Seven in-depth thoughts and some quick-hitters after Georgia falters in the opener, has to rebound quickly, and what it all means for the season - which is not lost yet. (Even if it feels that way.)
1. Georgia’s most important player the rest of the season may be Josh Harvey-Clemons. The Bulldogs need to hope the sophomore safety (or safety-lilnebacker) ends up being a great, dynamic player on defense, and then a best-case scenario exists where Georgia wins out and points back to the opener saying, Hey look, we didn’t have one of our best players. Don't scoff at that; the word all along has been that Harvey-Clemons has a chance to be a big impact player, and he's probably the second-best player on defense, after Jordan Jenkins. On Saturday, Leonard Floyd seemed to do a solid job at the star position, creating a bit of a dilemma for Todd Grantham, who could keep Harvey-Clemons at strong safety rather than play him mostly at the star, as planned. Either way, Harvey-Clemons will figure heavily the rest of the way.
2. This is when you know it's not your game, or your season: Todd Gurley’s 75-yard touchdown actually proved to be Georgia’s costliest play of the night. First, Malcolm Mitchell suffered a knee injury in the celebration. But Gurley also strained his quad on the play, and was limited for much of the rest of the half, not returning to form until the second half. Keith Marshall is a good back, but one can’t help but wonder whether a healthy Gurley could have helped the Bulldogs do more to take control in the first half.
3. An underplayed reason for Georgia losing was the defense’s inability to stop Clemson from establishing the run. That was one of my keys to the game, and unfortunately for Georgia it proved accurate. Tajh Boyd was as good as expected, but the surprise was tailback Roderick McDowell, who racked up 132 yards, averaging six yards a carry. In order to be successful, Georgia’s defense needed to force Clemson to rely on the pass, which would have allowed Todd Grantham to blitz liberally and play six defensive backs. That didn’t happen. And frankly it doesn’t bode well for next week.
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4. You can’t lose sight of how young Georgia is on defense, and it will be better as the season goes on. But on Saturday too many players, young and veteran, had very quiet games. Tray Matthews, probably not at 100 percent yet, didn’t have his name called much. John Taylor didn’t do much. Floyd got some penetration early in the game, but not afterwards. And the secondary as a whole – whether it be rookies Brendan Langley and Matthews or veterans Damian Swann and Connor Norman – didn’t react well to Clemson’s short passing game.
5. The concern over the offensive line is legitimate, but some perspective is required on the overall performance of the offense. Georgia did put up 35 points, none of it with very good field position (average start of its own 27), and did so without its best receiver. It should have been 42 points, but the Bulldogs couldn’t punch it in from the 5, leading to the botched field goal. (And by the way, if not for that horse-collar tackle Chris Conley may have finished off a long catch for a touchdown.) Aaron Murray wasn’t on his game, and if he had hit some receivers in stride a lot of plays could have gone for more yardage. But he still passed for 323 yards. The offense wasn’t great, and the line is a worry (what else is new), but the biggest problem on this team is still the other side of the ball.
6. OK, but let's not gloss over the offensive line issues. It's really at the point where you just don't know what to do. If the tackles are going to struggle against Clemson, the prognosis for next week against Jadeveon Clowney is somewhere between "yikes" and "aiiiiiieeeee!" Kenarious Gates, bless his heart, just isn't a lock-down left tackle, but coaches apparently still feel he's their best option there. Kolton Houston is a feel-good story for earning the start in his first game eligible, but he was beaten a few times too. And John Theus, for whatever reason, doesn't have the confidence of the coaches. The past couple seasons the line has improved as the season went on, and it'll have to again.
7. Mike Bobo probably summed it up best: “People are gonna feel like the season’s lost, but it’s not.” If Georgia can come back next week and beat South Carolina, the feeling around the team will be entirely different. Problem is, a fourth straight loss to the Gamecocks and this time the season really could be lost. South Carolina’s schedule doesn’t make two conference losses very likely. Georgia needs this game badly, and given the way it looked in the trenches, you don’t come out feeling better about its chances.
- Quayvon Hicks is suddenly quit a weapon, and an added dimension for the offense.
- The passing game won’t be as good without Malcolm Mitchell, but it could still be very good, particularly with Justin Scott-Wesley emerging as a real weapon.
- Hey, Marshall Morgan was suspended, who knew? Now Richt, who got snippy afterwards over Morgan’s status, may carry the “gamesmanship” over for another week, and that’s wonderful.
- Collin Barber had a very solid game punting the ball. Only two of his seven attempts were returned, and for a total of nine yards. He also kicked off in place of Morgan and did a solid job, and was the team’s fourth-leading rusher, thanks to that five-yard fake punt run.
- Georgia showed a bit too much confidence in its ability to run up the middle, especially in the failed red zone chance that led to the botched field goal. It was a rare moment of predictability from Bobo, who has been much more dynamic than that.
- The tight ends combined for two catches for 28 yards. That’s a surprise.
- How little pressure did Georgia get on Boyd? Mike Thornton registered the only sack, which was just for one yard, and there were only two official quarterback hurries, by Floyd. Now, I think that number will increase via film, as is usual. (I remember Jordan Jenkins with at least a couple hurries.) Still, compare that to Murray getting sacked four times, and there’s another big swing in the game.
- True freshmen who played: Floyd, Langley, Matthews (all started on defense), Reggie Carter (saw key playing time in the second half), Shaq Wiggins (mostly special teams), Quincy Mauger (mostly special teams), Tim Kimbrough (a few snaps on defense), Ryne Rankin (mostly special teams), J.J. Green (one carry for three yards.) Green was the only true freshman who played on offense. The other eight are defensive players. And of the nine, five were early enrollees.