If you wanted to see a blast from the past, this was the game you had to see. This game was four quarters of defense versus defense. Forget about the offenses, and they accounted for zero combined points. Special teams were even more productive, and the pick-six by Georgia Safety Chris Smith was the only touchdown the game saw. I tip my hat to both coaches; they both saw the struggles of their offense, stayed true to their game plan, and believed in their defense to keep them in the game.
I do have to say, though, that Georgia’s defense was more impressive. Even if you take away the seven sacks and the pick-six, this Clemson offense never settled in and could never find any continuity. That is saying something when you can shut down the best the ACC offers and allow only 180 total yards of offense. I expected a close game; I predicted Georgia to win 24-21. But I didn’t expect to see a game where neither offense ever looked like they were a play away from breaking their team away and shutting the door.
I will dive in over the next few days and try to give each position group a grade, but from what I saw live, I will tell you how I feel about each group.
Quarterback: Not great; JT Daniels never looked like he was comfortable in the pocket. If you watch his progressions, he was looking for a check down on his first read for most of the night, expecting to be pressured right away. And I can understand that when you are up against a front seven like Clemson’s. I don’t understand taking the occasional deep shot to back this pressure up a little, even if you overthrow it. There is work to be done for sure.
Running Back: All in all, they did their job and also got work in the slot. I was impressed with Kendall Milton’s first down, but I was shocked that Milton’s second and third down was ineffective. This offensive line was banged up, and Clemson has some ballers upfront, but the game plan needs to involve running the ball outside more. Zeus was excellent as usual, and James Cook did what he was asked to do yet again.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Not very impressed, but keep in mind how many top targets we were without. George Pickens has a torn ACL, Arik Gilbert had a family emergency and didn’t make the trip, Dominic Blaylock is still getting back from a torn ACL two years in a row, and Darnell Washington, our dynamic tight end, was also not available. Still, Jermaine Burton was unable to get open, and coming into this game, I thought for sure this Clemson secondary would struggle, and they did not. Brock Bowers looked like a stud, and all the tight ends blocked well.
Offensive Line: Another group that is banged up but still did their job. An early exit for Tate Ratledge is a little concerning because he had won the starting Right Guard spot, and without him, we will see many different plug and plays. Salyer was dominant at times, and so was McClendon, but finding consistency is a must.
Defensive Line: Call these guys the champs of Charlotte. Much of the praise will go to the linebackers who got pressure on DJ Uiagalelei, but it was the dominance at the point of attack that made him uncomfortable all night. Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis lived in the backfield, and Travon Walker consistently beat his man and applied pressure.
Linebackers: What’s not to love about a group so versatile? They have their names, like Moneybacker and Jackback. Nakobe Dean was a highlight reel by himself, with a pair of sacks,
but he was also excellent in coverage. Nolan Smith was hard to block, Adam Anderson couldn’t bother to be stopped, and Channing Tindall made plays at the line of scrimmage that most guys his size could not make.
Secondary: They made some errors, and they bent at times, but they did not break. Aside from the pass interference calls, I thought Kelee Ringo was very impressive. The Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick played well also. Lewis Cine was Lewis Cine. He is the leader of the secondary, but he uses his game to speak his leadership. Chris Smith had the game’s only touchdown, but that was hardly his only contribution. He was everywhere that he was needed. This is really the group that deserves the most credit; without them, at least three of those seven sacks don’t happen.
Special Teams: You never want to miss a field goal in a tight, low-scoring game, and I thought it would really mess with his head, but Jack Podlesny kept his head right and nailed the second one. Jake
Camarda was excellent; he pinned the Tigers deep inside the 20 four times. Not a single punt fell off the side of his foot. I didn’t get to see much in the return game this week, but we will next week against UAB.