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

dawgfan

August 31st, 2013
9:47 am

If Clemson starts stuffing our run game look out for the pigs flying all around you. Not happening. Their starting D-line might see some scout team action at Georgia. If Clemson stops our offense it’s because Bobo still does not understand how to win big time college football games and has Murray chunking it all over the field like its a flag football tournament.

We’ll see.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:51 am

Flo- duh,

I’m bleed red and black…..but I can’t be delusional like you are! If we don’t win today….then I’m not going to expect anything good out of this season!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
9:52 am

This is disgusting and shows the favoritism ESPN has for Ohio State: Why is ESPN showing Ohio State vs BUFFALO on prime time TV today when there are much more competitive games being played? Herbstreit was a mediocre QB at Ohio State. Just like ESPN did last year with the highly over rated Notre Dame (who at least 10 SEC teams would have beat) they are going to hype Ohio State for the BCS champ game. Ohio State plays one of the weakest schedules in the country and be crushes just like Notre Dame was.

PigIron

August 31st, 2013
9:57 am

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!

—–

I’ve never claimed to be a UGA fan. I’m an SEC fan, in spite of the fact that my own Alma Mater is not an SEC school. I live in the Southeast and I have family throughout the Southeast, from Virginia to Texas. I’ve lived in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina and where I live now is nobody’s business but my own.

You, on the other hand, appear to be a Poe. I can easily understand why some Georgia fans would doubt your sincerity.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
10:00 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – As I pointed out early there is a very telling stat on Clempsun’s defense last year. Their biggest weakness is against the pass. They were 167th in the nation against pass plays of 20 yards or more. If Clempsun stacks the box like they did last year – Dawgs will throw against Clempsun’s achilles heel- their 3 new DB’s (two freshmen).

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
10:05 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – There you go. PigIron stepped forward admitted that PigIron is not a UGA fan. We knew that! And PigIron – where you live is irrelevant. There are UGA fans all over the world.

GO DAWGS!

PigIron

August 31st, 2013
10:07 am

@Flo-Ri-Duh

I’d guess that Clemson fans expect these young guys to perform better than the guys they had last year. Isn’t this their DC’s second year? I expect Georgia to win this one, but I wouldn’t write Clemson off as a weak team. This is a big game.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
10:08 am

Got to go out in the back yard now and clean off my Nick Saban yard gnome…… my DAWG keeps peeing all over it. Good Dawg!!!!!!!!!!

PigIron

August 31st, 2013
10:10 am

Well, best of luck, Duh! ;-)

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
10:12 am

PigIron – No doubt about it – Clempsun has talent and I expect a good game. YES Clempsun’s “D” has 7 starters back and should be better than last year but still – those three new DB’s are inexperienced – just like with UGA. However, the only offense they played last year remotely close to UGA’s was Florida State and they got torched.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
10:19 am

PigIron – Glad that you favor UGA in this game and we’ll take the good luck… as luck beats talent every time!

UPSET ALERT : Notre Dame goes down at the hands of Temple!

Florida gets more than they bargained from Toledo – but escapes – take the spread.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
10:21 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – You gotta believe – pop another valium.

PigIron

August 31st, 2013
10:34 am

“PigIron – Glad that you favor UGA in this game and we’ll take the good luck… as luck beats talent every time! ”

Sometimes it does, but certainly not every time. ;-)

SCseas

August 31st, 2013
10:39 am

“…. even remotely resemble the team we took to Stillwater. Nor is this the same same team that just completely renovated its offense in the offseason, as we were against Boise”

Bhahahaha….that was NOT what all the UGA beaners were saying before either of those games. In fact, the consensus sounded EXACTLY like the words coming from the UGA fans this summer:

“Yeah, replacing the entire defense will not impact UGA at all because these journeymen backups and newbies are better than the people who sent them to the scout team last year….. and beside they will be better because, because well no reason except we are Georgia and we really want them to be better…..so there”

No UGA fan thought anything different about those teams than what they are saying about this team.

NCDawg

August 31st, 2013
10:49 am

Bulldawg35 – Florida is playing at noon..in the Swamp. Both teams will be melting. On another day Toledo might just pull the upset but because of the und\godly conditions they will wilt in the 2nd half and a deeper UF team rolls over them. No way Toledo has enough depth to hold up… sad but true.

Dawgs play at night…BIG bonus.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
10:52 am

dawgfan

I agree with your 9:47 post

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
11:06 am

Piggy boy,

Who cares….who is your favourite team? You keep ducking the question!!!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
1:20 pm

Texas A&M has six starters suspended plus J. Football for the 1st half and the Rice Owls are giving them a game.

Fla Reptiles are up on Toledo 17-6 in the 3rd. Not exactly a blowout for the Lizards.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
1:22 pm

PigIron – Good luck beats skill every time in Hold ‘Em.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 31st, 2013
1:28 pm

BS35(aka Milk Dud) – My favorite team is the DAWGS!!!! Now it’s your turn?

Can’t wait for the Lucky Irish to go down in an upset today. That BCS champ game performance was a boring embarrassment. Even Vandy could have beat them.

AltamahaDawg

August 31st, 2013
1:50 pm

SC seas, how about actually disagreeing with what….. I…..said, if you are going to cut and copy…. ME. . Pointing out what other fans were saying back then, doesn’t impress me.

