New QBs will be front-and-center when Tigers, Dawgs clash in August

Hutson Mason nails down Georgia's starting job; Dabo Swinney faces either/or choice between Cole Stoudt, Deshaun Watson

Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt (18) and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) watch warmups before the spring game.

Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt (18) and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) watch warmups before the spring game.

When Clemson and Georgia clashed at Memorial Stadium last August, there was no quarterback controversy on either side.

Tajh Boyd was The Man for the Tigers, Aaron Murray was The Man for the Bulldogs, and that was that.

In case you’ve forgotten (and you probably haven’t), it was Clemson 38, UGA 35, with Boyd going 18-30-0 through the air for 270 yards and three touchdowns and Murray 20-29-1 for 323 yards but no scores.

The teams combined for more than a thousand yards of total offense and it capped off the opening weekend of a new college football season in dizzying style.

Obviously there’s much more to any game than a quarterback battle, but the position will be a key story line when the teams tee it up between the hedges on Aug. 30.

And the difference this time is that the Bulldogs know who they’ll have behind center and the Tigers don’t.

After a few off-Broadway appearances during his career Georgia’s Hutson Mason landed the starring role when Murray went down against Kentucky last November.

He started the final two games of the season and barring injury or illness he’ll be the Dawg barking out signals at Sanford Stadium when Clemson comes in for a visit.

Mason, a senior, solidified his spot at the top of the depth chart during Saturday’s G-Day Game, hitting 18 of 27 aerials for 241 yards and a TD.

Not that Mason’s job would be in jeopardy if he had struggled, but it’s clear the staff is confident in his abilities to lead this team.

Georgia coach Mark Richt also liked the 1-2 punch of Mason and wideout Chris Conley, who was all over the field Saturday and will likely be the prime target of both Mason and the Clemson secondary on opening day.

“The tempo of the offense was outstanding. I think Hutson really enjoys the faster pace,” Richt said. “He handles that very well. Chris is a very accomplished receiver in my mind. He runs good routes and gets good separation, and Hutson knows where best to place it to give him the best shot of making a play.”

Mason was already thinking about the Tigers when the spring game was done.

“Clemson has a great front four and we’re going to have to work really hard this summer to get ready for them,” he said.

Across the state line, Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris will have a decision to make once fall camp commences.

There’s senior Cole Stoudt, who had a good spring and a solid spring game with a stat line that saw him hit 15 of 23 passes for 158 yards and two scores.

And there’s freshman Deshaun Watson, who missed the scrimmage with a broken collarbone but is expected to be at 100 percent when workouts resume on July 31.

“Cole Stoudt had the best day of the quarterbacks,” Swinney said. “He found receivers and made the right calls.”

Chad Kelly is no longer in the mix after being kicked of the team, meaning Swinney and Morris’ decision will be “either/or” rather than multiple choice.

Watson is already being lauded for his five-star talent, and in an era in which freshman phenoms are stepping into leadership roles immediately (Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston), throwing out a neophyte in the first game doesn’t seem as scary as it once did.

However, Stoudt has done everything that has been asked of him and is making a strong case for No. 1.

“Coach Morris always stresses completions, completions, completions, and just getting your team down the field,” Stoudt said. “Throughout the spring I think I’ve really improved on my throwing and on my reads, and having chemistry and all that. I think we all have a very comfortable situation with how we’ve been competing.

“I think I’ve improved myself as a player and a leader.”

There’s a lot of road to travel between now and the end of August, and a lot of questions that Clemson and Georgia don’t have answers to just yet.

How will Georgia’s new defensive coaching staff fare?

Who’ll be catching long balls for Clemson?

How soon will the Bulldogs’ o-line jell?

Who’ll step up as the Tigers’ top ball carrier?

Still, the quarterback issue promises to be the hottest topic when this football border battle heats up again in Athens.

Follow Scott Adamson on Twitter @adamsonslAIM

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