Finally, the wait is over, the big game is almost here. It’s No. 3 Clemson vs No. 5 Georgia.
With the game now just one week away, it’s time to dive right in, as we compare the two teams, position by position.
Coaching: Dabo Swinney and staff vs Kirby Smart and staff. Dabo Swinney is literally a living legend at Clemson, and still in his prime. He has led a middle of the road team to powerhouse status with 2 national championships, 7 ACC titles, and 9 ACC Atlantic division titles. I would list more of his accomplishments, but that would be an entire article itself.
If there is any weakness found in Clemson’s armor, it was found on the defensive side of the ball. By running plays immediately and not allowing the defense time to adjust last minute, Ohio State eviscerated Brent Venables’ defense last season. I’m sure Georgia may attempt the same, but you better believe BV will be ready. We’re talking about a man who was scribbling plays during a meditation class.
Kirby Smart has been at Georgia since Dec. 6th, 2015. He is among the best recruiting head coaches in the nation, and has one SEC title with three SEC Eastern division wins.
The biggest difference between Kirby and Dabo is that Kirby inherited a team that was already a powerhouse program. Also, let’s address the elephant in the room; Kirby has never beaten Alabama. As Maury Povich would say in lieu of Kirby Smart vs Alabama, “Nick Saban, you are the father.” Kirby has made some questionable player personnel decisions in the past as well.
Quarterback: Clemson’s star in the making vs JT Daniels. DJ Uiagalelei is an absolute beast. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at almost 250-pounds, he is a mountain of a man. He has one of, if not the strongest arm in college football.
Swinney has stated that Uiagalelei’s arm strength makes Trevor Lawrence’s look average. That’s no knock against Lawrence, just an idea of how special Uiagalelei is. He’s competed against and easily beaten Justin Fields in a long ball competition. At Notre Dame, he went 29 of 44 with 439 passing yards and 2 touchdowns. He also has decent mobility and rushed for a touchdown.
JT Daniels is no slouch himself. The former 5-star recruit was responsible for 1,231 yards, 10 TD vs two interceptions in four games for the Dawgs. He could very well be the best quarterback to start in the Kirby Smart era. Granted, those games were against Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri, and Cincinnati.
Offensive Line: Last year Clemson struggled to run the ball with arguably the best running back to ever play at the school. Against Note Dame in the regular season, Clemson had 34 rushing yards. The Tigers did fare much better in the rematch, however against the Buckeyes, Clemson was once again relegated to 44 yards. The Tigers best offensive lineman from 2020, LT Jackson Carmen, is now in the NFL.
Conversely, Georgia is known for having one of the best offensive lines in all of football. Jamaree Salyer is a preseason All-American and anchor of the Georgia unit. Georgia averaged 174 yards on the ground last season behind a stout group.
Defensive Line: Clemson has its best defensive line since 2018, with even better depth. Tyler Davis, Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas will wreak havoc. Most likely, all of those guys will be high picks in the NFL. The Tigers literally have 5-star stud backups. If this group can stay healthy, opposing teams beware. Getting to the quarterback with just four rushers will allow Venables to open the defensive playbook.
Georgia and Clemson are both absolutely loaded on the defensive line, with plenty of depth. Preseason All-American Jordan Davis will be an absolute monster at nose tackle for Georgia, possibly the best in the nation. He must be licking his chops, eager to toss around Clemson’s offensive line. Helping him will be former 5-stars Jalen Carter, Travon Walker, and senior Devonte Wyatt. Like Clemson, Georgia has blue-chip players as backups. Make no mistake, this is a position of strength for both teams, with possibly the two best defensive fronts in all of football.
Running Backs: Lyn-J Dixon and Kobe Pace lead a stable of stud running backs for Clemson. Freshman Will Shipley has been compared to Christian McCaffrey. Phil Mafah has been said to be the best running back coming out of the state of Georgia in years, and that’s saying something.
There is also no denying Georgia’s talent at this position. The Dawgs have one of, if not the best, history of producing stud running backs. Georgia claims that running back depth this year could be the best in their history. And that program has retired more stud running backs than social security. Zamir White and Kendall Milton will lead a stable of blue-chip guys eager to fight for carries and yards. For Georgia to claim this may be their most talented and deepest groups is truly scary.
