape

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:25 am

What a terrible Labor Day weekend this is going to be! Clemson 42 dawgs 21! The horror!

SC Dog fan

August 31st, 2013
9:26 am

I do worry about the tendency of Richt teams to enter season openers and high-stakes games unpreprared & flat, but I very much like the fact that we have experience and depth on the offensive line this year. That’s a big change fromn the typical pattern over the last five years in which the Dogs have had to patch together an offensive line with freshmen and JUCO transfers. Good work recruiting, CMR and Mike Bobo.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:28 am

SC were just playing possum….they do this every year…then they explode on us! I can’t believe some of you were so gullible to how they played Thursday!!!

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:30 am

SC dog,

Yeah but the injuries and suspensions are still there! You know we are not opening up with west Texas state ya know?

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:33 am

I hope Brent and kirk won’t make fun of us to bad today…or I will have to mute the TV! Dabo makes me sick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
9:34 am

Of the 6 players suspended for the Florida/Toledo game only one is a starter.

Still I give Muschump credit for suspending these guys that reportedly failed a drug test.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:35 am

If Clemson starts stuffing our run early in the ball game…then we are toast

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:37 am

Flo- ri- duh,

Who cares…they will win comfortably….while we will be sweating to death in the humid heat….looking at the backs of Clemson jerseys all night! Geez…the absolute horror!!!!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
9:40 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – YES PigIron is a troll and I pointed that out the other day. You, on the other hand, are what?

Dawgs will win ’cause Dawgs are SEC, SEC, SEC, SEC.

Dirty Dawg – I stand corrected – Holtz did indeed pick Clempsun and that is good for us – ’cause he is wrong most of the time. Getting senile and incoherent in his speech. Needs to retire!

I think Herbstreit picked UGA.

If Corso picks Clempsun then a UGA will be a definite lock. Corso’s an idiot!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
9:46 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – How’s your rehab going – just asking out of concern.

**** Did you know that Clempsun was #167th in the country against pass plays going 20 yards or more – that is what Murray does. Like our chances if Clempsun loads the box to stop the run – playing right in to Murray’s hands ’cause Clempsun has 3 new DB’s & two of them are freshmen and are coming off of injury.

CLEMPSUN IS DAWG MEAT!!!!!!!!!!!!