Simply put, it was a tale of two halves. Clemson came out clicking on all cylinders, taking the opening kickoff right down the field for a touchdown. While the running lanes weren't huge, there were big enough for the Tigers grind out nearly 100 yards on the ground through the first two quarters. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris stayed patient with the ground game, while also trying to establish the confidence of Cole Stoudt making his first start. DeShaun Watson even came off the bench and launched a 30-yard scoring strike to Charone Peake. With 21 points and nearly 300 yards of total offense on the board at halftime, it looked like a game that would be there for the taking. Unfortunately, Clemson ran out of gas in the second half, mustering just 15 yards of total offense and one first down-- and it was painful to watch. Very. The running lanes that were there initially quickly disappeared as Clemson's offensive line appeared overwhelmed at times. Stoudt also appeared rattled and the play calling bogged down due to poor field position. Credit Georgia's defense for dialing up more pressure and being more powerful at the point of the attack, but you have to wonder what happened to Clemson's tempo? What happened to the zone-read? What happened to the confidence in calling plays? We came into Saturday night's game wondering what Clemson's offensive identity would be. I'm not sure that question was ever answered. And if that wasn't enough, Georgia LB Leonard Floyd's comments after the game were especially unsettling... "Everybody knew what they were doing. The defense easy. We played the same calls basically the whole time." Easy to say that considering he'll never see Clemson again. But still, that's not good.
The defense gave up a respectable 17 points until the final 10 minutes of the game, but like the offense, it simply couldn't keep up. Todd Gurley rushed for nearly 200 yards and Nick Chubb proved he's the future for Georgia's explosive backfield as the two backs pounded the Tigers into submission. You have to consider part of the problem was the offense going three-and-out for what felt like the entire second half. But the poor angles taken by Clemson defenders late in the game allowed Georgia to turn a 24-21 nail biter into a 45-21 dismantling. The Tigers also registered just one sack. Where was Vic Beasley? Chances are this unit will be just fine, it just can't stay on the field for an entire half and expect to be lights out. At the same time, 45 points on the scoreboard is unacceptable. This unit is better than what we saw Saturday. Much.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
The 100-yard kickoff return by Gurley erased all the momentum Clemson established in the second quarter... and then some. If that wasn't enough, Ammon Lakip missed his only field goal attempt of the game - from 34 yards out. Simply put, special teams were atrocious and played a major role in the loss. Back to the drawing board here.
It was obvious Clemson was ready to play, jumping out to a seven-point lead on two occasions in the first half. But where were the adjustments? It's understandable the play-calling would be more conservative given the bad field position the Tigers faced throughout the third and fourth quarters- but at times it seemed outrageously bland. Plus, the special teams were really bad. Hard to win any game on the road when those two factors work against you. With so many new faces at so many key positions it was obvious the staff didn't want to take too many chances. However, I would be shocked if that's the case going forward.
Let's call Georgia exactly what it is... a damn good team. Todd Gurley is the best running back in the country when healthy and Clemson simply had no answer. Playing at home in front a raucous crowd of 90,000-plus, the Dawgs returned the favor after Clemson's three-point win a year ago. And hey - as bad as the final score looked, it's not as if Clemson didn't have its chances. Remember, with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, it was a 24-21 game. The good news is Clemson gets S.C. State at home next weekend and will have an opportunity to reestablish some confidence against a lesser opponent. The bad news is Florida State looms on the schedule just two weeks after that. Las Vegas suggested the Tigers would start the season 1-2 given the overall toughness of the schedule and there's nothing I saw last night that suggests otherwise. Clemson has to find more playmakers on offense and that could mean more snaps for DeShaun Watson, C.J. Davidson and possibly Wayne Gallman or Adam Choice. If it can avoid the three-and-outs, that will help the defense become the dominant unit we all know it can be. Finally, it's important to keep some perspective - even after a tough loss like Saturday night. It's just one setback against a really good team on the road. Not the end of the world.
GRADES: Tigers stumble in Athens
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