As the Clemson-Georgia game rapidly approaches, there are a number of issues coming to the forefront as people start to hone in on what will make the difference for either side.
The teams’ strengths are fairly apparent. Both teams have explosive offenses. Both have experienced, skilled quarterbacks with deep, talented receiving corps on the outside. Both squads really like their offensive lines as well.
Georgia’s package includes a strong running game with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Clemson’s includes an experienced front seven that quietly believes it can hang with the best in the country.
But both teams have weaknesses too, which is where the attention lies right now. The Bulldogs continue to be bothered by issues in the secondary, where injuries have added to the concerns already amply provided by the youth in the stable. Clemson fans need no lectures on youth and injury at the back of the defense.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have dealt with a myriad of issues at the running back position. A lack of developed talent has coupled with a rash of aches and pains to create a major question mark on the roster heading into the matchup with the Bulldogs.
But it is the secondary that—as with the Bulldogs—has caused fans the most frustration. Players continue to drop like flies in this unit for the Tigers, including freshman Mackensie Alexander—the latest to earn the “out” designation on the injury report.
To underscore the thin, young nature of both defensive backfields, let’s examine the depth charts released by both teams. Some positions have three players listed, and some players are multiple times, so the numbers can fluctuate up and down depending on whose total you use.
For these purposes, we will include offense, defense, and special teams. Georgia lists nine true freshmen and one redshirt freshman on its depth chart. Not one of those is on offense. Out of nine players listed, four freshmen are regarded as backup linebackers. Furthermore, half of the eight listed players in the secondary are freshmen, including two starters.
This means that in the Bulldogs’ back eight, eight of 17 listed players (47%) are true freshmen who have never even been on a college sideline for a game. This is clearly a cause for concern against Tajh Boyd and the Clemson passing attack.
On the other sideline, Clemson lists three redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen on its depth chart. Even in the secondary, where the Tigers are seen as inexperienced, only one freshman appears as a backup. So Clemson’s thin secondary is reliant on veterans, while Georgia’s is reliant on new guys.
Frankly, I’m not sure what this means. I think both secondaries will struggle against advanced passing games from both opponents, so the extent of the issues remains to be seen and can certainly be debated. But as far as the secondary is concerned, I am confident Clemson would rather have its question marks than Georgia’s as it prepares for battle on Saturday.