South Carolina rested comfortably while two future opponents battled each other on Saturday. The No. 6 Gamecocks doubtless took the opportunity to do some advance scouting, which could come in handy in just six days.
What USC might have seen from Georgia, its next opponent, on Saturday in a 38-35 loss to Clemson:
The Bulldogs mixed and matched to different results. They tried to play up-tempo to match Clemson’s attack, they tried to sit back and grind clock. They weren’t able to run very effectively on first down, which forced Aaron Murray to pick up first downs with his arm. While he had great numbers (20-of-29 for 323 yards and one interception), he didn’t play that well.
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“We killed ourselves with penalties,” Murray said. “We’d have a good play, then all of a sudden, we’d have a big penalty. It’s tough to convert long third downs. That really hurt us, all night long.”
Georgia was flagged nine times for 84 yards, including twice for receivers committing chop blocks downfield on running plays.
Where it worked was when Georgia could move Murray around in the pocket, since Clemson’s secondary was forced to keep an eye on him and on his receivers, who always seemed to be open somewhere. Todd Gurley running the toss-sweep was obviously a huge play for a 75-yard touchdown (very similar to Mike Davis’ TD run against North Carolina). Split end Michael Bennett, a very strong receiver who was Georgia’s leading receiver last year before tearing his ACL the Tuesday before the USC game, channeled Jay Novacek with his ability to get in position for a 10-yard gain.
It also worked when the Bulldogs got the ball to fullback Quayvon Hicks. The 257-yard bruiser ran for 37 yards on a simple handoff up the gut, plunged for a 1-yard touchdown and rumbled for a long completion on a swing pass, skipping over a diving defender.
Where it didn’t work were spots that USC hopes to take advantage of. When Georgia tried to pound the ball up the gut, it didn’t work. That was due to Keith Marshall being slow to take the handoff and Clemson locking in on him right away. It also didn’t work when Murray tried to let a play develop downfield. His left tackle allowed constant pressure, and a key fumble after a sack gave the Tigers good field position just before halftime, which they turned into the game-tying touchdown. Murray’s line could have been sued for non-support.
“Playing on the road in a hostile environment like this, you go into third-and-longs, you can’t do that and expect to win a game,” right tackle Kolton Houston said.
Murray was not sharp. Even when his receivers were wide-open, standing around waiting for the ball, he threw high and threw low, making them work and costing them potential yards. He could not hit a receiver in stride. As he has constantly shown in big games throughout his career, he was shaky. For a guy like Jadeveon Clowney, who has battered Murray for a good portion of his career highlights, that has to seem like a blinking light of opportunity.
Georgia learned the hard way not to try and tackle Sammy Watkins high. He caught a pass in one-on-one coverage, bounced away from someone who wanted him around the hips and was off on a 77-yard scoring jaunt.
Where it worked was when Georgia stayed home and spied on Tajh Boyd. They seemed to know that he could only break loose in Chad Morris’ yard-producing system if he faced little to no pressure. They hit him when he ran, even if it was for a first down, and shadowed him when he rolled out. After his TD, they locked in on Watkins and began scoping the bubble screens that had led to gains in the first half.
Where it didn’t work was when the Bulldogs got caught committing to trying to push running receivers out of bounds on the sideline routes, and tiring themselves out. Not finishing tackles and getting juked by Rod McDowell also played key roles in Clemson’s lead-taking touchdown drive in the early third quarter. Georgia was so guessed out and gassed out that Boyd sent Zac Brooks on the fly route right after consecutive sideline passes, and dropped the ball right in his hands.
Chasing Boyd in the pocket also didn’t work. He avoided at the last second, then usually hit a pass. There wasn’t much of a happy medium – hang back and get thrown over, or pursue and get thrown past.
And it surely didn’t help the defense’s mentality that after forcing a field goal, and seeing the offense march downfield, Georgia tried a fullback drive from the 3 on third down, and then high-snapped a field goal and couldn’t get a kick away. Then again, if Georgia’s defensive line wasn’t bulldozed for the final three quarters, that might have helped as well.