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15 Thoughts: Better Tighten Up

Last night was a tough loss in a tough venue against a very good Clemson squad. The game was there for the taking until it wasn't.

To the Victors goes Everything...
To the Victors goes Everything...
Streeter Lecka

This game must have been very entertaining for the casual college football fan as Georgia and Clemson traded punches for much of the evening. For the rest of us, it was often excruciating. In the end, mistakes - as is pretty much always the case - doomed the loser. Let's do this...

1. This was a very difficult match-up for Georgia, especially on defense. The challenge of managing an offense as explosive and experienced as Clemson possessed has been discussed ad nauseum. To no one's surprise, Clemson exploited our young "D" early, but Georgia adjusted, and for much of the game held their own. We had to count on youth - particularly in the defensive backfield. Ironically, Damian Swann, our most experienced defensive back, struggled at times, particularly in the first half. The young defense, all things considered, did all we could ask by getting some stops and giving our offense a chance. Clemson did not turn the ball over, except for a muffed Sammy Watkins punt which Georgia failed to take advantage of.

2. I saw a lot of good things out of our pass rush. I also saw some poor tackling and poor angles. Tajh Boyd is willing to sit in the pocket and take hit. He killed us with play action. Next Saturday, we're facing another QB who likes to run and who is prone to "happy feet," taking off at the first sign of trouble. Connor Shaw doesn't have as much pocket discipline and we have to pressure him into some bad throws. The Dawgs left quite a few sacks "on the table" last night. Next Saturday, we have to make those plays.

3. Amarlo Herrera was all over the field last night. He played a great game. Ramik Wilson has improved significantly from last season when he was often out of place. I thought Ray Drew had some good moments as well. Jordan Jenkins was held much of the night. These refs are much like MLB umpires in that they seem to set a threshold of what constitutes a hold; much like the home plate umpire's interpretation of the strike zone can vary from game-to-game. The ACC's officiating crew's interpretation of what a hold is or isn't was very, shall I say, interesting. Home cookin'? Yeah, yeah...sour grapes, Dave. But, it was inequitable.

4. Our defense should improve next week by getting the services of Josh Harvey-Clemons. I hope he steps in and steps up, atoning for his earlier suspension-worthy indiscretion. We will need him. I'm not going to pile on the kid because I'm sure he's heard it for weeks now. We did miss him. One day, the Georgia Bulldogs are going to actually start a season with all hands-on-deck. A Dawg can dream, no?

5. Leonard Floyd is cat-quick and he's going to be a great player for us once he figures it all out. He's on his way to doing this and looks to be a real threat off the edge now and in the future.

6. I think Todd Gurley is going to be alright for next week, but he strained a quad muscle on his 75 yard touchdown run in the first quarter which seemed far worse intially. Malcolm Mitchell, while jumping up and down celebrating Gurley's scoring sprint, hurt his knee. Are you kidding me? A possible ACL because of celebrating? Last time this happened was when Ted Ginn derped himself against Florida in the '07 Natty Game. Lady Luck is Harlot. Mitchell will have an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his injury. Jeez...

7. Todd Gurley is the best running back in America. He's got speed and his 2nd touchdown of the night reminded me of last season's Florida game, where he made the adjustment to find a crease and score when there was absolutely nothing there. Keith Marshall ran hard, but what I saw was the Ghost of Carlton Thomas way, way too much. Up the middle? Really? Get Marshall out in space, please. At this point, I really want to break something.

8. Quayvon Hicks is a player. Good speed for a 250+ full back and excellent hands. When he breaks into the open - whether on a trap or screen - he needs to assume that he will be caught from behind and wrap that ball up. Justin Scott-Wesley saved a fumble because of the Clemson defender's successful strip. Hicks will learn. Speaking of JSW, he really impressed last night with some clutch catches in traffic and the aforementioned presence of mind. He also recovered the muffed Clemson punt...

9. ...which set the stage for a huge momentum swing which was sitting there like a bag full of money - a gift that went unopened. Read on...

10. The offense, up to point #9, went into a funk for multiple drives, ending the 2nd quarter and after the half. This reminded me of the Tennessee game in the 4th quarter last year when, late in the game during a shootout, we couldn't generate anything and kept giving the ball back to an explosive offense, inviting defeat. Why we didn't test Clemson's secondary more with Lynch or Bennett or Conley is something I'd really, really like to know. It doesn't have to be bombs. Clemson's corners were playing soft. How many times did first and 10 turn into first and 15? How many times did we blindly, stubbornly run the ball in the middle of the field when it was obvious to everyone in the stadium and around the nation that we couldn't block the middle. What kind of a point are we trying to prove sometimes? This team moves the ball when we set up the pocket, utilize guys in space, and roll Murray out.

11. You cannot go into a hostile environment and turn the ball over. You cannot more than double up your opponent in penalties without dire consequences. Georgia had 9 for 84 yards. Clemson, 5 for 38. A high snap on what was essentially an extra-point attempt.

11a. Why we wouldn't go for a touchdown, with all the options at our disposal, on 4th down is beyond my comprehension. Maybe I just don't know the game well enough. It should have never come to 4th down and the subsequent bad snap on the chip-shot field goal. We were goal-to-goal inside the 4 yard line. Where's the magic of a P-44 Haynes anymore? We couldn't run in the we tried the middle. Rats.

12. I thought if Georgia could amass 300 yards passing and 250 yards rushing (not half kidding when I wrote that in a comment last week), we'd cruise. Well, lookey here: We had 323 passing and 222 yards rushing. I missed it by 5 yards. I am a genius. I know nothing.

13. By my count, Murray was sacked 5 times. Clemson, to their credit, pressured Murray most of the evening. When Murray had time in the pocket, he was his usual effective self, but those instances were precious few - amazing really for someone who did manage to throw for 323 yards. The Tigers disguised coverages and the interception by Corey Crawford was part brilliant defensive scheming and just poor recognition. Big win for Clemson on that one. We were set up on the Clemson 30 after 3 consecutive drives that ended either in punts or Murray's fumble...and this could have changed everything. Back to point 9...this was one of those moments in the game that often determine a greater fate. We whiffed.

14. Enough bashing...something that I'm very uncomfortable with. I'm a lover, not a fighter. Okay, one more: We really only seemed to respond when we had to counter a Clemson score. This offense played better with when urgency is required. Bobo seems to open things up, and the rhythm of the up-tempo style leads to success. Maybe we should go up-tempo all the time? Just a thought. When we had a lead at 21-14, things downshifted for some reason. At least, that's my interpretation. This offense isn't built for conservatism. It's a freakin' Ferrari. Give it some gas.

15. Clemson is a very good team. Could we have won? Hell yes. Did we deserve to? No. I don't know how much losing Malcolm Mitchell to a cruel twist (no pun intended) of fate threw off any rhythm on offense, but this team is still deep at receiver and our JUCO weapon, Jonathon Rumph, should be back for South Carolina next week. Like you, I'm very disturbed in the overall performance of the offensive line and this took the luster off of Kolton Houston's first career start. Chris Burnett is obviously far from being 100% post-shoulder surgery. We're about to get a big dose of Jadeveon Clowney next week. Who is going to block him? Are we going to try and run the middle of the field again if it isn't there? Is there an antidote to Clowney Gas? The world wonders.

Next week is a better match up personnel-wise. We get some guys back for the home opener. Spurrier and his Bag 'o Tricks will have had 3 extra days prep-time...practically a buy get ready for us. You know the trick play is coming. We cannot give up 28 points (21 directly on "pick 6's and/or onside kicks") like we did in 2011.

There is still everything to play for. Clemson was indeed a tough lesson. What did we learn?