Georgia’s national title-caliber defense makes Clemson look more vulnerable than it has in a decade

CHARLOTTE — Clemson hasn’t seemed this susceptible in a decade. It has been so lengthy since that point when Dabo Swinney was nonetheless trying over his shoulder as Tigers loyalists had been questioning if that they had the best man to switch Tommy Bowden.

We point out this as a result of historical past should be addressed earlier than Clemson’s woes. In being (virtually) fully stuffed 10-3 Saturday night by No. 5 Georgia, the No. 3 Tigers scored their fewest factors beneath Swinney, who took over this system in 2008.

There’s totally different looking-over-the-shoulder issues for Dabo this time.

All of the sudden, Clemson has misplaced consecutive video games for the primary time in 10 years going again to final season’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Ohio State. All of the sudden, Clemson is watching its lowest offensive output of the Swinney period. Not so instantly, it occurred as a result of Georgia’s protection beneath Kirby Sensible was as dominant as ever.

Perhaps higher than ever.

The outcome Saturday was a sport with a championship-level really feel regardless of there nonetheless being 13 weeks to go earlier than precise convention championship video games.

In case you’re Georgia, it instantly feels quite a bit higher buckling up for that three-month slog. On Saturday, the Bulldogs realized that — if every part goes proper — they will nonetheless win with protection. Even Sensible hasn’t been in a position to say that for probably the most half with the Dawgs watching offense-heavy LSU and Alabama sail previous his program in recent times.

“We go into each sport, our objective to close them out,” Sensible mentioned. “We have now a objective to carry [opponents] beneath 13 factors. All people thinks we’re loopy. ‘You are by no means going to carry them beneath 13 factors nowadays.’ Why cannot we?”

So long as that protection retains exhibiting up, something is feasible for Georgia. As soon as the Dawgs sniffed out that the Tigers could not run price a rattling, Dan Lanning’s protection was pretty simple to dial up. The budding celebrity coordinator dropped seven into protection, rushed three down linemen and introduced a fourth man late. Clemson had no reply.

Clemson rushed for a net of two yards. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, beginning his first season rather than Trevor Lawrence, was sacked seven occasions. Georgia’s protection produced a damaging play a mean of as soon as each 6.5 snaps. That helps clarify why there have been no — as in zero — offensive touchdowns.

The distinction within the sport was Georgia security Christopher Smith’s 74-yard choose six within the second quarter. Smith noticed a brief route growing for Clemson large receiver Justyn Ross and jumped throughout it.

“Huge, large important error,” Swinney mentioned.

“For probably the most half, I simply should make the throws,” Uiagalelei mentioned. “If I make the throws, it is a completely totally different ballgame. … It is on me. I do not suppose I performed superb.”

Even on opening evening, there isn’t a room for error. Each these packages are taking part in for the CFP and past. The final nationwide champion to lose its first sport was Miami … 38 years in the past. No CFP participant has misplaced multiple sport in a season.

There is a warning for Clemson, although it does face an ACC it has gained six consecutive occasions.

Most regarding for Clemson, in an age when the typical staff is scoring 4 touchdowns per sport, is that the Tigers had been unable to win a grinder. They bought beat in a rock combat. The competition resembled the some Auburn-Georgia video games from 15 years in the past when Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges was matching wits with Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway.

Typically, as Borges used to say again then, you need to really feel good scoring 10 factors.

“Positively had a throwback really feel to it,” Smith mentioned.

Based mostly on one important opening evening in opposition to Georgia, vulnerabilities may flip into the definition of Clemson’s 2021 season. For now, the Tigers cannot run, cannot shield and might’t rating. That is one hell of a burden for a protection that held its heads excessive to the No. 5 staff within the nation.

The conclusion that one thing is amiss confirmed on Swinney’s face even throughout a postgame Zoom name. We knew getting into that Clemson had points operating the ball. It was eleventh final season in that class within the ACC. However there all the time gave the impression to be All-American Travis Etienne again there to take a swing cross for five yards and get the robust yards on the bottom.

On Saturday, the Tigers had no robust yards on the bottom. Greater than that, a program constructed on explosive performs and explosive gamers seemed impotent.

“It is very irritating. We have got plenty of explosive guys. We have got to place all of it collectively,” Swinney mentioned. “We may have performed any individual lesser [in the opener] and had a bunch of performs and everyone is happy. It is only a robust matchup out of the gate.”

It is also a matchup that Clemson actively sought. If you have not caught on, these video games will turn out to be extra frequent as Energy 5 colleges chase berths in an expanded playoff. That is for the longer term. For now, this sport had a championship really feel from the start. It was solely the fifth time since 1998 (the start of the BCS period) that two top-five groups met in Week 1.

“It reminded of a playoff or a convention championship sort environment,” Sensible mentioned. “It simply felt that approach, on the lodge, the drive in. To me, you may say it was quite a bit like an SEC sport. But it surely wasn’t like one final 12 months. It wasn’t fairly like that.”

Sensible is aware of he has offensive points, too. Beginning QB JT Daniels, making an attempt to play the primary full season of his profession, threw his personal crippling interception within the third quarter. To be honest, the Dawgs had been lacking a number of receivers; nonetheless, the operating sport they are going to have depend on produced solely 121 yards.

“Approach too many just-one-play-aways,” Daniels mentioned. “There have been too many performs I make the flawed choice or we do not get the safety proper. On third down in opposition to a staff pretty much as good as Clemson, that is going to result in punting again and again.”

That went for either side. The groups mixed for 13 punts. Solely a type of groups can clearly see a championship horizon on Sunday morning.

For these questioning if Georgia’s 40-year stroll within the nationwide championship desert is over, not fairly. Tens of millions of {dollars} have been spent on recruiting, salaries, amenities by each groups. A handful of nationwide championships have been gained these days — none of them by the Dawgs. 

“Whether or not we gained or misplaced, we management our personal future,” Sensible mentioned. “The vital factor is now we have to get higher.”

That is one other approach of claiming Clemson remains to be in the midst of a dynasty. Georgia is attempting to create one. | Georgia’s nationwide title-caliber protection makes Clemson look extra susceptible than it has in a decade


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