|by David Hood|
There were plenty of bright spots, to be sure, but dropped passes, missed blocks by the running backs, wide open receivers for Georgia, poor tackling and a muffed punt by Sammy Watkins all ensure that Clemson’s players have no reason to think they are world-beaters after the win.
And really, isn’t that a sign of how far this program has come under Swinney? The Tigers defeated a Top 5 team without playing anywhere near a perfect game, and did it by winning the battles in the trenches.
Fortunately for Clemson, they get South Carolina St. next week, and then have12 days to prepare for N.C. State for a crucial Thursday night game in Raleigh. In other words – there is time to fix some of the problems from Saturday night. For Georgia, the opposite is true as they host South Carolina next week in Athens.
Now on to some other thoughts from the game.
*Todd Gurley, Georgia’s stud running back, is just a full grown man out on the football field. I don’t think anybody would argue that he might have been the best player out on the field Saturday night. I saw him play in the Shrine Bowl his senior season – when Clemson was right in the mix for his services – and said then that he was the must-have out of that recruiting cycle. Imagine what Clemson’s offense would be like with him in the mix….
*Clemson running back Roderick McDowell was also impressive. A lot of people have said that he isn’t a back that can carry the ball 20 times a game, but he managed 22 carries Saturday night and even ran hard between the tackles. And then, there were a couple of moves that were – in the lexicon of today – absolutely sick. I thought he broke one Georgia defender’s knees on one run, and he left another grasping for air on yet another run. After the game, however, McDowell was his usual humble self and said he still doesn’t think of himself as the starter, and that he shares the position will all of the other running backs.
*Speaking of running backs – Zac Brooks was impressive, especially on his touchdown catch on a throw from Tajh Boyd in the third quarter. Brooks has great hands, and could be a big weapon out of the backfield. He also had three rushes for 20 yards.
*We heard during the spring and during fall camp that wideouts Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake had turned the corner, but both of them had issues with drops, even though Peake wound up with a respectable five catches. Bryant was shut out against a beleaguered Georgia secondary, and both players have to understand that someone besides Sammy Watkins needs to make plays. Games like this one make you realize how much DeAndre Hopkins Hopkins is missed.
*The Tigers are thin at tight end right now, but both Stanton Seckinger and Darrell Smith showed why offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he wasn’t concerned about the position last week. Seckinger caught a nine yard pass from Boyd and stretched out over the goal line for a fourth quarter touchdown that proved to be the difference. For the record - I think Seckinger is going to be really good.
*How good is Spencer Shuey? The senior linebacker got his chance last season against Georgia Tech and wound up leading the team in tackles. So what was his reward in the offseason? He was forced to switch positions as the coaches endeavored to give former 5-star recruit Stephone Anthony the chance to shine at the middle linebacker spot. Shuey was moved to the weakside spot, and he responded by leading the Tigers in tackles Saturday night with 12. He also recovered a fumble (a fumble forced by Anthony), and seemed to be in on every key stop Clemson had in the second half. Give me 11 Spencer Shuey’s any day of the week.
*Clemson’s problems in kickoff return defense were well-documented last season – they helped cost the Tigers the game at FSU – but specialist Bradley Pinion made that a moot point Saturday by booming every kickoff into the endzone. The Bulldogs didn’t have any kickoff returns, and had just one punt return for a meager four yards. All in all, a good night for the special teams, the only blemish the muffed punt by Watkins.
*A huge play in the game was the fourth quarter punt return by C.J. Jones that gave Clemson the ball at the 13-yard line. Freshman linebacker Ben Boulware touched the ball on the punt, and the ball bounced into the endzone for what could have been a game-changing play. Jones saw what happened, scooped up the ball and returned it out of the endzone. Twelve plays later, Clemson scored to go up 38-28.
*Clemson fans, give yourselves a pat on the back. The crowd was into the game from start to finish, and actually caused of couple of procedure penalties for the Bulldogs. Murray said after the game that the noise from the crowd caused problems at different times, and that it’s hard to simulate that kind of noise in practice.
David Hood can be reached at email@example.com