Grading The Tigers Versus Georgia

I left Sanford Stadium Saturday night with one of those strange feelings. Those strange feelings you get as a college football fan when you know your team played well, you know your team outplayed its opponent, and you know your team lost the game.

There can be 1000 positives taken from the Tigers 31-28 loss in Athens to the #8 ranked Georgia Bulldogs. And, there are enough negatives to leave plenty of work on the table this week. The good news…the errors are, for the most part, all correctable. The question is…will they get corrected?

I picked a 28-17 UGA victory last week. I was 12 total points off…not bad for a first week of prognostication. Here is a recap of the grades I give the Tigers in my 5 Keys To The Game.

#1-Turnover Battle More Than A Cliche
The Clemson defense did everything expected in the turnover category Saturday night. Kelvin Morris picked off a pass in his first start for Clemson setting up the Tigers first touchdown by Bernard Rambert in the second quarter. Bryant McNeil picked up a fumble and rumbled 55 yards to put the Tigers even with Georgia early in the third quarter. A fumble by Terrence Edwards on the ensuing kickoff gave the Tigers great field position for a drive that ended on Aaron Hunt's missed field goal.

The Tigers, on the other hand, only had one turnover, that being a Willie Simmons interception in the end zone that snuffed a drive early in the 1st quarter.

Early returns are that the defense looks opportunistic and you have to credit Willie for avoiding stupid errors in the first start of his career. All in all, the Tigers won the turnover battle and leave plenty of optimism for the rest of the season in this area.

Rhymer's Grade…A

#2- Settle In Quickly
Although the Tigers fell behind 21-7 in the first half, none of what transpired had to do with the nerves of the Tigers. From top to bottom the Tigers seemed to be well prepared and confident that they could win the game.

Willie Simmons, especially, seemed poised throughout the night. The drive at the end of the first half to make the score 21-14 was especially good to see. Even with the game on the line late, the Tigers avoided stupid mental errors that would lead you to believe that they were not handling the pressure of this road game well.

Minus Florida State, the Tigers have played in the most hostile environment that they will face the rest of the year. But regardless of the place and the magnitude of the game, it was very satisfying to see Clemson prepared well enough to handle the mental part of the game Saturday night. A ton of credit should go to Coach Bowden and his staff.

Rhymer's Grade…A

#3-Trickery Circa 1999
I'm hard pressed to grade this category because, quite frankly, trickery was nowhere to be found on the Tiger sideline Saturday night.

My first thought was simply that the Clemson coaches felt they were good enough to match up against Georgia without the need for trickery. For most of the game, the Tigers were able to move the football simply lining up and running their offense.

While I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that Clemson matched up pretty evenly with Georgia, the bottom line is the Dawgs won the game and that may not have been the case had the Tigers dipped into the trick bag. That last drive, especially, was ripe for a little hanky panky because Georgia was pinning their ears back and attacking. Sometimes in a game like Saturday night, one gutsy call can make you a winner. The Tiger coaching staff was unwilling to pull that trigger Saturday night.

Rhymer's Grade…F

#4-Stuff Musa
If the Georgia Bulldogs are counting on winning the SEC East with Musa Smith as their featured running back, they are flying blind. Smith is a durable runner that rarely gets knocked backwards. But Smith also is about as fast as I am.

The Tiger defense did a manageable job on Smith Saturday night. While Smith was able to run for a respectable 105 yards on 23 carries, you never got the sense that he was unstoppable or that he was going to break a long one down the sideline. In fact, Smith's longest carry of the game was 10 yards. And several times the Tigers stuffed Musa on 3rd and short situations.

But, to Smith's credit, he was able to gain the most important yard of the game on 4th down after Hunt missed his 2nd field goal, thus allowing David Greene to kneel on the ball and preserve the Georgia win.

Rhymer's Grade…C+

#5-Stay Away From Conservatism
I thought the game plan on offense was aggressive. The Tigers threw the ball up the field, across the middle, and in the flats to varying degrees all night long. The offense also made sure to punch the ball in the end zone 4 of the 6 times they entered the red zone.

Defensively, if the Tigers are going to play similar all season as they did Saturday night, we are going to have to give John Lovett a big raise. Lovett kept the Bulldogs guessing all evening long, never allowing their great receivers to make plays. The even better news here is that Lovett did not have to blitz to get pressure…a key to the Tigers success as the season rolls on. I thought both game plans (offensively and defensively) were well constructed and gave the Tigers every opportunity to win the game. The only thing missing was the element of suprise. (see above).

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Rhymer's Clemson vs. Georgia Observations
  • You have to feel a little bad for Aaron Hunt. Both of his misses were not bad kicks. The ball that hit the upright was well struck and literally inches from being good. The 2nd miss had a high snap and was dead center. It is not as if he shanked the two kicks, so maybe he can keep his confidence and come through as the year progresses.

  • A ton of focus will be on Wynn Kopp's poor kicking, but he did hit some nice punts. He actually averaged 37.3 yards a kick…and that is with the 15-yard shank that he hurried when he did not need to. The coverage of Kopp's kicks was the downfall. The Bulldogs averaged 20 yards a return on punts…not acceptable, but certainly correctable.

  • Georgia never drove the ball down the field on the Tigers. The 9 play, 80 yard drive the Bulldogs had in the first half was graciously helped out with two personal foul penalties on 3rd down plays where Georgia had failed to get the first down…thus extending the drive. If you throw out that drive, Georgia's longest scoring drive was 31 yards. I'll say that again…31 freaking yards.

  • Bad call of the night. Tommy Bowden calling time out as the clock ticked down on Aaron Hunt's field goal. Two problems with this call. First, if you are going to use a time out in that situation, at least let the play clock wind down so if Hunt makes the kick, Georgia has less time to drive down for a game winning kick. The time out was whistled with 16 seconds on the play clock. But, in my opinion, a better strategy would have been to let Hunt come out and attempt the kick without calling time out. This would have helped ease his nerves as well as saved a timeout that was desperately needed once his missed the kick.

  • The Georgia fans were, in my opinion, much better than their nasty reputation that preceded them. I'm sure there will be stories of those who had their cards keyed, or had themselves spit at. But, for the most part, I observed Georgia fans giving a lot of good-natured ribbing (or barking) before the game and a bunch of sighs of relief after the game. I was congratulated on the way Clemson played by 10 or so Georgia fans as I was leaving the stadium…something I had never experienced in Athens.

    Scott Rhymer can be reached via email at

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