The Final Breakdown

After a 10-year hiatus, Clemson and Georgia will renew their rivalry Saturday night when the Dawgs head to Death Valley at 8 o'clock.

WHAT: No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 5 Georgia
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (81,500) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 31 (8 p.m.)
SPREAD: Georgia by 1.5

Roderick McDowell entered the calendar year as the starting running back at Clemson, and he held the job through spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp. The biggest question over the first eight months in 2013 was who would be No. 2 behind McDowell.

It's probably safe to assume that Tajh Boyd will be counted on to contribute in the running game, much like he's done over the last two seasons. (Getty Images)
Through much of the year, there was speculation around CUTigers that freshman Tyshon Dye would be that guy. He arrived to Clemson over the summer and was very much in the conversation during the first couple of weeks of preseason camp. But a back injury has sidelined for the Georgia game and it could result in a redshirt this fall.

Zac Brooks won the No. 2 job. Walk-on C.J. Davidson is listed in the third-string role. D.J. Howard is questionable after having an ankle scope last week.

Clearing the way for McDowell, Brooks and Davidson are four returning starters [from left to right] -- Brandon Thomas, David Beasley, Tyler Shatley and Gifford Timothy. Dalton Freeman, the longtime starter at center, has been replaced by Ryan Norton.

It's also safe to assume Tajh Boyd will be counted on to contribute in the running game, much like he's done over the last two seasons.

While Clemson's offensive line is experienced, Georgia's front seven, for the most part, is full of youth and inexperience. Departures to the NFL played a big part here.

Middle linebacker Amarlo Herrera is the team's top returning tackler [70]. He started nine of last season's 13 games. Defensive end Garrison Smith, also a returning starter, had 57 tackles a season ago. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins started six games in 2012, but his presence was felt more in pass rushing situations.

Perhaps the biggest void on the Georgia defense is the departure of nose guard John Jenkins [linebacker Alec Ogletree would be second]. The 350-pound monster in the middle will be replaced by Mike Thornton and Chris Mayes. Mayes is a JUCO transfer and Thornton has two tackles in 21 career games.

In Clemson's last game, the Tigers had success running the ball against an LSU front seven that had more talent and experience. Though it could be a by-committee-type of attack from the Clemson running backs, both McDowell and Brooks could be in for productive nights. Same goes for Boyd on the designed quarterback runs and read-option plays that he elects to keep the ball.

Georgia was 77th in the nation against the run a season ago, had major personnel losses and is now supposed to be better aginst the run?

The edge goes to the home team.


If the Georgia front seven is inexperienced what does that make the secondary?

We'll go with very inexperienced. Really, really inexperienced works, too.

For the first time in more than a year, Sammy Watkins is healthy. (Roy Philpott)
Safeties Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Sanders Commings have all moved on to the next level. Cornerback Damian Swann is the lone returning starter.

Josh Harvey-Clemons will take the stating strong safety job after he serves his one-game suspension on Saturday. His replacement for the Clemson game could be Connor Norman, a walk-on who transferred to Georgia after signing with Presbyterian out of high school.

Tray Matthews will start at free safety. He too is a freshman and he too has been dealing with injuries throughout preseason camp.

Sheldon Dawson, a sophomore, is listed as the starter opposite of Swann. The two backups are freshmen, Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley.

They'll have quite a challenge when facing Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake, and Adam Humphries, Germone Hopper and Mike Williams.

Georgia may not face a better group of wide receivers all season. But what could potentially hurt Clemson are the losses at tight end -- Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett.

Regardless of who's available at tight end, Boyd should have a big night. While Watkins will probably spend most of his evening being chased around by Swann, the other Georgia cornerbacks will have their work cut out for them.

The Dawgs' secondary could get a boost by their pass rush. While Jenkins could emerge as one of the top pass rushers in the country, they are without the guy who was the best pass rusher in the country for two years -- Jarvis Jones.

Besides Jenkins, Swann is the only returning player to the Georgia defense with multiple sacks in 2012.

As long as Clemson's run game keeps it in second and third-and-short situations, Boyd should be able to look down field without much pressure in his face. We expect both to happen.

Besides, Georgia could have as many as two freshmen on the field at the same time in their secondary. It's not a recipe for success -- freshmen plus road opener vs. a high-powered offense with Heisman candidates at quarterback and wide receiver = touchdowns and lots of yards.


The one-two punch of Gurshall is probably the top running back combination in the country. And to think, Clemson finished second to Georgia for both of them in February of 2012.

