By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
It’s here. After months and months of talking, watching and listening about fifth-ranked Georgia’s trip to No. 8 Clemson, the game is finally here.
Sure, we still have the rest of the day, plus a four-hour ESPN College GameDay Show to watch and everything, but the game is here as the Tigers and Bulldogs will kick off Saturday (8 p.m./ ABC) in Death Valley.
“All season-openers are big, but this one is different because I don’t think Clemson has ever opened up with two top 10 teams in an opener,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s big from that standpoint. It’s (ESPN) GameDay and it’s Clemson-Georgia so all of those things are things that have added a little spice to it.”
Those spices have topped off what should be a good meal for a national television audience at home. Both teams bring back veteran quarterbacks that have a combined 68 starts between them. Both Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Georgia’s Aaron Murray have combined to throw for 164 touchdown passes the last three years. Both are two of the more efficient quarterbacks in the country as well.
“We are so excited,” Boyd said. “I remember we were counting down the days while lifting in the weight room when it was 200 days, then it was 100, then it was 80 and now we are a (day) away from the game. I’m very excited about it.
“What an awesome way to start your senior season, so it will be fun.”
Both offense’s possess balance attacks with Georgia featuring running back Todd Gurley and five starters back on the offensive line, while Clemson has four starters back up front and bevy of playmakers, including one of the game’s best playmakers in wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
“We are just excited to go and have the opportunity to compete and see where we are,” Swinney said. “We have some pretty experienced guys coming back that have been in some big games. We have a couple of freshmen on offense that are backup guys for us and I think we have three freshmen on our two-deep on defense and we have some sophomores that maybe will play a little more, but for the most part we have pretty good experience from guys that have been in big games.”
The Tigers have played in a lot of big games in the last two years. Clemson has won seven games against top 25 teams the last two seasons and is the only non-SEC school with three wins over three-ranked SEC opponents.
Saturday night’s game will mark the third straight top 10 opponent Clemson has played dating back to the South Carolina game last November.
“It’s not like these guys have not been to the dance before,” Swinney said.
To get ready for the dance, the Tigers had one of the more physical camps they have had under Swinney. From the first time the players put on the pads, Swinney brought the heat to get them ready for what Georgia is going to bring to the party.
“They are very precise in what they are doing,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They can bloody your nose and beat you too death in the run game really good.”
Though the Bulldogs will have nine new starters on defense this year, that will not change their style of approach in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s scheme. They are going to come after Boyd and will try to disguise their coverages as they like to play a lot of two-deep with their safeties as well as play quarters zone.
“Because they have so many new people, you don’t know what to expect, but at the same time you have to go back and watch film and see what you should look for in certain situations,” Boyd said. “One of the things I try to do is try to get prepared for every situation possible.
“That’s one of the things, especially when you are a veteran guy, that regardless of the situation, anything can be thrown at you. They have a lot of guys that have not played in a lot of games, but they will have great players out there and great coaches so I expect them to come out and perform well.
“The advantage for us is that we have a lot of veteran guys so we need to come out and perform like vets.”