Georgia’s 2021 season-opener against Clemson figures to be one of the most anticipated games of the college football season.
The Tigers and Bulldogs both figure to open the season in the top-10 and possibly even top 5. Both programs figure to have elite defenses and promising quarterback options in JT Daniels and DJ Uiagalelei.
Related: Georgia jumps Clemson in ESPN’s post-spring top-25 rankings
Despite the similarities though, the Bulldogs figure to have one a significant advantage over the Tigers. It should show up when Clemson attempts to run the ball on Georgia’s defensive front.
When Clemson lost in 2020, you could point to a porous rushing attack as to why. Twice in 2020, the Tigers were held under 100 yards rushing. Clemson ran for 34 yards in its loss against Notre Dame and then mustered only 44 yards in the College Football Playoff defeat against Ohio State.
That was with 2021 first-round pick Travis Etienne in the backfield as well. Etienne was Clemson’s all-time leading rusher and will now be playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In terms of who the Tigers might put out there against Georgia, Lyn-J Dixon figures to get the first snaps, as the senior is the leading returning rusher for Clemson. But he had just 190 rushing yards last season for Clemson. The Tigers did bring in 5-star running back Will Shipley as a part of the 2021 signing class as well.
The Tigers do have to replace two starters on the offensive line, as the Cincinnati Bengals took left tackle Jackson Carman in the second round. Clemson will also be looking for a new center.
A solid rushing attack would be a tremendous boost to Uiagalelei, who will be making just his third collegiate start.
That’s going to be a tough ask against a Georgia front that had the No. 1 rush defense in the country in each of the past two seasons. And most of the top players from those units will be on the 2021 team.
Leading the way on Georgia’s rush defense is Jordan Davis. The senior defensive tackle surprised some when he elected to return for his final year. There might not be a better run defender in all of college football than Davis.
Related: Making the case for Jordan Davis as UGA’s best and most important player
The Georgia-Clemson game will be in Davis’ hometown of Charlotte, adding extra meaning to the game. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart did once again challenge the standout defensive lineman this spring as Georgia looks to get even more out of him.
“Jordan has done a good job. Jordan’s biggest issue is conditioning and weight control,” Smart said in April. “He knows that and we’ve got to get him to cut some more for him to be elite.
“It’s critical that he gets in the best shape of his life. Part of the reason he decided to come back was to get in great shape so he could create some more value and that’s what he is working on.”
Davis isn’t the only member of Georgia’s defensive line that Clemson has to be aware of. Devonte Wyatt had a strong performance in Georgia’s spring game as he is taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility.
Related: Devonte Wyatt perfectly illustrates why defensive line is Georgia’s strongest position
Then there is Travon Walker, who might have the highest upside of any Georgia defender. He will be taking over for Malik Herring at the defensive end spot.
Georgia does have to replace a few key linebackers in Monty Rice and Azeez Ojulari. But Nakobe Dean returns for Georgia and he will be a key leader for the Bulldogs. He led the Bulldogs in tackles last season.
As for replacing Ojulari, it is expected that Nolan Smith will slide into Ojulari’s spot. Smith has played in a rotational role in his first two seasons in Athens. He arrived as a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 overall pick.
Georgia does have its own concerns, as the Bulldogs currently do not have a player on its roster that has started a game at cornerback. Clemson’s defensive line should also give the Georgia offensive line plenty of problems.
In terms of biggest strength against biggest weakness though, the Bulldogs figure to have a big edge when it comes to slowing down the Clemson rushing attack.
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