ATHENS — Hello. It’s hot. As I type this it’s 90 degrees in Athens but it feels like a 137 with the humidity. It’s days like this when I think a beer, ice bucket and deodorant concession stand would do quite well.
Anyway, onto the game of the day: Georgia vs. Clemson. I sat in the Clemson press box a year ago at this time expecting the Bulldogs to open with a defeat. The Bulldogs’ defense was missing Josh Harvey-Clemons and several other players because of either injury or suspensions. The Tigers had some of the nation’s best talent on offense, including Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. I believed it was too much too soon for Georgia. Clemson won 38-35.
This time, I don’t think Georgia is in trouble at all. The Bulldogs will win today for three reasons:
1. DEFENSE: While there’s significant concern about Georgia’s young and inexperienced secondary — largely the byproduct of offseason defections — the Dogs a have a strong front seven. I also believe defensive backs will have a clearer sense of their assignments under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt than they did under Todd Grantham. Players have been very open about how much they prefer Pruitt’s coaching style and his ability to teach. Here’s a free link to a MyAJC column I wrote a few weeks ago, in which defensive back Damian Swann says of Pruitt, “He tells you what he wants, and he demands it. And I don’t mean that in a bad way — he shows you. He’s an excellent teacher.” Linebacker Jordan Jenkins referred to Grantham, now at Louisville, as “an NFL coach.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment.
2. TODD GURLEY: Georgia has the best running back in the country in Todd Gurley. If Gurley can stay healthy — and that’s obviously been a problem for him to this point — he’s a legitimate threat to win the Heisman Trophy. But even beyond Gurley, the Bulldogs are deep at running back with Keith Marshall (returning for a torn ACL), Brendan Douglas and freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. They’ll be running behind what’s expected to be a solid offensive line. That should help ease the transition for starting quarterback Hutson Mason, who will be making the first home start of his career. (His two starts last season for the injured Aaron Murray came at Georgia Tech (41-34 win in double overtime) and vs. Nebraska in the Gator Bowl (24-19 loss to Nebraska). Mason — who last year completed 67 of 110 passes for 968 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions with eight sacks — is not at Murray’s level, nor is he the athlete that one-year starter D.J. Shockley was. But he can be a more than capable starter with the pieces around him.
3. HOME FIELD: Clemson, like most teams, is much tougher at home than on the road. Georgia is 10-3 in season openers under coach Mark Richt, even if having lost three of the last five after starting 8-0. None of the three losses were in Athens (although one might as well have been). The Dogs lost at Oklahoma State in 2009, to Boise State in the Georgia Dome in 2011 and at Clemson last year. They are 9-0 in openers in Athens under Richt, including wins over Clemson (2002), Boise State (2005) and Oklahoma State (2007).
Georgia also could get a boost knowing that South Carolina was bodyslammed in its season opener against Texas A&M, giving the Dogs an early leg up in the SEC East. Georgia travels to Columbia in two weeks.
Prediction for tonight’s game: Georgia 31, Clemson 20.
I’ll do some commenting during the game on this blog. Until then, the cyber-floor is now yours.
•Some recent ramblings (free links)
— AJC: Cantor’s magic tallis has cure to Braves’ problems (on Fridays) — AJC: Weekend Predictions (no lie): Dogs over Clemson — MyAJC: Richt, Georgia need another highlight — MyAJC: Braves CEO Terry McGuirk vows ‘Everybody accountable’ — MyAJC: Full Q&A with Braves CEO Terry McGuirk — AJC: It’s ‘Sack Schultz’ time. Think you can grill me? — MyAJC: If Tech wins, it will be with a better option — MyAJC: Predicting Georgia Tech’s season, game-by-game — AJC: On Braves, McGuirk and repairing baseball — MyAJC: Baseball repair list: Pardon Rose, quicken pace, shorten season — AJC: Braves find a groove, but so do Nationals — MyAJC: Mike Tice has a challenge — and he knows it — AJC: Bobby Petrino, Todd Grantham reportedly feuding already — AJC: Falcons can survive without Baker, not others — AJC: FSU No. 1, Georgia No. 12 in poll of insignificance — MyAJC: Trent Miles trying to change attitudes at Georgia State — AJC: With Braves six back, is ‘Fat Lady’ singing? — MyAJC: B.J. Upton, Braves continue their zombie walk — MyAJC: Cancer didn’t slow Michael Cooper — AJC: Braves’ attendance reflects lack of confidence — MyAJC: Falcons showing humility, lack of comfort — and that’s good — AJC: Braves being hurt by shortage of leaders — MyAJC: Can ‘Power 5′ conferences handle this power? — AJC: Who’s most to blame for Braves’ fall? (vote in poll)