One of the few positives that can be taken out of Saturday night’s 38-35 loss at Death Valley is the fact that Georgia had 545 yards of offense and lost to Clemson by only 3 points despite a dismal performance by the Bulldogs’ veteran offensive line.
After Clemson’s defense adjusted to a more aggressive, blitzing style of play in the wake of the Dogs’ early success, the OL was completely unable to handle the Tigers’ speed off the edge, resulting in a breakdown of protection for Aaron Murray.
(Speaking of the Tigers’ adjustments, Clemson’s staff clearly outcoached Georgia’s much of the evening, making much more aggressive calls on both sides of the ball, with the exception of the Dogs’ last scoring drive, when the team in orange strangely sat back in prevent mode, allowing Murray to move Georgia 56 yards in 1:06 to pull within 3. Had the onside kick worked — always a longshot — we probably would be talking about the Dogs’ miracle comeback.)
But back to the OL. In addition to doing a poor job handling Clemson’s pressure, they also opened few holes for the running backs — which makes the 154 yards a dinged-up Todd Gurley racked up on 12 carries (including a 75-yard touchdown run) even more impressive. Gurley was obviously the best player on the field Saturday night.
And to top off their awful performance, offensive linemen made several poorly timed miscues (several of them by junior center David Andrews) that killed Bulldog drives.
Georgia returned all its OL starters from last year and came out of the preseason boasting more depth than it’s had at those positions in quite a while, but unfortunately just because you’re experienced doesn’t mean you’re good.
Murray statistically ended up with a decent night passing, completing 20 of 29 for 323 yards, thanks in great part to some fine catches made by Justin Scott-Wesley, Michael Bennett and Rantavious Wooten, and in spite of the fragile Malcolm Mitchell leaving the game early with yet another injury. But Murray wasn’t that sharp overall, having a definitely subpar second and third quarter, as he often has in the past when he has reason not to trust his OL. In addition to being sacked four times, he had a fumble and an interception.
Yes, there also was a key special teams failure, with a botched snap making it impossible for the Dogs to tie the game up at 31, but, again, that followed a drive in which Georgia had first-and-goal just outside the 5-yard line and yet couldn’t punch the ball in with three running plays due to both the poor blocking by the offensive line and some strangely conservative playcalling by Mike Bobo.
The defense, fielding a bunch of inexperienced players and shorthanded because of a suspension and injuries, played about as well as could be expected. There were missed tackles, and they seemed to wear down against the run in the fourth quarter (a familiar trend held over from last season), but they weren’t the reason Georgia lost the game.
So back to what positives we can take from this game: Well, it was nonconference, so all of Georgia’s goals — the SEC East, the SEC Championship and a possible berth in the BCS title game — remain still within their grasp. And this wasn’t a loss to be ashamed of. Clemson is a legitimate Top 10 team and probably will win at least 11 games this season. The Dogs don’t deserve to fall out of the Top 10 as a result of this loss.
Also, fullback Quayvon Hicks had a key run to get a Georgia drive in gear and had a long pass reception in another. He’s going to be a great player.
But on the downside, considering how poorly the OL played in the spring game, the problems there don’t appear to be a one-night aberration. Throw in the fact that the Bulldogs left the field at Memorial Stadium looking kind of battered, and it’s more than a little scary that Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina Gamecocks will be coming to Athens next week (on two more days rest than the Bulldogs will get).
Those are my early thoughts. Feel free to share your views of Georgia’s opening-game loss. But keep it clean and civil.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg