Two big games – back-to-back. And right about now, the gameplan preparation begins, Georgia coach Mark Richt says.
First, on the road for a night game in Death Valley, and the next week hosting a crucial SEC East game against South Carolina – the Bulldogs can’t keep all the prep focus on the opener.
“Right after our coaches get off the road in recruiting before the summertime, they’re going to game plan Clemson and South Carolina,” Richt told ESPN. “And so they’re going to have that ready before we even get to the installation of the season [in August].
“…We start with game one, but we’ve already got the plan for game two so that when that first game is over, we’re not just going crazy trying to figure out, ‘What are we going to do now?’ The plan will be there – at least what we thought a few months ago. You can tweak it if you need to.”
Georgia will open with back-to-back ranked opponents for the second time in three seasons, hoping for a better result on a tougher road.
In home territory at the Georgia Dome in 2011, the Bulldogs struck first on an 80-yard touchdown run against No. 5 Boise State and the Broncos did the rest – scoring five of the next six touchdowns in a 35-21 win. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, a sophomore then, threw for a pair of scores, completing 16-of-29 pass attempts.
The next week, in Athens, was a crazy shootout with the Gamecocks, where again the Bulldogs got on the board early and South Carolina pulled away late on a second touchdown by defensive end Melvin Ingram, 45-42. Murray fired four touchdown passes in the contest.
Clemson is no stranger to a tough opener. August 31st will be the fourth time in seven years the Tigers have opened up with an opponent ranked in at least one preseason poll.
Auburn last year (3-9) didn’t prove to be all that quality of a win, 26-19 over the Coaches’ Poll No. 25 in the Georgia Dome, while the other two were in 2007 (24-18 Clemson victory at home over No. 19 FSU) and 2008 (34-10 loss to No. 24 Alabama in Atlanta).
Richt, as Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith learned from Clemson earlier this year, says he’s borrowed some concepts on situational practice keys from the hometown NFL team himself, in the info-gathering time that is the offseason.
Minor adjustments in planning like that can be all the difference between wins and losses at this level.
“We tweaked it by anything we felt like maybe we’re, ‘Hey we were bad in third-and-7 and plus, so even though it’s only 6.9 percent, let’s do it 10 percent because we need to get better at that,’" said Richt, going into his 13th year at Georgia. “So I think that we really weren’t too far off, but it gave you some peace to say, ‘Hey, I’m practicing these situations about as often as they occur in a game.’”
Hurting Georgia defense takes another hit
No starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (due to suspension) and no projected starting nickel-back Reggie Wilkerson (knee) for the opener.
And the Bulldogs’ D was suspect to begin with.
Off a 2012 top-32 scoring and total defense, they lose four of their top five tacklers and 60 percent of the interceptions.
And that just touches on the impact of losing defensive leader Jarvis Jones, who compiled 28 sacks and over 40 tackles for loss the last two seasons.
Georgia is certainly recruiting well, but as the Bulldogs' preview we reviewed recently said, the tough early road will be hard to jell through.
“As high as I am on Georgia's offense, I'm equally wary of Georgia's defense,” SB Nation's Bill Connelly said. “It will still pass the eyeball test by all means, and it might eventually find a high level of play, but look at the Dawgs' schedule. Three of their four toughest games happen before October.
“Do you really, honestly think this defense will find an elite level of play that quickly with this many new pieces? I don't.”