ATHENS -- Among the many Palmetto State media in the Sanford Stadium press box on Saturday night were a few planning to cover Georgia-South Carolina in two weeks.
Their reaction to what they saw in Athens was nearly the same:
Todd Gurley is very good, Georgia’s defense is better, and the Gamecocks are in big, serious trouble.
Then there was the national writer who told me that he’d probably see me down the line -- during the playoff.
And that’s objective media. Goodness knows the euphoria in some quarters of the Georgia fan base after its team used its star tailback and improved defense to run away from Clemson. The same margin of victory, 24 points, as Texas A&M’s beatdown of South Carolina.
In the afterglow of the weekend, it’s easy to get carried away, look down the road at a very manageable schedule -- no LSU, Alabama or Texas A&M -- and think this could be The Year.
It very well could be.
Mark Richt on Sunday did his best to throw cold water on the burning hot expectations: “It was just one game.”
Now I will, too.
Georgia knows it has perhaps the best tailback in the country, and therefore a potentially dominant run game. Everything else, however, retains at minimum a sliver of concern.
Is the defense really this good already? Ray Lewis, who was at the game as a guest of Clemson, probably thought he was watching his old Baltimore Ravens defense in the second half.
But it bears reminding that Clemson’s offense had just two starters back from last year’s season-opener game, and while it will probably be very good by the end of the season, it’s rebuilding as the season begins.
Georgia’s front seven could stay dominant. The secondary, however, needs more than one good game before it is crowned anything.
Then there’s Georgia’s offense, the non-tailback part. If Hutson Mason needs to win the game, can he? What happens if, say, South Carolina stacks nine men in the box, as it very well may. Can Mason make the defense regret it?
Will the offensive line hold up, and open as many holes as it did in the fourth quarter? Will it keep Mason’s jersey as spotless as it was on Saturday?
Will the special teams -- the unheralded factor in Georgia’s favor against Clemson -- continue to be as good?
Malcolm Mitchell’s absence also remains a concern. If healthy, he’s Georgia’s best playmaker not named Gurley, and as the top receiver, he’s the best candidate to truly stretch the field. So when he’s not out there, and right now there’s no timetable for his return, the passing game isn’t what it could be.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo did a good job of gameplanning around Mitchell’s absence in the opener, trying to get speedy freshman Isaiah McKenzie involved, and lining up Sony Michel at receiver. And, of course, Gurley’s presence also does wonders to stretch the field, especially if South Carolina and more teams feel compelled to stop the run.
Yes, this is mostly nitpicking. Georgia won a game it was favored to win, but the way it did it, especially on defense, makes it legitimate to put the Bulldogs among the very early national contenders.
Damian Swann, Georgia’s senior cornerback, said after the game: “Number 3 is the reason we’re gonna be successful.”
I would amend that to say that Gurley will be the main reason.
Even Florida State last year had more than just Heisman winner Jameis Winston. It had a highly-ranked defense coached by Jeremy Pruitt, now the man in charge of Georgia’s defense.
This season opener was a very encouraging sign that the Bulldogs could be really, really good this year.
But as Richt said, it was just one game. Win the next one, and it’s time to start thinking big. But first, win the next one.
Contact Seth Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org