For all their strengths, Georgia and Clemson have same questions at key position group
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Georgia football, Clemson both have same key offensive line questions
There will be plenty of hype and talk surrounding the Georgia-Clemson battle to start the 2021 season. It figures to be a matchup of top-5 teams and playoff contenders.
The field will be covered in former 5-star quarterbacks. Both JT Daniels and DJ Uiagalelei will be trendy preseason Heisman Trophy picks.
There’s another commonality between the two sides as well: Both schools need to improve along the offensive line.
Georgia must replace its top two offensive linemen in Trey Hill and Ben Cleveland. Clemson will have a new left tackle and possibly a new center. Neither team had a strong offensive line in 2020, which is partially why neither played for a national championship.
The Bulldogs had a number of other offensive issues in 2020, though starting Daniels solved some of them. But even once Daniels entered as Georgia’s starting quarterback, the offensive line still had issues.
The Bulldogs ran just for eight yards against Mississippi State. In the bowl game against Cincinnati, Georgia had only 45 rushing yards. The Bulldogs still won both of those games, but Cincinnati and Mississippi State aren’t quite as good as Clemson.
Daniels also got sacked six times in those two games. He’s not the most mobile of quarterbacks and he does have an injury history. Teams are going to want to hit Daniels so Georgia must do a better job of protecting him.
For Clemson, Ohio State’s defensive line made life miserable for Trevor Lawrence and held Clemson to just 44 rushing yards in its College Football Playoff loss. In a loss against Notre Dame, the Tigers had only 34 rushing yards. And that was with Travis Etienne, who will now be off to the NFL.
Not helping matters for either side is both defensive fronts are loaded with talent. Clemson brings back all 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps the two most promising players both play on Clemson’s defensive line in Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy.
Those two were both named to ESPN’s ‘way-too-early’ 2021 All-American team. Bresee had 4.0 sacks as a freshman, showing why he was the No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2020 cycle. Murphy added 4.0 sacks as well, demonstrating why he was a 5-star target for Georgia.
The Bulldogs though aren’t pushovers either. The Georgia defensive line got a big boost when Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt both announced they were returning for 2021. Davis was named to the same All-American team as Bresee and Murphy.
Georgia does have to replace Azeez Ojulari and Malik Herring. Fortunately, the Bulldogs have former 5-stars in Adam Anderson, Travon Walker and Nolan Smith looking to take on bigger roles in the defense in 2021.
The Bulldogs will also bring back defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. Clemson will have Brent Venebales running things for the 10th straight year for the Tigers’ defense.
Both Georgia and Clemson do have talented options they can turn to in an attempt to patch up the offensive line. Clemson signed 5-star offensive lineman Tristan Leigh in the 2021 cycle. The Tigers also signed three offensive linemen in the 2020 signing class that were among the top 150 overall prospects.
For the Bulldogs, it brings back Jamaree Salyer, Justin Shaffer and Warren McClendon from the 2020 offensive line. Warren Ericson also started three games once Hill went down with knee surgery.
Georgia signed 5-star Amarius Mims in the 2021 recruiting class. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Georgia and is already on campus as an early enrollee. The Bulldogs signed four offensive linemen in the 2020 recruiting class ranked among the top 150 overall prospects.
Salyer got the start at left tackle for most of the 2020 season but he kicked down to guard for the game against Cincinnati. In an ideal world, one of Mims, Broderick Jones or Xavier Truss would emerge as Georgia’s left tackle so Salyer could shine at guard.
The Bulldogs also have players like Clay Webb, Tate Ratledge and Sedrick Van Pran pushing Shaffer and Ericson for playing time.
Georgia’s offensive line isn’t its only concern, given what the Bulldogs must replace in the secondary. As much promise as Uiagalelei showed in his two starts this season, Lawrence is one of the best quarterbacks in recent memory. Clemson also must replace its all-time leading rusher in Etienne and its top two wide receivers.
The two teams are similar on paper. When you’ve recruited and developed as well as Georgia and Clemson have in recent seasons that tends to be the case. Georgia finally seems to have the quarterback and wide receivers Clemson has long been able to develop. Both of these defenses have plenty of talented players as well.
To start the 2021 season, they’ll both have the same major question mark.
For as much as press as Daniels, Uiagalelei, Bresee and Davis will get in the coming months, the winner of the Georgia-Clemson game may very well end up being whichever team can block better.
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- WATCH: Georgia’s fantastic football facility takes shape, stays on track
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