Receivers: Justyn Ross is back. His presence alone will give opposing defensive backs nightmares. Other than Joseph Ngata (who is back at the moment by the way), Clemson is healthy, unlike last year. Ajou Ajou looks like Terrell Owens 2.0 and has schooled the Clemson corners in practice. Frank Ladson Jr is primed to make a statement, and we know what EJ Williams can do.
Georgia, on the other hand, lost their best receiver, George Pickens, before the season began. Like most other positions, there are plenty of studs including Dominick Blaylock, Jermaine Burton, and Kearis Jackson. Clemson has long been known for being WRU and 2021 will likely be a season in which that moniker remains.
Tight End: Clemson has struggled to find any consistent tight end production since Jordan Legette’s departure after the 2016 season. The Tigers will be returning starters Braden Galloway and Davis Allen, along with Jaelyn Lay and freshman Jake Briningstool, with Tony Elliott now coaching them up.
At 6-foot-7, the former 5 star Darnell Washington will put immense pressure on opposing teams for Georgia. However, it’s looking like he might miss this one with an injury. John Fitzpatrick, Brock Bowers and company will back him up. Arik Gilbert is the wildcard, as he may or may not end up playing against Clemson. He is elite, but seems to be Tate Martell 2.0 when it comes to sticking with a team. Either way…..
Defensive Backs: Clemson will be led by lock-down corner Andrew Booth Jr. He is capable of making unbelievable interceptions and plays, as he did last year. Malcolm Greene, Mario Goodrich, Sheridan Jones, and Nate Wiggins will all likely see action. Fred Davis’ status is still up in the air after a misdemeanor wreckless driving charge. Clemson’s talent isn’t an issue here; it’s the lack of bodies. Clemson likes to have eight corners, but have only six. Five if Davis can’t play.
Safety is the most discernable area in which Clemson lacks talent, at least on paper. Nolan Turner is the leader and has delivered some memorable plays. Lannden Zanders stayed hurt most of last year, which likely contributed to him getting burned early and often.
Georgia entered the season lacking in experience and depth but got a big shot in the arm from adding former Clemson player Derion Kendrick. Most thought Kendrick would forego playing another season at Clemson and enter the NFL draft. He opted to stay in Tigertown but was dismissed from the team a short while later. He will likely start for the Dawgs, with Kelee Ringo, Ameere Speed (great last name for a corner by the way), Nyland Green, and other blue-chippers. The issue isn’t talent for Georgia, they literally have almost no experience outside of Kendrick. At safety, Georgia does have experience in Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith. Comparison at this position is difficult because both teams have obvious weaknesses.
Linebacker: Clemson has a formidable group led by veterans James Skalski and Baylon Spector. Expect Trenton Simpson to excel and show Isaiah Simmons-esque abilities. Clemson has no depth shortages here with LaVonta Bentley, Kane Patterson and several more blue chip players competing for playing time. Quite possibly the deepest and most talented unit under Swinney.
Adam Anderson, Nolan Smith, and Nakobe Dean are a trio of former 5-stars that will be leading the charge for Georgia. Like Clemson, they have no shortage of star power ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. They have some bad dudes at linebacker, that will all likely be high NFL draft picks.
Special Teams: Often overlooked, but making the difference in the game. BT Potter will have the Clemson kicking honors. He was almost 100 percent on PATs in 2021 and hit on over 78 percent of field goals. Not to mention nearly every kickoff is a touchback. He is a weapon, period. Will Spiers, once reviled by Clemson fans, has become a very consistent punter for Clemson, averaging 44 yards per punt, with a monster of a leg that has boomed the ball over 60 yards.
Jack Podlensy will have the kicking honors for UGA after having a great statistical season in 2021, with limited but similar stats of BT Potter. Georgia’s punter Jake Carmada is thought to be the best punter in the nation. Both teams seem to be pretty strong on special teams.
Clearly these teams are pretty evenly matched. Of course I’m going to pick my Tigers to win, but this is truly a pick ’em type of game. One that will likely be won or lost in the trenches, and could come down to the wire. Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions, and like TO once said, “Get your popcorn ready!!!”
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