GREENSBORO – Knowns on one side and unknowns on the other, each presents its challenge in preparation for Clemson in its cross-border showdown with Georgia.
Offensively, the Bulldogs hold one of the nation’s most efficient passers, senior Aaron Murray, and two of the top running backs in college football – sophomore duo Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Murray posted a QB rating of 175 or better in 10-of-14 games last season – six against ACC/SEC opponents and one more to close the season versus Nebraska (201.12), which carried the No. 1 pass defense rating going in. Against BCS “Big Five” teams, Murray ranked fourth nationally in QB rating (166.77) per CFBStats.com, while Tajh Boyd was eighth in the stat (161.68).
Gurley topped 100 rushing yards and five yards per carry against three of the five top-25 teams Georgia played last season to lead SEC running backs in rushing yards (1,385) and touchdowns (17). Splitting time with Marshall, he still averaged over 100 yards a game against BCS AQ teams (100.55).
“It’s hard to prepare for one, but both of those guys are great players,” Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey said at ACC media days. “If it was just one on the team, it would be incredibly hard and even the other receivers and lineman they have – it’s going to be tough.”
Boyd already took a sneak peek at what he’ll be facing back in the spring, while a taking a trip to Athens for the Georgia spring game with Sammy Watkins and Quandon Christian.
The challenge with the Bulldogs is knowing the talent is there, but with eight new starters, not being on last year’s tape.
“Looking at it from that perspective, watching film is like watching a team that’s not there,” said Boyd. “There are so many guys that are absent. At the same time, getting a chance to see the spring game (and) looking at the recruiting and the guys that they’ve brought in – you know they’re going to be ready and bring the guys are capable of performing at a high level in their system.”
Georgia has taken even more of a hit since the spring with projected starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended and season-ending injuries to freshman cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safety Paris Bostick.
“It’s still a little difficult because I’m not sure what their depth chart is,” Boyd said. “I’m going to have to keep on looking at it and do some research, Again, whoever they have out there are going to be some fighters and they’re going to be some dogs and we expect a tough game for sure.”
With 30-odd days to kickoff, Shuey says the Clemson/Georgia rivalry is new to him, but he’s excited about writing a new chapter in it. Most importantly, the Tigers are just ready for game one.
“The first game is the first game and it’s extremely important to win and that’s what you focus on all offseason,” Shuey said. “That’s what drives you. I think the only difference in this game is there’s a whole lot more hype in both teams preseason top-10 and that sort of thing.
“But when it comes down to it, it’s the first game of the season and you prepare the best way you can.”