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.
#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.
#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.
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.
#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 Clemson vs. Georgia Observations
Scott Rhymer can be reached via email at email@example.com.