Clemson not facing same problems as Georgia

Georgia may be favored by the oddsmakers for Saturday's season-opener at Clemson, but there's a case to be made that the Tigers might be worthy of that position.

Georgia may be favored by the oddsmakers for Saturday's season-opener at Clemson, but there's a case to be made that the Tigers might be worthy of that position.

Some of their names: wideouts Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Youngblood, linebacker John Leake, and cornerback Justin Miller.

The Tigers may have lost one all-American (cornerback Brian Mance) and three all-conference picks (Mance, defensive tackle Nick Eason, and end Bryant McNeal), but it's no empty cupboard. The Tigers will have more returning starters on both sides of the ball in uniform Saturday than the Bulldogs.

"That's one thing every year," says Georgia quarterback David Greene. "They've got some of the best talent you'll see in the nation. Just raw, athletic ability. Got a lot of speed."

Purely from a personnel standpoint, one major focal point Saturday will be Clemson's passing game.

Charlie Whitehurst, a sophomore from Chattahooche High, beat out Willie Simmons, the starter in last year's Clemson-UGA game, at quarterback.

As a freshman, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder broke 22 school records, hit 58 percent of his passes, and threw for 1,554 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"I think it's important that Charlie doesn't go in there and try and make a throw that's not as safe as it should be," says head coach Tommy Bowden. Observes the quarterback: "I just need to keep my composure."

Whitehurst took over the top spot against Duke and started the last five games.. But he didn't see action at all in the first three games, so he admits being a little anxious.

"I'd think I'll feel a little more pressure," he says. "This'll be the biggest game of my career so far. this is a big one for the Peach State native. But you don't want to get so nervous and so uptight that you can't go out there and be loose."

The Tigers' strength is at wide receiver. Georgia happens to be the thinnest depth-wise in the secondary, thanks to injuries and suspensions.

Hamilton is eighth on the school list with 105 catches and tied for 12th with 1,286 career yards. A year ago, he caught 52 passes for 602 yards while Youngblood had 59 for 691, each getting two touchdown catches.

"Their receiving corps, of course, is the strength of their offense," says Georgia head coach Mark Richt. "A little banged up on the (defensive) perimeter for us, it could be an issue."

Georgia will also have to chase down Airese Currie, a returning starter who earned all-America honors in track. He's the explosive guy to watch, ranking fifth in Clemson history in yards per catch at 17.7.

"His biggest improvement would be consistency," says Bowden. "If we're going to get a big play, he has the most potential to get it."

The Tigers have a fairly young offensive line with six freshmen and sophomores among the top 10, and they won't be experienced in the backfield. Returning tailback Yusef Kelly isn't expected to play much Saturday and is listed third, behind sophomores Duane Coleman and Kyle Browning.

Clemson has been emphasizing the run more this fall and will display more of an I-formation offense than Bowden's known for. That's led to a more physical camp.

The Tigers had special teams problems last year against Georgia, enough to last the season. Hamilton and Miller return kicks and punts, and kicker Aaron Hunt is back. Bowden's convinced Clemson's corrected the variety of problems it had in Athens.

Said the fourth-year coach: "I don't think could've practiced (it) any longer."

Georgia's young offensive line will get a good look at Leake. The 6-1, 240-pound senior made his presence known to last year's group up front with 11 tackles in the loss at Sanford as Clemson held Georgia to 203 total yards, which ended up as the season low.

"Leake is a heckuva a football player," says Richt of the Tiger who had a team-high 169 tackles last year. "He shows up time after time. He's a guy that knows where to go and he'll run right through you."

Clemson has two linemen back to help Leake, but there's only one starter returning to the secondary, standout cornerback Miller.

He was second in ACC Rookie of the Year voting, losing to N.C. State's T.A. McLendon. Still, he was a second-team all-ACC pick as well as taking some national all-freshman team honors, thanks to eight interceptions, tying him for fifth nationally.

"Justin Miller, he's extremely impressive," says Richt. "He's fast, has got great ability to jump up and intercept the ball. He's really, really talented."

Bowden does have a concern that Whitehurst on offense and Miller on defense may suffer from the impatience of youth.

"Charlie does not need to try and win the Georgia game by himself, and neither does Justin," says Bowden. "There are 10 guys on defense along with Justin, and 10 guys on offense along with Charlie."


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