CLEMSON – Camp is over, and after classes start Wednesday, Georgia week is officially here for the Tigers.
“We’re done focusing on ourselves,” Clemson senior linebacker Spencer Shuey said Tuesday after practice. “We’re switching over to gameplanning against Georgia. It’s constant worrying about Georgia and then when that’s over, it’s to the next game.”
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For all intents and purposes, Clemson’s fall practice was quiet in terms of headlines, which head coach Dabo Swinney will take any day.
“That’s how I prefer it,” Swinney said. “I don’t want any national headlines. We just like to focus on what we’re doing and have good practices and good preparation and hopefully the national headlines come from gameday.”
Winning the opener is the goal of any team, but having No. 5 and cross-border rival Georgia on the other side, there’s definitely a heightened awareness.
“It makes you change your attitude,” Clemson defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said. “We’re not opening against Furman or somebody like that. We’re opening against a powerhouse team. To be the best, we have to play against the best and that’s what we want to be.”
With the personnel settling on the Tigers’ side, the attention has turned to what Georgia has to offer.
The Dawgs return 10 starters off from an offense that scored a school-record 529 points – eight games at 40 per – last year.
The Georgia offense is armed by fourth-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray, who is the NCAA’s active leader in career touchdown passes (95) and fourth in pass efficiency (158.55).
Georgia’s mega-talent sophomore backfield is a major part of that efficiency, adding to an outstanding playaction game.
Both Clemson misses on the recruiting trail, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall topped 2,100 rushing yards (2,144) with 25 scores last season. Among Georgia freshmen all-time rushing, Gurley finished second only to former great Herschel Walker (1,616) with posting 1,385 yards.
“Gurley is a strong back. I didn’t realize how fast he was until I saw him on film,” Williams said. “The North Carolina guys (on the team) are telling me he’s a track star. I saw in the Florida game he bounced it out and almost outran the whole team.
“Marshall is straight-line fast. We have to make him go sideline-to-sideline. Gurley, you have to hit him before he gets his momentum going. He gets his momentum going and he’s hard to stop because he’s hard to stop.”
A Tigers’ starting d-line made up of all seasoned upperclassmen meets a Georgia o-line with all five starters returning.
“It’s veteran group going on veteran group,” said Williams. “They have everybody on their offensive line back…It’s mano-a-mano – let it ride.”
In particular, the Daniel product says the Tigers are getting a little help on film from what they saw South Carolina do against the Bulldogs: pressure Murray early and often en route to a 35-7 win last season in another charged night game atmosphere.
Though totaling only two sacks, the Gamecocks held Murray to season-low marks in passing yards (109), touchdowns (0) and completion percentage (35.5).
“They intimidated them from kickoff,” said Williams. “Some other games Georgia was overpowering guys. We watched the South Carolina game, the Florida game and the Alabama game. Those are good games for us to watch because we do similar things on defense.
“That South Carolina really stuck out to me because South Carolina got after them and they showed their imposing power on defense.”
Defensively, Clemson doesn’t have a whole lot to draw from a Georgia team bringing back two starters and four players with starts off their ’12 squad.
And on top of that, injuries have done a number on new projected starters, mostly in the secondary.
The Tigers head coach says they know enough going in.
“Personnel is the challenge,” Swinney said. “Schematically, they’re the same coaches and all that stuff. You have a feel for who they are and what they want to do. A lot of the guys who will be playing we’ve seen. These aren’t guys just walking off the street.”
Commanding the Clemson offense, veteran QB Tajh Boyd isn’t taking anything for granted.
“They’re going to have younger guys, but those guys will be able to play,” Boyd said. “If they weren’t able to play, they wouldn’t be out on the field. I’m expecting the same type of players that they did last year. It’s just going out there and understanding certain strategies and tendencies that they have.”
Player analysis really goes only so far, says Swinney.
“They are who they are. We are who we are,” he said. “They are going to have some tweaks based on what we do defensively. They are going to have some tweaks based on what we’re going to gameplan for them. That’s just what you do.
“At the end of the day, they know who they are and we know who we are. It still comes down to execution, blocking and tackling and people making plays.”
Starting five set on the o-line: After taking a tight-lipped stance to Clemson’s o-line throughout camp, Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Tuesday they will rollout a lineup with two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore against Georgia: left tackle Brandon Thomas (23 career start), left guard David Beasley (12 career starts), center Ryan Norton (no career starts), right guard Tyler Shatley (13 career starts) and right tackle Gifford Timothy (11 career starts).