By Will Vandervort
Here is an inside look at the Clemson-Georgia series as the eighth-ranked Clemson Tigers host No. 5 Georgia at Clemson Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised by ABC at 8 p.m. (8:22 p.m. kickoff)
About the Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs come into Death Valley as one of the favorites to contend for the Southeastern Conference Championship. Georgia is the preseason favorite to win the SEC East Division. They come in with a very balanced offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray and a defense that has a lot of holes to fill.
The Georgia offense: Murray is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He has started 41 straight games for the Bulldogs, the most by any quarterback in the country. He is also the nation’s active leader in touchdown passes with 95 and ranks fourth in passing efficiency. Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall rushed for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012 as true freshmen. Gurley was one of the nation’s best running backs as he rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 scores. The Bulldogs also return a veteran offensive line with all five featured players back as well as split end Michael Bennett, who returns after suffering a torn ACL last season. Flanker Malcolm Mitchell is also back to help with the passing game.
The Georgia defense: Georgia’s defense will feature nine new starters. The returning starters are cornerback Damian Shaw and defensive end Garrison Smith. Linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera combined for 15 starts last year, too. With Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd back and with his array of talent at wide receiver, the Tigers will try to exploit the Bulldogs’ young secondary, though a pair of older players in Connor Norman and Corey Moore will start at safety after seeing significant time in those spots last season.
The Georgia Special Teams: Head coach Mark Richt has not announced his decision on Kicker Marshall Morgan as of yet. If you recall, the sophomore was arrested early in the summer for driving a boat under the influence. Indications coming out of Georgia speculate that he will be suspended for the game meaning Adam Erickson—a junior will get the nod. Last year, Georgia struggled with field goal kicking as Marshall was just 6 of 11.
Records: Clemson 0-0; Georgia 0-0
Series record: Georgia leads 41-17-4
Last meeting: 2003: Georgia won 30-0
Last Clemson win: 1990, 34-3
First meeting: 1897: Georgia beat Clemson 24-0
Stat worth noting: Georgia has blocked 21 punts, 13 field goals and four PATs in the Mark Richt era? The Bulldogs have converted them into 137 points. Georgia has scored 17 special teams touchdowns and four safeties in the Richt era.
Second stat worth noting: Georgia has an 8-6-2 record all-time in Death Valley, one of only three schools to have a winning record on the Tigers. The others are Florida State (7-5) and Auburn (4-3).
Third stat worth noting: This will be just the second meeting of top 10 teams in Clemson Memorial Stadium. The only other time was in 1988 when No. 10 Florida State beat No. 3 Clemson, 24-21, in the final seconds. This also marks the first time in the history of the rivalry that both Georgia and Clemson are ranked in the top 10 heading into a game. The closest one before this year’s match up came in 1982 when No. 6 Georgia beat No. 11 Clemson, 13-7, on Labor Day Night in Athens, Ga.
Memorable game: David Treadwell had six game-winning or tying kicks in his lustrous Clemson career, and two of those came against Georgia in 1986 and 1987. The 1987 game is probably more memorable because the Tigers rallied in the final six minutes to win the game. Clemson, ranked eighth at the time, trailed the Bulldogs, 20-16, after Georgia running back Rodney Hampton carried the ball into the end zone from eight yards out with 8:59 to play. On the Tigers’ ensuing possession, they moved the football to the Georgia 44-yard line where the drive stalled. Then something crazy happened that has not happened since. Rusty Seyle’s punt hit at the nine-yard line, bounced to the one, where it took a long bounce in the air. Clemson’s Chinedu Ohan was chasing the ball and before the ball crossed the plain of the goal line, he used his left foot to kick the ball backwards to John Johnson, who caught the ball at the one-inch line. Johnson was able to keep his momentum from crossing the plain, thanks to a couple of teammates who grabbed him and yanked him back. With 6:23 to play in the game and still clinging to that four-point advantage, Georgia tried to move the ball out from its goal line. The Bulldogs didn’t care if they picked up a first down or not, they just could not afford to give up a safety. But that’s exactly what happened. Jackson first tried a quarterback sneak that went for no gain as nose guard Tony Stephens nearly broke through and caught him in the end zone. On the next play, Georgia head coach Vince Dooley called for an option to the left on second down. The Clemson defense was not fooled as Johnson and defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry got penetration, forcing Jackson to bounce the play outside. Cornerback James Lott was able to fight off the block of running back Lawrence Tate to grab a hold of Jackson. He hung on just enough as safety Gene Beasley brought Jackson down in the end zone for a safety. After Donnell Woolford returned the free kick 17 yards to the Clemson 42, tailback Wesley McFadden ran off two runs for 14 yards and then Terry Allen darted off the left side for 11 yards to move the ball to the Georgia 33. After fullback Chris Lancaster got only three yards on first and second down, Clemson head coach Danny Ford called for an option play to the short side of the field instead of throwing the ball. Williams faked the fullback dive and pitched the ball to Allen, who appeared pinned up along the left sideline. Allen made the first guy miss and then broke the tackle of a second would-be-tackler as he cut inside and bounced it to the right sideline. That’s when he made a third Georgia player miss before finally going down 17 yards later at the Georgia 13. With the clock running under a minute, McFadden teamed up with fullback Tracy Johnson and moved the football to the four-yard line where Treadwell and company rushed onto the field. With no timeouts, the guy known as “Mr. Clutch,” calmly drilled the 21-yard field goal to win the game.