By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
After watching the game in person, and watching it again on the DVR, here are a few of my thoughts on Clemson’s 38-35 victory over Georgia on Saturday.
- I feel like we say this every time Clemson is on ESPN, but you really can’t get any better publicity for the campus and the town. The special Musberger and Herbstreit did on the tradition of rubbing Howard’s Rock and running down the hill was incredible. It perfectly captured the emotional environment that made Saturday’s game special in Clemson. Also, Musberger’s line on Georgia taunting Clemson at the base of the hill (“Even Georgia had to take a peek”) was classic.
- Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray are just different quarterbacks. Aaron Murray just looks more like a prototypical NFL quarterback. He just carries himself that way. He is a good game-manager who won’t ordinarily cost his team a win. But Tajh Boyd is a game-changer. He made some winning plays Murray didn’t throughout the game. He fought just to get back to the line of scrimmage. He essentially clinched the game with his six-yard run on third down late in the game. His ability to improvise and overall athleticism gave him the edge in the battle between the two quarterbacks.
- I’m not sure why Georgia didn’t run more toss sweeps out of heavy sets. The two times they did it, Todd Gurley combined for 98 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run. Gurley is a unique combo of speed and power, but too often, Mike Bobo only accentuated the power element. For the record, Keith Marshall is also elite. He plowed through 300-plus-pound D.J. Reader for four yards into the end zone, and he juked and powered his way to the goal line on a catch-and-run late in the game.
- But Rod McDowell also held his own. I wrote a story on Hot Rod crashing the party on Saturday night, and he was more impressive than anyone imagined he could be. The guy will run with a purpose all season long. His story is one of triumph over situational adversity. I know Brent and Herbie are buying him for sure.
- Clemson’s defensive line won the battle in the trenches. This was a topic of conversation after the game. The Tigers felt sure they wore Georgia down at the line of scrimmage. Offensively, it was true, but that wasn’t a major story because of Georgia’s three-man front. The Bulldogs win if they hold steady at the line, which allows the linebackers to make plays. But Clemson won on both sides of the ball. Go back to the stat about Gurley on the two sweeps. On all other running plays, the Bulldogs averaged 3.2 yards per carry—a number the Tigers will gladly accept. This is a product of the interior line wreaking havoc on the downhill running game Georgia likes to employ.
- Georgia had major issues on the first play of drives offensively. The Bulldogs had 15 drives, and there were several results that had to drive fans crazy. The first play of the game was a false start. The Bulldogs also had a delay of game and a timeout on such plays. These are the kinds of problems that boil down to coaching and preparation, which puts the burden on Mark Richt.
- Clemson wasn’t without these issues too. The Tigers used what could have been a costly timeout on a simple punt safe play from the Clemson 40 in the fourth quarter. That was maddening, even when it became evident the timeout wasn’t super important to the outcome of the game.
- Martavis Bryant had a miserable game. He dropped two catchable balls, and he also dropped a tough catch on a fade route in the end zone. He also wasn’t very effective in the kick return game. But Bryant did make a huge catch when he snagged Georgia’s onside kick at the end of the game, which brought a huge smile to his face.
- Both defenses looked better the second time around. I felt much better about both defensive football teams after watching the game on DVR. Many of the big plays during the game were the result of excellent play design or great execution by talented players. Were there busts? Sure. Quandon Christian was completely lost for no reason on a fourth down play, and Brent Venables ripped into Garry Peters for missing an assignment on one significant gain through the air. The Bulldogs had issues too. But both teams will improve, and neither will face an offense better than the opposition on Saturday night.
- Georgia needed some help in pass protection. Too often, Bobo chose to block the Tigers with only his five linemen. This was fine against a traditional four-man rush, but Clemson started bringing more creative pressures in the second quarter. All of a sudden, the blocking scheme started breaking down. Communication issues were exploited at times, and Murray bailed his front out on several occasions. That effort won’t cut it against South Carolina next week.
- The tit-for-tat between Gurley and Watkins made this game special. Gurley showcased every attribute of an elite tailback just one offensive snap before Watkins showcased every attribute of an elite wide receiver. And that was just in the first ten minutes of the game.
- There were times when Boyd had great communication with his wideouts. The opening drive of the second half was a prime example of this, when he was distributing the football quickly to the perimeter on a regular basis. But there were also times when they struggled to get on the same page. Over time, these problems will dissipate, and Boyd will look more in sync in the passing game. He still had a super performance, but it definitely could have looked cleaner.
- This has the potential to be the most important win in Memorial Stadium in three decades. The next 11 games will dictate the overall importance of this win, but it seems big in the moment. The crowd rose to the occasion, as did the players and coaches. Things really couldn’t have gone much better for Clemson on Saturday night.