With spring practices in the books, it now officially time for Clemson to turn its attention over to Georgia.
The Bulldogs still have a few weeks remaining before they conclude their spring with their annual G-Day Spring Game on April 17. However, that does not mean the Tigers can start looking forward to the Sept. 4 opener at Bank of America in Charlotte.
As ESPN’s Chris Fowler said last week, this will be a game everyone on opening weekend will have their eyes on, especially considering both teams are College Football Playoff favorites once again.
With the spring game over, we kind of know what Clemson has in its arsenal, but what about the Bulldogs. What can we expect from Georgia in 2021?
One thing we know is the Bulldogs will without their star receiver George Pickens. He tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in practice last month and is not expected to be back by the time Georgia plays Clemson.
The Bulldogs also got a scare when another one of their best receivers, Jermaine Burton, went down with a knee injury last Tuesday. However, Burton reportedly suffered a hyperextended knee injury that will not require surgery.
That is good news for quarterback JT Daniels, who could not afford to lose another wide receiver.
Georgia is hoping to build on its late season success and New Year’s Six Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati despite the loss of key pieces on defense and Pickens.
Clemson and Georgia look to switch strengths in 2021 as the Bulldogs return a wealth of talent on offense and the Tigers seek to find an identity behind new faces.
The Tigers lose Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell at the skill positions and 71 percent of their offensive productions. Those four players totaled 61.3 percent of Clemson’s touchdowns in 2020.
But D.J. Uiagalelei will be at the helm of the unit and looked impressive in his two starts against Boston College and Notre Dame during Lawrence’s absence due to COVID-19.
In those two starts he completed 59-of-85 passes for 781 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Uiagalelei also brings a new element to the offensive strategy with the quarterback power and he ran for a pair of touchdowns this past year, despite a lingering shoulder injury.
At the skill positions the Tigers benefit from the return of young stars in E.J. Williams, Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson at wide receiver, as well as the return of Justyn Ross.
The running back room will face a stiff competition with Lyn-J Dixon, Chez Mellusi and Darien Rencher, as well as freshmen Will Shipley and Phil Mafah.
Clemson’s offensive line is still young, but Dabo Swinney likes the progression of the offensive line this spring.
The Bulldogs return a wealth of talent on the offensive side of the ball, highlighted by Daniels who transferred from Southern Cal and took control of the offense in the middle of the 2020 season. Daniels completed 80-of-119 passes for 1,231 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in just four games.
At tailback Georgia returns Zamir White who ran 144 times for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns as well as James Cook who added three touchdowns and over 300 yards.
The biggest question mark on offense for Georgia is in the trenches where they lost two key starters in Ben Cleveland and Ty Hill.
Clemson is set to return nine starters on defense for the upcoming season which should make it a formidable force.
The Tigers are highlighted by the return of sixth-year linebacker James Skalski, a second-team All-ACC selection in 2020, he recorded 44 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups and three quarterback pressures this past year. Baylon Spector also looks to continue his success.
Clemson did lose defensive linemen Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams on the defensive line to the transfer portal, as well as linebacker Mike Jones. The Tigers also lost cornerback Derion Kendrick who was dismissed from the team shortly after spring practice started.
But the Tigers return starters Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, K.J. Henry and Tyler Davis on the defensive front, as well as Justin Mascoll, who shared starts with Henry.
In the secondary, the Tigers return Andrew Booth, Sheridan Jones, Mario Goodrich and Lannden Zanders, as well as safety Nolan Turner.
Georgia will have to replace several key pieces on a salty defense from last season. The front seven returns key pieces but its secondary needs an overhaul moving into a new year.
The Bulldogs lose outside linebackers Azeez Ojulari and Jermaine Johnson who accounted for 47 tackles and 12.5 sacks. But Georgia returns Adam Anderson, who added 6.5 sacks in 2020 and 2.5 in the Peach Bowl.
Georgia looks to find an identity in the secondary after Tyrique Stevenson entered the transfer portal, who was expected to start after four starts and appearances in all 10 regular season games last year. The Bulldogs also lose Mark Webb, Richard LeCounte, Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and D.J. Daniel.
There is still a lot of time between now and the kickoff of the Duke’s Mayo Classic in September, but fans have plenty to look forward to it in the offseason.
—Alex Dodd contributed to this story
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