Well folks, it's time to exhale a little. Week 1 is done and out of the way (albeit not quite the way we wanted it to be), and week two fast approaches. The Cocks...of Game are on their way to Athens with a solid win under their belt, and more importantly, a three game winning streak over the Dawgs in their possession. Now that I've had a chance to rinse my mouth out following that last statement, it's time to break down where we stand, what we learned against Clemson, what South Carolina will bring to the table, and what it will take to stop the bleeding and get back on track.
As for Clemson...
We lost to a good team, in a great (close) game, and there's no shame in that.
Did we help them out? Absolutely. Did they play to the best of their potential though? Actually, yes. Tajh Boyd is a very good quarterback who has gotten better and better each year, and we all knew going into it what kind of talent Sammy Watkins has. And you have to admit, their defense made plays when it mattered (Murray's pick might have had as much to do with defensive execution as it did bad judgment on his part). Also, they were playing in front of an awesome home crowd on a national level, so it's fair to say that it was a hostile environment to be playing in for anybody.
Now did we play absolutely dreadful (like many Dawg fans are saying)? Definitely not.
Murray made some great throws, and really spread the ball around en route to a 300 yard performance. Our receiving corps stepped up when Mitchell went down, and I was pleasantly surprised by the performances of Justin Scott-Wesley and Rantavious Wooten. Gurley was a man with boys, and looked even better than last year. And Hicks....well....it's awesome to have a dominating fullback again that's involved with the offense.
Defensively, I thought our young guns performed admirably with all things considered. Our line stayed strong for the most part, and Ray Drew finally showed some of his potential. I also liked what I saw out of Ramik Wilson who finally started getting to the ball. Herrera did a fine job as well. Leonard Floyd and Tray Matthews looked like freshman at times being out of place and trying to go for a big hit instead of a sure tackle. But on the whole, they played like veterans, and weren't afraid to stick their head in there to make a play. I expect big things from them down the road. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the play of Brendan Langley at corner. I guess I should have expected that after he beat out Sheldon Dawson for the starting job. But still, he looked like a regular. Conner Norman might've gotten burned a couple of times, but he certainly had his share of tackles as well, and that broken up deep pass was huge.
On special teams, Barbour had a solid outing netting over 42 yards a punt, and the Tigers never managed a terrific return. Another happy surprise in this game was Patrick Beless. He might have just made those extra points, but at least he was 5 for 5 in his first game ever.
What do we need to fix?
Penalties will kill even the best of teams, and it's about time we accepted that. I've heard plenty of arguments lately that college refs are being a little too picky and turning into MLB umpires when it comes to inconsistency. And while I completely agree with those opinions, they don't make for good excuses. Our line committed just as many legitimate hold and false starts as they did questionable ones, and that does not suit the experience and potential they possess. I understand the crowd noise had an effect, but communication should be flawless going into the game.
While we're on the topic of the O-Line, where did our blocking go? This is a veteran group that finally has a little depth, but they were absolutely man handled at times. 4 sacks and no inside running lanes a good game does not make. South Carolina will show no mercy (but we'll get to that in a minute).
I'll say this next one loud and clear: I stand by Aaron Murray as our QB, and I still think he could lead us to a special season. Having said that, I do realize that he did not play up to his potential. There were times when he was superb, and other times when he looked like he was a first year starter instead of a four year veteran (i.e. not looking at the play clock). I still go back and forth on the interception, but in the end, he didn't make a sound read, so that has to be addressed. Perhaps the biggest change to his game I want him to make is just settling down. There are sometimes when it looks like he's still trying to force the play, and he still looks uncomfortable in some small scenarios. Sometimes being a good leader his just being relaxed around the guys in the huddle with you, and letting them know you trust them to do their jobs.
And now for the defense. They just need to hang in there honestly. What sucks is having to play these two teams back to back. However, we won't see the same style of offense as Clemson's any time soon, and this game gave them some valuable experience (that they'll have to apply in a hurry). Also, as with the end of 2012, it seemed like we were dragging towards the end of the game. I'm sure a lot of it was going up against a good offense like Clemson's, but conditioning has got to be a priority for the coaches right now.
