CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dabo Swinney said Clemson might be playing the best team in the nation when it faces Georgia in both programs’ season-opening game on Sept. 4 in Charlotte.
But the last Georgia football team Clemson faced coached by Mark Richt, as Swinney recalled, was pretty special, too.
“The last Georgia team I saw kicked our butt down in Athens, we got smashed,” Swinney said on Thursday at the ACC Media Days at the Westin Charlotte. “So hopefully this won’t be that version. They were really, really good.”
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That 2014 Georgia team featured future NFL star Todd Gurley, who rushed for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns and returned a kick 100 yards for a TD. The Bulldogs ran away for a 45-21 victory after the game was tied 21-21 at the half.
Kirby Smart’s 2021 Georgia edition is expected to air it out with JT Daniels under center and second-year coordinator Todd Monken running a Pro-Style Spread attack that features Air Raid principles.
“The style of play is a little different, comparing them to that last team, football has evolved a lot since 2014, seven years since we went down there,” said Swinney, who gets Georgia this year in his Tigers’ home away from home, Bank of America Stadium.
“But it still comes down to elite players on both sides, a few plays, small margin for error. and teams built in the trenches.”
Swinney knows better than anyone how stacked Bulldogs are from a talent perspective.
“Kirby has done an unbelievable job,” Swinney said. “They may be the best team in the country. They have recruited well, they’re a play away from already having a national championship under their belt.
“We have a lot of knowledge of their program. We recruit against them. The state of Georgia is a big recruiting area for us, and obviously for them.”
Swinney and the Tigers know one Georgia player particularly well. Derion Kendrick was an All-ACC cornerback in the Clemson secondary last season before parting with the program last spring.
“He’s a great player, so it’s a tough challenge,” said Swinney, who dismissed Kendrick after unexcused absences from workouts. " I love DK, I’m pulling for him. I hope he has a great year, hopefully, a great season except for one game. DK is a young man I love dearly, but sometimes, there needs to be a change for both sides.
“I’m happy he’s in a good place, a great program. He’ll be well-coached there, and I just want to see him finish well.”
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Swinney indicated he’s not overly concerned with the Clemson team intel Kendrick might be able to share with Georgia.
“You’ll see more and more of this with the transfers, it’s no different than the NFL,” Swinney said. “Tom Brady has got to play the Patriots this year.
“Hopefully DK doesn’t have quite the intel that Tom Brady may have. But I’m sure his familiarity is a plus for him, but we’re familiar with him, too.”
As for that last 2014 meeting, former UGA coach Mark Richt was at the event working for the ACC Network.
Told of Swinney’s remarks, Richt chuckled and said, “We had some good blocking. It’s always fun to beat Clemson.”