Todd Gurley figures to be a major factor in the Georgia running game Saturday evening. (Dean Legge)
Todd Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns on 222 carries last season. Keith Marshall ran 117 times for 759 yards and eight scores. Back to block for them is every starter from last season's offensive line. In addition to last year's front five is every scholarship player from 2012, plus Kolton Houston.

Despite all of the accolades surrounding the emergence of Gurshall, Georgia finished the 2012 season 43rd in the country in rushing with 182.6 yards/game. But don't get too excited about that stat, Clemson fans. Sacks are counted against rushing totals and Aaron Murray isn't exactly a dual-threat. Marshall averaged a gaudy 6.5 yards per carry while Gurley's was 6.2 yards.

While the Georgia run game will get the nod here, this won't be as one-sided a matchup as some would have you think.

Clemson returns all five defensive tackles from last year's rotation while the only defensive end lost is Malliciah Goodman. The Tigers' linebackers, led by Spencer Shuey, Stephone Anthony and Quandon Christian could be the strongest unit on the defense.

After the Georgia Tech game last season, Clemson ranked 102nd against the run with a 202.7 yards/game average. By the end of the year, the Tigers were 57th in the country with a 155.9 yards/game average.

Clemson should be better against the run this season. If Georgia is held to less than 150 yards on Saturday, consider it a victory for the Tigers.

But, as noted above, the Dawgs get the nod here.


Murray could be a first-round draft pick next spring. This fall, he'll be throwing to a solid group of pass catchers, including wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett and tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome.

Mitchell is an explosive, take-the-top-off-the-defense-type of guy. He caught 40 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns last season. Bennett is more of a possession guy. A knee injury sidelined him for much of last season, but through five games, he caught 24 passes for 345 yards and four scores.

Georgia QB Aaron Murray was voted to the preseason All-SEC First Team by the SEC coaches-- ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. (Dean Legge)
If Lynch is next in the long line of Georgia tight ends, Rome is knocking on the door. Lynch had 24 catches for 431 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Rome caught 11 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Both could be on NFL rosters within the next few years, like the wide receivers.

The running backs aren't bad options out of the backfield. Gurley caught 16 passes and Marshall had 11. So there's a threat there, too. And, yes, they'll definitely be pros.

All of that being said, Clemson folks are very nervous about this matchup, and rightfully so. But keep this in mind: the Tigers secondary was short-handed for the entire 2012 season. There were times when multiple guys who were playing weren't at 100 percent, not even close to 100 percent.

Martin Jenkins is back after setting out the entire season. Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland return after missing most of the second half. Just having those guys back healthy, one would think that's a shot in the arm. Garry Peters emerged after the injuries to his fellow class of 2010 cornerbacks.

While there is also concern about the lack of starts at safety, Travis Blanks and Robert Smith have playing experience. And they could be two of the smartest guys on the entire defense, in terms of football acumen and in the classroom. The biggest concern should be what's after them -- freshmen, lots of freshmen.

Speaking of freshmen, Korrin Wiggins will play the nickel/SAM position. That's one of the positions he was recruited to Clemson to play. The other is safety. Jayron Kearse will fit into a similar equation.

Clemson does have its top pass rusher back. Victor Beasley will take on more of an every down role this fall. That's all well and good, but the Tigers are going to have to get some production outside of No. 3. Corey Crawford would be the obvious choice. But he's got just one career sack. Shaquille Lawson, Beasley's backup, could be another source of pressure.

Though Georgia's offensive line returns every starter, they were 65th in the country with 1.93 sacks/game last season. Several of those sacks are on Murray's shoulders since he isn't the most mobile guy.

We like Georgia here. Everybody likes Georgia here.


Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made 27 of his last 28 field goal attempts. (Roy Philpott)
Until we know the status of Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan, it's hard to make a call as to which direction this should go. Morgan, who was arrested over the summer for boating under the influence, might play on Saturday. Then again, he might not. Mark Richt told reporters earlier this week that there will not be any kind of a formal announcement on Morgan's status.

For prediction purposes, we'll assume that Morgan will play at some point on Saturday. That's why you're going to see the p-word at the bottom of this matchup. If he doesn't show up to Death Valley, the edge goes to Clemson.

Both teams have gotten similar kinds of production out of their return men. Mitchell averaged 5.2 yards per return in the punt game last season. He had 22.5 yards per return on kickoffs. Gurley averaged 34.7 on kickoffs.

Watkins averaged 19.8 yards per kickoff return last season and returned three punts for 11 yards. Humphries averaged 4.8 yards per punt return last season.


PREDICTION: Clemson 40 Georgia 30 Top Stories