2013 Preview: Legge's Look at Clemson

ATHENS - Dean Legge's look at the 2013 Clemson Tigers.

August 31, 2013
Memorial Stadium
Overall Record: 47-17-4
Last 10 Meetings: 7-3
Richt vs. Clemson: 2-0

This blockbuster game to start the 2013 season is pretty much a glorified scrimmage for Georgia. That might not be a pretty way to describe one of the top non-conference games of the year in college football, but that's reality.

For Clemson, however, the game might be more important. The Tigers, some think, have the ingredients to make a run for the national title. But that's contingent on beating Georgia in Death Valley the first game of the season. The Tigers are coming off a 2-1 record against SEC foes last year – including an impressive come from behind win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The win over LSU helped Clemson turn the page on their fourth straight loss to hated South Carolina, but the doubts are still there, which leads to an important question.

Can Clemson beat a top-tier SEC school and avoid the pitfalls of a silly ACC upset loss?

It's starting to look like Clemson has turned the corner on that question. The stupid ACC upsets to the likes of Duke or Wake Forest have gone away. Clemson is now beating Georgia Tech more often than not. But the Tigers have fallen short in spotlight games. The 2012 Orange Bowl (which was a total embarrassment), the early season loss to Florida State and the season ender against the Gamecocks were classic Clemson – building up for the big game only to lose.

Truthfully, the four losses in a row to South Carolina aggravate the Tigers more than anything else. Beating someone for decades only to lose for almost half a decade is painful.

The fact that South Carolina is in the SEC makes many Tiger fans roll their eyes. That the conference is having monumental success and the Gamecocks won't shut up about it annoys Clemson fans even more.

Clemson had to beat LSU – the season would have been considered classic Clemson without it. What does the win over LSU mean? It was a major step forward for Clemson. LSU was the third best team in the SEC West last year. Clemson jumped a hurdle not only by winning the game, but the way in which it won.

Georgia should beware of the first game of the season.

Clemson player to watch:
Tajh Boyd
6-1, 225
Georgia will face its toughest opposing quarterback in its first game of the season, and it will do so with an inexperienced defense in a hostile environment. Boyd, like his off-the-field friend Aaron Murray, chose to forego the NFL Draft for one more year and returned to school for his senior season in hopes of winning a national title. And with 14 returning starters, including seven on Boyd's explosive offense, the Tigers have a good shot.

This is the second time in three years that the Bulldogs will open the season against arguably the best signal caller they'll see all year, and one who is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. The last was in 2011 against Boise State's Kellen Moore, who shredded the Georgia defense with 261 yards and three touchdowns en route to a dominating 35-21 victory at the Georgia Dome. Boyd probably won't defeat Georgia by himself, but he has plenty of help around him to light up the scoreboard, including the tall and physical Sammie Watkins at wideout.

Where Boyd has the leg up on Murray is his running ability. Boyd was the second leading rusher for Clemson last year, and churned out ten touchdowns on the ground. He also ran for ten or more yards 27 times and averaged just under 40 yards per game. Georgia struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks a year ago –– notably Alex Zordich (Buffalo) and James Franklin (Missouri) –– and that was with a defense loaded with NFL talent. Georgia's most difficult task against Clemson will be containing Boyd and challenging him to make tough throws.

"It's scary," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of gameplanning for Clemson. "Boyd is one of the best players in America. He knows what he's doing. It's going to be a big challenge no doubt."

2013 Clemson Schedule

Aug 31 Georgia
Sep 07 South Carolina State
Sep 19 at NC State
Sep 28 Wake Forest
Oct 05 at Syracuse
Oct 12 Boston College
Oct 19 Florida State
Oct 26 at Maryland
Nov 02 at Virginia
Nov 14 Georgia Tech
Nov 23 The Citadel
Nov 30 at South Carolina

What the Dawgs must do:
Win the ground game. Tajh Boyd is going to get his, but Georgia needs to make sure that the run game of the Tigers doesn't get going as a result. One way to do that is to control the clock with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Clemson is a fast-strike offense that is powerful when it gets momentum. If Georgia is busy running down the clock, or scoring, Clemson will have a hard time keeping up.

Inside the numbers:
The Tigers finished sixth in the nation last year in scoring with 41 points per game, but let's take a closer look at that. In eight games against ACC teams, Clemson averaged 46.5 points. In three games against SEC teams (two of which – Auburn and LSU - they won to be fair), the Tigers averaged 22.7 points per game.

Recruiting Implications:
Here and there. Clemson has made itself known in Georgia over the last decade. The Tigers have done a good job of identifying prospects early in the process and offering them. The problem is not Clemson offering players from Georgia, or even getting high-level Georgians to commit to them. The challenge has been signing high-level players SEC programs want out of Georgia. Consider the 2013 recruiting cycle when the Tigers had two high-level Georgians committed to them who wound up signing with Ole Miss and Florida. That's not to say Clemson hasn't gotten its fair share of Georgians, but by and large the Tigers are going to lose out to the Bulldogs in Georgia, which is to be expected. What will be interesting to see is if longtime quarterback commit Deshaun Watson from Gainesville winds up with a paw on the side of his helmet.

Last year's prediction (vs. Buffalo):
The Bulldogs will be able to roll their way into the new season with a gimmie game against Buffalo. Georgia is poised for a very big 2012 – perhaps as anticipated a season as they have had since 2008.

Todd Gurley arrived in a big way during Georgia's win over Buffalo. His arrival pushed Georgia to the Bulldogs' best season since 2007.

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