Analysis: The impact of losing Harvey-Clemons against Clemson

semerson@macon.comMay 28, 2013 

Up to now, Josh Harvey-Clemons was the story of Georgia's offseason for a good reason. He found his role on the defense, was the defensive MVP of spring practice, and was expected to play a big role in the opening-game showdown at Clemson. Well, scratch that. Here are some quick thoughts and analysis upon the news that the potential star is suspended for a violation of the UGA drug policy.

1. This is an obvious blow to the defense, but how big is hard to know. Harvey-Clemons didn’t play much on defense last year, and it’s not like Georgia was counting on its defense to shut down Clemson in order to win the game. Still, the defensive strategy against Clemson was heavily predicated on Harvey-Clemons at the star position, the hybrid safety-linebacker role where he could use his skills as a pass-rusher, run stopper and playmaker against the pass. So now what? The Bulldogs will still play mostly a 4-2-5, because they’ll need to against the spread. But they no longer will have the multi-faceted Harvey-Clemons at that nickel spot. That hurts. Once Todd Grantham got word of the suspension, whenever that was, you have to imagine he banged his head against a wall, then began drawing up a new defensive gameplan for Clemson.

2. Having said all that, don’t anyone go crazy dispensing with Georgia’s hopes for 2013. This makes it harder to beat Clemson, but if the Bulldogs can still pull out a win in Death Valley, they get Harvey-Clemons back for the following week against South Carolina. And even if Georgia doesn’t beat Clemson, it should have Harvey-Clemons for every SEC game.

3. From a personnel standpoint, this doesn’t change the outlook too much for the two safety spots vs. Clemson. It’s still freshman Tray Matthews at free safety, and Corey Moore, Connor Norman or an incoming player at strong safety. (Junior college prospect Shaq Fluker will get a shot.) The key now is who moves into the nickel back role that Harvey-Clemons was expected to play heavily vs. Clemson. Next in the pecking order are Devin Bowman, a junior who hasn’t played much, and freshman Reggie Wilkerson, who came on late in spring practice. But also available will be incoming freshmen Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins. There are options there, but they’re all traditional defensive backs, rather than the hybrid player, and star potential, that Harvey-Clemons brings to the table.

4. This is a situation where Georgia fans – and coaches – have reason to be angry all around. First at Harvey-Clemons, who was on the team last year and should have been perfectly aware of the ramifications if caught in violation of the drug code. (Especially on campus, in your dorm room.) And if you don’t like that Georgia continues to punish for first-time marijuana offenses, unlike most other SEC programs, then this is more cause for gnashing of teeth. Georgia is now without one of its top defensive players in potentially its biggest game of the season because he was apparently honest with police about having smoked a blunt. He wasn't arrested. If you want to argue that the policy is ridiculous, this is more ammunition. But again, Harvey-Clemons should have known better.

5. By the way, if Georgia is going to keep its drug policy, and there’s no evidence it won’t, then it would probably be a good idea to stop scheduling Clemson and Boise State to start the season. Just a thought.

6. This isn’t vitally important, but it’s good that Richt ended the suspense and revealed the suspension now, rather than have a repeat of last year’s Rambo-Ogletree saga. That didn’t serve anybody any good, and perhaps Richt and UGA learned from that. Or perhaps this was different because there was police documentation of Harvey-Clemons admitting it, unlike the Rambo and Ogletree incidents the past few years.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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