Time to start scouting Clemson opponents for the 2021 season. First up on the schedule is the Georgia Bulldogs. This game is obviously THE most important game on the schedule for the Tigers. The anticipation is building for the September 4th game in Charlotte, NC.
Georgia lost 6 players off the defense to the NFL draft including 4 in the secondary. Will DJ Uiagalelei be able to take advantage of the defensive losses? The bulldogs recruit top talent on both sides of the ball. A key to the game will be how well DJ can throw the ball against a new secondary. In the bowl game, the Georgia defense got to the Cincinnati QB 8 times for -50 yards. Keeping the defense off Uiagalelei is going to be huge for the Clemson offense.
JT Daniels returns, as does both their RBs, two starting WRs and their top TE. They also picked up LSU transfer TE Arik Gilbert. They return 3 starters on the OL.
Daniels finished 4-0 as a starter, throwing for an average of a little over 300 yards a game, 10 TDs and only 2 interceptions. The bulk of these stats came against Miss. St (3-7), USC (2-8) and Missouri (5-5). He did throw for 392 yards against Cincinnati in the bowl game, winning 24-21 on a FG with three seconds left on the clock. He was also sacked three times in that game. Daniels is not much of a threat to run. In his four games as the starter, the stats show 10 rushes for -71 yards, probably all sacks. Still, he is settled in as the starter and will be a handful for the Clemson defense.
Zamir White and James Cook return to man the running game. White, ranked as the #1 RB in the class of 2018, has battled injuries throughout his career and may finally be healthy. This is White’s final season for the bulldogs, finally recovering from two ACL injuries. Cook is the most dangerous of the two, averaging over 6 yards per carry on 45 carries while also bringing in 16 receptions.
The bulldogs receiver corp is going to be dangerous. WR’s George Pickens, Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton form a solid group on the outside. Meanwhile, Kirby Smart convinced former LSU TE Arik Gilbert to join the Bulldogs, giving Daniels two HUGE targets in Gilbert and 6-7 Darnell Washington.
The offensive line at UGA is usually a strong point but 2020 didn’t end as well as they expected. They do return 3 starters from a unit that looked great in pass protection in some weeks while struggling to open up holes in the running game. The Peach Bowl win against Cincinnati was probably their worst performance of the season. To make matters worse, top OL Jamaree Salyer missed the spring game, nursing an injured knee. There is work to do but the Bulldogs have brought in 10 talented offensive linemen in their last two recruiting classes. Smart brought in former Mississippi State offensive line coach Matt Luke to replace Sam Pittman, now head coach at Arkansas.
The pieces are there for this to be a very good offense. With a week-1 matchup against a Clemson team that boasts one of the best defensive lines in the country heading into the 2021 season, questions at left tackle, Daniel’s blindside, is not exactly what Kirby Smart wants to see.
Defensively, Georgia lost six starters to the NFL draft, including four in the secondary. This could potentially be the weakness of the defense that Tony Elliott will look to attack but they better find a way to slow down the Georgia pass rush.
Up front, the Dawgs return Devonte Wyatt (25 total tackles) and Jordan Davis (16 total tackles). Suffice it to say, the UGA defensive front isn’t asked to be the point of the spear of the defense. Instead, they are used to occupy space and offensive linemen so the back seven can harass the opposing team.
The Dawgs lost Azeez Ojulari to the NFL, taking his 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks with him but the linebacker position is not without talent. It’s next man up with Adam Anderson (6.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks) stepping into Ojulari’s role.
The secondary is a different story. Four players departed for the NFL from a defense that finished 88th in the country in pass defense, allowing an average of 248.7 yards per game (Clemson was 41st, allowing 214 per game). This is not a recipe for improvement. The bulldogs did venture into the transfer portal and bring in former Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick to fill one of their starting slots.
Every three years for the last 10 years or so, Clemson goes through this “Clemson lost its starting quarterback, they will take a step back.” It’s no different this year with Trevor Lawrence departing to the NFL and DJ Uiagalelei stepping into the starting position. Fair warning for opposing teams: do not underestimate DJ. Boston College understands it. Notre Dame understands it. Derion Kendrick understands it. Georgia will too come September