Two Heisman candidates and one non-conference rivalry take center stage on August 31st, during college football’s opening weekend. 2003 marked the last time Clemson and Georgia met, making it a decade since the two teams came face-to-face. One decade ago, Georgia, under current head coach Mark Richt, defeated Clemson in a 30-0 blowout. Many did not expect that game to play out like it did, considering the Bulldogs were missing a number of defensive starters.
This time, questions still surround both Georgia’s and Clemson’s defense, but, because of two quarterbacks, don’t expect this year’s face-off to play out quite like the blowout in ’03. The real competition opening weekend will be between QBs Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd.
The key for both Clemson’s and Georgia’s offense is the quarterback. For Clemson, Boyd returns to lead an offense ranked eighth in the nation after the 2012 season. He finished last season throwing for 3,896 total yards and 36 touchdowns. Ranked No. 5 in the country in passing efficiency, Boyd completed 67.2 percent of his passes, throwing 13 interceptions. He led the Tigers to an 11-2 overall record in 2012, defeating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to close-out the season.
Compare Boyd’s stats to those of Georgia QB Aaron Murray, and the teams’ quarterbacks are as evenly matched as they come. Murray led the Bulldogs to a 12-2 overall record during the 2012 season. Like Boyd, he threw for 36 touchdowns, and only fell short of Boyd’s total passing yards by three. By the end of the season, he passed Peyton Manning on the SEC career touchdown list. Murray’s now thrown 97 touchdown passes in his Georgia career, and trails only Danny Wuerffel (114) for most all-time.
Backing Murray is Georgia’s next-biggest offensive weapon: the running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. In 2012, Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Marshall ended the season having rushed for 759 yards on 117 carries. Having Gurley and Marshall on the field together will create a tough situation for Clemson’s defenders because of two factors: speed and familiarity. Both guys have the speed necessary to outrun Clemson’s defense, as well as the familiarity with one another’s style of play, making the duo a key part of Georgia’s elite offense.
Georgia and Clemson both face interesting situations with their defenses. Georgia spent the preseason rebuilding its defense and put together a talented group of defenders, but the level of inexperience is the biggest cause for concern. Georgia will be dealing with some injuries and absences in the safety position, with Josh Harvey-Clemons being suspended for the season opener. In addition, Corey Moore, Shaquille Fluker, and Tray Matthews all dealt with injuries during the preseason. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins is one of Georgia’s weapons on the defensive side of the ball. After playing alongside Jarvis Jones last season, Jenkins has learned from one of the best and will be a force in Saturday’s game.
For Clemson, the key to stopping Georgia offensively comes from relying on its defensive line, especially returning starters Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett, and Corey Crawford. Watson led the defensive line last season with 54 tackles.
Despite Clemson’s defensive line, Georgia’s offense will give the Bulldogs just enough power to pull ahead of Clemson and start the season off with a win. A win against Clemson will further prove that Georgia is a contender for the national title.
Prediction: Georgia 34 Clemson 27