NCAA Football Game Preview: Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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Clemson travels to play Georgia “Between the Hedges” on Saturday (via BleacherReport.com)

The Georgia Bulldogs will host the Clemson Tigers on Saturday in a matchup of two top 25 teams.

Here’s what you need to know about this game:

Time: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. EST
Place: Sanford Stadium; Athens, Georgia
TV: ESPN
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Clemson Tigers Sports Network
Spread: Georgia -7.5, per SportsBook.ag

AVG. YDS (RK) CATEGORY AVG. YDS (RK)
333.1 (10th) Pass Off. 314.2 (16th)
174.6 (55th) Rush Off. 169.9 (63rd)
201.0 (15th) Pass Def. 227.4 (56th)
155.7 (48th) Rush Def. 148.2 (38th)
You can follow the game online here.

Sanford Stadium
Athens, GA
Isolated tstorms late. Afternoon clouds. Warm. 87 °F, Wind: 5.04 mph/S

A new football season, and one that should bring a lot of excitement. The NCAA is finally going to have a playoff system (four teams), and the biggest game this week is No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia. Who says you cant have your cake and eat it too?

Even though neither team wants to lose, the pressure rests more on Georgia winning, as this is their first game back after losing the Gator Bowl to Nebraska. The Bulldogs also have to consider that after facing Clemson they’ll play No. 9 South Carolina in two weeks. An 0-2 start would definitely put the Bulldogs in a bad spot to garner a four seed in the playoffs, and most likely lose any chance of getting in.

A glance over previous seasons shows that Georgia must do a better job against the tougher teams on their schedule. Over the past five years, the Bulldogs are 7-15 against ranked teams. Georgia is always looking to take on the best competition, so their schedule is loaded, starting with the traditional SEC opener against South Carolina. They will also play Oklahoma State, Boise State, and Clemson in today’s matchup. Clemson went 11-2 last season and beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

As for Clemson, getting off to a quick start is also important. Their first five games show that they play three top 25 ranked teams: No. 12 Georgia, No. 1 Florida State, and No. 23 North Carolina. They also wrap up the season playing No. 9 South Carolina.

A look at this season for both teams show they had a major turnover in the talent department. Players such as Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd are gone from Clemson, and Aaron Murray has left Georgia for the NFL. Georgia also has a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, who comes from Florida State after winning a National Championship. Pruitt inherits a problematic secondary that has had trouble remaining together. Georgia’s roster has also been stripped through unexpected dismissals, transfers, and position changes that will make it even harder to develop a cohesive unit.

This is going to be a high stakes game and it’s on national television, so how will it unfold?

Georgia offense:

Offense schematic for the Bulldogs is easy: give Todd Gurley the damn ball. Gurley has talents as both a runner and a receiver. Last season he racked up 989 rushing yards and 441 receiving yards, and posted 183 total yards against Nebraska in the bowl game.

Georgia is stacked at running back with freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and they have a great backup in Keith Marshall. The offensive line has lost three seniors, but they do have some pieces to make the ball-control offense work. Fullback Merrit Hall allows the Bulldogs to use a two-tight end set with Quayvon Hicks and Jay Rome, as they make a great tandem. Both are athletic tight ends and can cause matchup nightmares. The receivers are also highly talented with Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett, and Chris Conley. This collection of versatile players help Gurley find room with different varieties of zone running schemes.

The offensive line isn’t made of road plodders, instead they like to use Hall to lead Gurley to the perimeter by using stretch blocking or cutting back against the grain to the cutback on inside zone. The line consists of Kolton Houston (6’5″, 280), Greg Pyke (6’6″, 326), center David Andrews (6’2″, 295), Mark Beard (6’5″, 300), and John Theus (6’6″, 298).

Clemson Defense:

The Tigers are loaded at defense, which include Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks a year ago, and strong safety Jayron Kearse. These two lend a lot of versatility to their defense. They can alternate between cover 3, quarters, and man-1 blitz, and disguise it as well. The Tigers will put Kearse on the edge to take advantage of blitzes and crush the runs. Free safety Robert Smith will man the middle of the defense — and shut it down. This allows a more concentrated effort on blitzes. This defense is entirely capable of closing off the stellar Bulldog offense.

Clemson Offense:

Clemson uses a spread offense, and senior QB Cole Stoudt takes over for Tajh Boyd. Stoudt has been an understudy for the last three years, but he isn’t the athletic talent that Boyd is and this may hamper Chad Morris’ offensive scheme. They will also need to replace super stud Sammy Watkins, who by himself led an intimidating offense.

Even though Clemson lost a majority of their talent, they still have players that have been in the system for years and also have a solid offensive line, especially at the guard position where Kalon Davis and Tyrone Crowder are located. The Tigers will work an inside zone power scheme and they should benefit from these two guards, who weigh in at 340 pounds (Davis) and 345 pounds (Crowder).

Stoudt will lead a well-drilled and well-designed offense. On the wings, the Tigers have Germone Hopper and Artavis Scott.

Georgia Defense:

The defense has a ton of weapons for attacking the Clemson offense and should be able to create negative plays or turnovers. They will use blitzes to contain the option. The Bulldogs have a strong front seven. Outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, along with inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, are the heart of the Dawgs’ D. This linebacking crew could easily be the best combination of size and speed in college football. The biggest issue for the Georgia defense is getting burned deep. They have lost Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who transferred to Louisville.

Outcome:

The game will come down to which defense can limit the big play. Both teams can blow each other off the scoreboard, but each team can shut each other down as well. Clemson does have the advantage, albeit a small one, which can be countered by the fact that this game is being played in Athens.

Prediction: Georgia wins a close one, 31-28.

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