South Carolina: What we know
The Gamecocks didn't necessarily put a beat down on UNC, but at no point were they going to lose that game. North Carolina isn't exactly terrible, but they're nowhere near being on the same level as the top 5 or 6 teams in the SEC. Here's what I took away from the game:
- The offense could be awesome, but never quite will be. Shaw is as good a mobile QB as they come, but he gets excited too easily, and gives up on designed plays too soon. Still, running QBs tend to give us trouble, and it will take a lot of preparation to contain him. The good news is that his receiving corps isn't necessarily elite. Shaq Roland could be a great receiver eventually, but I still think he's not quite mature enough to be a game breaker. The running back position is what scares me the most about this team. Mike Davis wanted to come to Georgia very badly out of high school, and I've said since the end of last year that he'll be the next great back for South Carolina. He's got decent size, reads his blocks well, and can flat out fly. We don't really know yet if he can take 20+ carries a game, but let's just say it wouldn't hurt to put a few good licks on him early. Brandon Wilds is his backup, and is just a truck of a fullback/tailback like Rex Burkhead for Nebraska last year.
- On defense, it all starts mentally for us against the Gamecocks. Yes, Clowney is a freak. We've known that since he was in high school. I mean seriously. I haven't seen that type of talent ready for the collegiate (and maybe even professional) level since Adrian Peterson back in '04. But, South Carolina has lost games with him on the D-Line before. Why can't we be one of those teams to beat them? He certainly didn't show out against UNC (no sacks, just a handful of tackles, only one for a loss). Maybe he was taking it easy to prepare for us, but I swear I saw UNC taking him out of the game with quick passes and an up tempo offense. I believe folks. I believe we can move the ball on them. Chaz Sutton is another tough one on the line, along with the Quarles kid, but after that, there's space. Their linebackers aren't spectacular, and the secondary is suspect at best. The Tar Heels actually moved the ball well at times, but couldn't capitalize.
What we need to do...
- Murray has got to settle down, make the easy plays look easy, and be the 4th year quarterback we all know he can be. He can't allow himself to get rattled early, or it's over before it starts.
- Use our Tight Ends!
o I can't believe they only had one catch at Clemson. Lynch is a stud, but he's more than just a blocker. We need to get them in more now than ever since Mitchell's out. Speaking of which, his absence won't kill us if we don't let it. Bennett and Conley are capable starters, and JSW is emerging. The question is who will emerge as number 3 out of Wooten, Jonathan Rumph, and the freshmen (i.e. Reggie Davis and Tramel Terry).
- Gurley needs to get more touches as does Marshall.
o #3 has shown he can carry the load, and he might even get better as the game goes on. #4 still isn't quite the "between the tackles" runner of Georgia lore, but put him in space, and he's untouchable. Let's get him on the edge and light his fuse!
- Continue to ride the Quayvon Hicks train
o Let's keep using the fullback.....enough said
- Pressure Shaw. He may run, but that's ok. Wilson and Herrera are solid at MLB to get him, but if he has all day, he'll hurt us.
- Plug up the middle of the line.
o Continue to rotate fresh faces at nose and end. Smith, Drew, and Bailey looked good, but I would like to see Thornton, Johnson, and Taylor excel against the Gamecocks. If we can control the line of scrimmage, we control the running attack, which is South Carolina's bread and butter. Make them one dimensional, and they'll panic.
- Don't give up the long pass.
o The way I see, they're either going to run the ball, or fake like they are and heave it a ways down the field. They don't really do a lot of quick passes (or at least it seems like it). Swann and Langley will have to stay tight on their assignments while Matthews and Harvey-Clemons will have to come up to make the tackle if it's a run.
- Speaking of safeties....break down!
o I love the tenacity Matthews showed, but he's got to break down and make the tackle. It's not high school where you can jack up every other defenseless receiver. Coverage actually matters in college and so does the fact that a safety is the LAST line of defense. Literally, if they get past you, they score.
- We need a return game.
o I don't care if it's Gurley, Marshall, Swann, McGowan, or whoever, we have got to get some good field position on punt and kick returns. They could make the difference between having to drive 40 and 90 yards. Plus, as Alabama showed us, even if you're offense isn't doing a lot, a long return can demoralize just about anybody.
- Field goals do matter.
o What was the final score against Clemson? 38-35. A field goal kept us short of matching them on the scoreboard. We haven't had a consistent field goal kicker since 2010, so we're due for one. Maybe it's Morgan once he's returned, maybe it's Beless, or heck, maybe it's someone we don't even know about. But the truth is, we've lost our mojo, and we need it back to win the nail biters.
Well, those are my thoughts. Of course, the Clemson game still stings, but it's time to move on. We still have a chance for a special season, and it all starts this week in conference play. The Dawgs have all the potential in the world, but they have to harness it on the field in the moment of battle. Will they do it? Will the streak end against the Gamecocks? Will the 2013 Dawgs play to their expectations and not just ours? I believe they can, and I believe they will. What say you Bulldog faithful?