Swinney: 'The last Georgia I saw kicked our butt right there in Athens'
In his 12 full seasons as a college head coach, Dabo Swinney has lost just once on opening day. That loss came in 2014 when 16th-ranked Clemson was humbled by No. 12 Georgia, 45-21, in Athens.
The Bulldogs embarrassed the Tigers in the second half, outscoring them 24-0 after halftime, including 21-0 in the fourth quarter. Running back Todd Gurley ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score.
When Clemson kicks off the 2021 season on Sept. 4 in Charlotte, it will mark the first time the Tigers have faced Georgia since that hot and humid afternoon on August 31, 2014.
“The last Georgia I saw kicked our butt right there in Athens,” Swinney said this past Thursday at the ACC Football Kickoff from the Westin in Charlotte. “We got smashed. Hopefully, it will not be that version. They were really, really good. But it is a different day and age.”
A lot has changed for both programs since the Bulldogs won their sixth game over Clemson in the previous seven meetings. The Tigers have won two national championships, played for it two other times, and have played in each of the last six College Football Playoffs. Their 79 wins since the start of the 2015 season is tied with Alabama for the most victories in college football.
Georgia has since replaced Mark Richt as its head coach and brought in Kirby Smart, who played at Georgia and was an assistant coach under Nick Saban for nine seasons at Alabama. Smart guided the Bulldogs to an SEC Championship in 2017 and to the CFP National Championship Game later that season.
“Kirby has done an unbelievable job. They may be the best team in the country (this year),” Swinney said. “They’ve recruited well. They are a crazy play away from already having a national championship under their belt.”
The Bulldogs are 52-14 in Smart’s first five seasons as their head coach.
“We have a lot of knowledge of their program. We recruit against them,” Swinney said. “The state of Georgia is a huge recruiting area for us, and, obviously, for them.”
Like Clemson, Georgia is expected to be a top 5 team when they off the buses at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 4. The Bulldogs are expected to contend with Alabama for the SEC Championship this year and some think they have a good chance to win it.
They return 11 starters overall, including seven on offense. The biggest of those is junior quarterback JT Daniels. They also return running backs Zamir White and James Cook, as well as three starters on the offensive line.
“The style of play is a little different if you are comparing them to that (2014) team,” Swinney said. “College Football has evolved. That was 2014 when we were down there. College Football has evolved a lot in the last seven years.
“But I think at the end of the day, it still comes down to elite players on both sides, few plays, small margin for error and teams built in the trenches.”