Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dawgs & Tigers: A Prediction

In our Keys to the Game, we laid out what Clemson needs to do to send the Dawgs whimpering back to the Athens. And while we gave you the five keys, we didn't let you know how they would play out.

So, on the eve of the game, here goes:

Key #1 - Smart Over Aggressive
Clemson fans saw both ends of the sprectrum during last year's USC game. Clemson came out, ran the ball well, converted 3rd downs, and moved the ball down the field for a TD. The next drive, they used the potential defensive adjustments to their advantage and went over the top for another TD.

But that was it. Never again did Clemson threaten the USC defense the way they did early. Against LSU, Clemson was much more patient, and in the end, the LSU defense was gassed, allowing Clemson to get back in the game - and then win it.

Against Georgia, expect the Clemson offensive scheme to fall somewhere in between. Morris won't make the same mistakes they made against USC; however, the Georgia defense will give Clemson better opportunities to strike down field, so long as the line can protection Boyd.

Look for Clemson to spend the first few series trying to find that balance, but when they do, watch out.

Advantage - Clemson

Stay Ahead of the Chains
The Clemson defense must keep Georgia in passing situations rather than allowing Richt and Company to dictate pace and play-calling. However, this is no easy task, especially with Marshall & Gurley in the backfield. The Clemson D-Line must occupy multiple blocks and minimize the available rushing lanes. Additionally, the Clemson linebackers need to keep everything in front of them and tackle on first contact.

To be honest, this one key is what keeps me up at night (separate from the 1 month old). How Clemson fares for this key will determine their success. Unfortunately, past history has not been kind to the Tigers, and until we see a difference on the field, it's hard to have too much faith.

Advantage - Georgia

Offensively, Clemson must keep themselves in short, manageable 3rd downs. For one, it keeps the entire playbook at their disposal, and two, any 3rd down failures result in giving the ball back to Georgia. The Clemson O-Line will have first down success against the Georgia defense, and Hot Rod McDowell may be a slight improvement over Ellington when it comes to getting the tough yards. However, Clemson will truly miss the hands and routes of Hopkins, the trustworthiness and blocking from Jaron Brown, and a coach on the field in Brandon Ford. How fast their replacements get acclimated will determine Clemson's success with keeping the chains moving. But the talent is too good here, and the Clemson offense is significantly better than the Georgia defense.

Advantage - Clemson

Win Special Teams
One thing Clemson never did last year was make great plays in the return game. Watkins never quite regained his Freshman form and the other returners were more security than field position changer. Against Georgia, Clemson could use some cheap points or better field position.

Also, of all the special teams players, Clemson has the best in Chandler Catanzaro, and his presence enough may provide sufficient security to keep Clemson from making a big mistake or turnover. However, after Catanzaro, both teams are fairly even.

Look for another solid, consistent day from Catanzaro, a firework or two from the return teams, but also some potential kick coverage issues.

Advantage - Even

Pressure & Confuse Murray
Against LSU, Clemson was able to get solid pressure from the down lineman (3 sacks). Additionally, they were able to bring linebackers at opportune times, which resulted in another 3 sacks.

Last year, Murray's two worst games were against USC & Florida. Against USC the pressure caused trouble, but against Florida, the defensive schemes and disguises caused confusion.

The question for Clemson will be if the D-lineman are able to get pressure without bringing additional bodies. Right now, I don't think it is, forcing Clemson to bring additional bodies to create pressure, which could result in Murray hitting some big plays.

Advantage - Georgia

Keep the Crowd Alive

Any stadium can be loud, but the challenge for Clemson fans will be to sustain that volume for 3+ hours. The offense will give Clemson plenty to cheer for, but as we've said before, decibels are created by defense. If the Clemson D can make some plays, Clemson may lay claim to both the "Death" Valley and "Deaf" Valley versions.

But let's be honest, Georgia has played, and won, in similar environments. They shouldn't be intimidated by what they experience. At least not the battle-tested starters. Those fresh faces in the secondary? Maybe, just maybe...

Advantage - Clemson

Prediction
After summarizing the keys, Clemson has the overall advantage, albeit a slight one. Will that be enough to knock off a strong Georgia team hungry to own the state of South Carolina?

Unfortunately, I don't think it will be. The ability of Georgia to run the ball with Marshall and Gurley, along with the senior leadership of Murray, will propel Georgia to a narrow win. Clemson will play tough, and probably grab an early lead, but Georgia will fight back, grab a second half lead, and play keep away well enough to keep the Clemson offense on the sideline and out of rhythm.

Georgia 31
Clemson 27

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