My comment was 100% correct, and you didn’t even come close to disputing any of it.

(not to mention, that you completely made up what UGA fans were saying then, anyway).

DawgVoiceofReason

August 31st, 2013
2:59 pm

Says Flo-ri-duh, ” The much over hyped Nkimdiche, on the other hand, looked average at best.” If you only watched a few minutes of the game, I can see why you might say that. If you were paying more attention, you might have seen that Nkemdiche actually made some pretty special plays for a Freshman playing in his first college game. He ran for a first down on a fake punt, knocking people over. He dragged a running back down with one arm with a blocker all over him. And, he made a key play near the end of the game that force the Vandy QB over the line on a pass playing, forcing them to give up the ball on fourth down. That’s a pretty good start to a future All-American career, I would say.

Pago Pago Dawg

August 31st, 2013
3:20 pm

Looks like Ohio taught Buffalo how to play football…..

Pago Pago Dawg

August 31st, 2013
3:24 pm

Actually, The Rockets could give Missouri a pretty good game next week in Columbia.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
5:28 pm

Hey fl- ri- duh

So much fo your temple win! I’m nervous as hell! We are going to get stomped!!!!

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
6:09 pm

Why is John Atkins…..not playing???? We are going to lose this game….no doubt about!

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
6:23 pm

Kenner Johnson is not playing…either….what the heck is going on with this coaching staff????

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:04 pm

Gurley is hobbled….malcom Mitchell is done for the game…this season looks just like 2008…. So any injuries….Murray with a fumble and int….in the second half we are going to get stomped

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
9:05 pm

Our o- line can’t block…..WTH is wrong with them?????

Desert Fox

August 31st, 2013
9:16 pm

AM up to his old tricks, one pik, one fumble, too many sacks. Running game needs to go outside. Middle no longer open. lets see what happens in 2d half.

ShowMeYurTD's

August 31st, 2013
10:16 pm

Ms Murray “head case” at his best…..so sad. Murray wears skinny jeans.

ShowMeYurTD's

August 31st, 2013
10:17 pm

Geez…..1st and 25…..let’s run it up the middle. Again

dawgfan

August 31st, 2013
10:31 pm

Central Florida is lovely in January.

Mark Richt should move there.

dawgfan

August 31st, 2013
10:39 pm

Same crap EVERY YEAR. They showed Aaron Murray’s record against Top 15 teams earlier. One word: Embarrassing.

Looks like same ole same ole this year.

dawgfan

August 31st, 2013
10:48 pm

We simply cannot win a big game. It’s written in the stars.

Mark “Can’t Win The Big Game” Richt

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
10:53 pm

The 2 or more loss season is well under way again ;)

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
10:55 pm

Yes This football program is fixed

Yes This football program is fixed

Yes This football program is fixed

LOL

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
10:56 pm

The 2 or more loss season is underway ;)

dawgfan

August 31st, 2013
10:57 pm

When does the insanity end? It’s like Groundhog Day.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
10:57 pm

Another loss to a top 10 team

Yep the program is fixed :roll:

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
10:59 pm

I told y’all we would lose…I just cannot believe that SC and Clemson are better than us. Murray can’t win the big game! O- line is terrible and overrated! Defense is the same….they can’t stop the run.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
11:02 pm

I’m so disappointed in the coaches…why didn’t we use the TE’s more!!!! Losing marlin brown and t.king to the NFL really hurt us…..we are not as nearly as explosive as we were last year at the WR position!!! Grantham needs to pack his bags…so does will friend

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
11:03 pm

An experienced O-line was schooled tonight

Im sure it wasnt the coaching

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
11:04 pm

Murray’s fumble and int

The missed fg….we’re the 3 plays that did us in! Also we are the most un luckiest team when it comes to injuries! I hate Clemson
I hate Clemson
I hate Clemson

dawgfan

August 31st, 2013
11:05 pm

O-line got its azz kicked most of the game. D couldn’t stop the runs up the gut. Sound familiar? It should. It’s been like this year after year after freaking year. Nothing has changed.

I saw nothing tonight that tells me this program is close to winning the SEC or a national title anytime soon. Nothing. We’re not even close.

Unbelievable.

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
11:08 pm

Between will friends coaching and gates blocking….I expect Murray will not make thru the season! Maybe we should start mason when we plat top ten teams….or better yet…maybe Richt should pack his bags….I can’t believe we get beat by a wimpy coach called Dabo

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
11:09 pm

dawgfan

Were close just a few more pay raises and contract extensions and it will happen just give it 2 decades or so ;)

Bulldawg35

August 31st, 2013
11:12 pm

Dawgfan,

I agree with you!!!!! We are now out of the mnc picture…..next week when we lose to SC….we will be out of the sec race! Richt cannot and will not beat another top ten again in his career!!!!

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 31st, 2013
11:12 pm

If we lose next week Mason and Ramsy need to start playing at least 1 qtr each per game

It will be time to start preparing for next season; who cares about about a meaningless bowl game in FL

ShowMeYurTD's

August 31st, 2013
11:13 pm

It is going to be a long season. CMR will stick with Ms. Murray….. I feel for gurley, he worked his ass off tonight. Booboo gotta go!