CLEMSON SEASON OPENER
What: No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
When: 5:30 p.m.
Notable: The matchup features two first-year generals of the offense, Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt vs. Georgia's Hutson Mason. But it might be which defense is more aggressive and sturdy in week one who takes home a victory.
CLEMSON - In 13 games in 2013, the Clemson offense suffered its season low in points, yards, yards per play, rushing yards, passing yards, completion percentage and 20-yard gains on the same horrid night.
The coordinator responsible, Florida State's Jeremy Pruitt, is now in charge of the Georgia defense. Which explains why Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has needed two piles of 2013 game tape for the past month in preparation for the Tigers' season opener Saturday at Georgia.
"Well, we've been watching both, really," Morris said Monday. "We look at (Georgia) personnel from last year, but obviously knowing Coach Pruitt and where he's been, you're back and forth."
Pruitt's schemes applied to Georgia players could make for a challenging evening at Sanford Stadium, especially since Clemson is breaking in new starters at quarterback (Cole Stoudt), running back (D.J. Howard), wide receiver (Mike Williams), tight end (Jordan Leggett) and four offensive line positions.
"The hardest part of a first game is there's so many unknowns. So many unknowns on their part, so many unknowns on our part," Morris said. "They're probably asking themselves some of the same questions."
After Georgia allowed 29 points per game in 2013 (the worst clip in school history) and rated No. 79 in scoring defense (its lowest ranking in 39 years), defensive coordinator Todd Grantham bolted for Louisville as part of the Bobby Petrino staff.
That opened the door for Pruitt, a Broyles Award finalist as one of the nation's top assistant coaches.
FSU's defensive backs were famously vocal last fall, promising physicality at the line of scrimmage with Clemson's star receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. And they delivered. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was just 17 for 37 for 156 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
"Jeremy's shown to really like to press you, and pressed all year long at Florida State," Morris said. "I don't think they really cared who they played. They're going to be who they are, we're going to be who we are."
Morris won't be surprised to face press coverage again, even though the Bulldogs' cornerbacks are young except for senior Damian Swann, who got beat by Watkins on his 77-yard score last year.
"With a new quarterback (Stoudt), we're expecting them to bring pressure and press us on the outside," Morris said. "It's not going to be anything that is going to be revolutionary, that we haven't seen before."
"The way we look at it is, if they press us, then they don't think we can get off of it," Clemson receiver Charone Peake said. "We have to go out there and prove it to them."
If the Tigers' receivers can't wiggle free in space, the Bulldogs' front seven will have time to make plays. Both Grantham and Pruitt run 3-4 formations, and Georgia boasts one of the deepest linebacking crews in the country with Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson.
Although teams moved the ball against Georgia during its forgettable defensive season, the Bulldogs were top 30 in sacks. Four of their top five sack men (Floyd, Jenkins, Wilson and defensive lineman Ray Drew) are back in uniform.
"Their defensive front is very talented," center Ryan Norton said. "They play in the SEC, which is a very demanding conference. Big, strong guys - athletic. It's going to be a challenge, and we're looking forward to stepping up to it."
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