I guess it’s progress. We’ve come from 4 points, 8 yards, and a tipped pass to 3 points, 3 yards, and a botched chip shot of a field goal. If anything, a team that spent the offseason motivated by the near-miss in last season’s SEC championship game now has a whole new and much more relevant set of missed opportunities to dwell on. Georgia’s 38-35 loss in the season opener at Clemson was great TV full of explosive plays on both sides from two of the nation’s most potent offenses. We just didn’t count on the explosive offense blowing up on itself quite so much.
We’ll come back to the defense, but we pretty much expected that Clemson would put tremendous pressure on the inexperienced defense. Georgia would have to lean on its veteran offense to carry them. A unit that posted over 500 yards of offense can’t be accused of failing to do their part. Instead, it was mistakes more characteristic of a much less-experienced offense that did Georgia in. The inconsistent line, the penalties, the disastrous start to the second half – it was the first game, yes, but it was hardly the first time these guys had played together.
It reminded me a bit of the 2011 South Carolina game. The Dawgs outgained the opponent, they missed some chances to gain an advantage in the first half, a key fumble by Murray led to an important score, and a pivotal special teams play changed the momentum of the game. There was a lot to like on both sides of the ball, but it just took a handful of plays to make the difference against another quality opponent.
- I’m not sure what’s more mind-boggling: that Georgia racked up nearly 550 yards of offense and still lost or that Georgia racked up nearly 550 yards of offense despite six consecutive drives in the second and third quarters that resulted in a net loss of nine yards. During that stretch, Georgia saw a lead turn into a tie game at halftime that turned into a deficit. Georgia started that sequence with the ball and a chance to extend their first lead, and they ended it in the position of having to play catch-up for the rest of the game.
- If there’s one stat that stands out for the offense as a problem, it’s 4-of-14 on third down. On the fourth play of the second quarter, Murray improvised and found Wooten on a reception that went to the goal line. Georgia only converted one third down the rest of the way.
- Of Georgia’s 14 third downs, 9 of them had at least 5 yards to go. It’s tough to convert on third down when you’re not making much progress on the first two downs.
- It was a great crowd and a tough environment to work in. To their credit, Georgia impressed me with their ability to respond to almost every Clemson score. The botched field goal came on yet another long drive that came after a Clemson score. Even with the early scores by Clemson, the turnovers, and the penalties, the fight was there until the onside kick.
- Even in the loss there were some impressive debuts. Hicks and Scott-Wesley stepped up. Floyd might’ve won himself a starting job. Matthews didn’t have many opportunities to make plays, but he wasn’t a liability against a potent passing game. He’ll learn to make plays on the ball and avoid the situation that cost him a pass interference penalty.
- I still can’t get over what Floyd was asked to do in his first game. Georgia rarely substituted its linebackers and defensive backs. There was no nickel group – Floyd was forced into the “star” position, often had to cover a receiver, and he really stood out.
- As important as the newcomers were the veterans who had to take on a larger role. Herrera and Wilson were extremely active. Herrera especially had several big pass break-ups. On the offense, Bennett didn’t skip a beat from when we last saw him.
- Speaking of Herrera, the interception he dropped was potentially as important of a turning point as the field goal. Georgia was up 7 and would have had the ball in Clemson territory. Instead, Clemson punted, and Murray fumbled three plays later to set Clemson up with the short field to tie the game.
- It wasn’t just the line that had protection issues. On the blitz that caused Murray’s fumble, the Clemson pressure so mixed up the Georgia protection scheme that Keith Marshall ended up with no one to block. I was hoping to see a bit more from Marshall. One of the things I had wondered about was his ability to be something other than a change of pace if Gurley couldn’t go. Marshall did have some nice plays – the effort on his touchdown was tremendous, and he made a difficult catch on a Murray swing pass. Still, Marshall ended with 2.7 yards per carry and had a tough time getting through the Clemson front.
- Though the defense gets a lot of leeway for what they were up against, it was still disappointing to give up 197 yards of rushing. Georgia went through the Florida, Ole Miss, and Auburn games in 2012 giving up a total of 178 yards of rushing. Since then, they’ve given up at least that much in every game. Georgia’s last five opponents have averaged nearly 279 yards on the ground. Georgia actually did a fair job against the pass on Saturday – removing Watkins’ impressive long run after a poor tackle attempt by Swann, the Tigers were under 200 yards of passing.
That rushing defense is especially important when we look ahead to South Carolina. The Gamecocks pounded North Carolina for 228 yards on the ground. Though this won’t be the up-tempo attack we saw from Clemson, South Carolina will present their own challenges. They’ll run the zone read with Shaw more than capable of getting yards. They’ll use play action from that same look to catch Georgia’s linebackers and safeties looking to stop the read play.
Georgia should feel confident in their chances if they can eliminate some of the correctable mistakes. The home crowd should help with a few of those. Still, the opening games left us with the impression of a Gamecock advantage on both sides of the line. It’s tough to win any SEC game, much less one against an elite SEC team, without winning somewhere along the line of scrimmage. Georgia must find answers in its pass protection, and they’ll have to be creative in how they attack a big and physical offensive line that will look to drive the ball straight at them.