Freshmen, freshmen everywhere
Not since Kedric Golston in 2002 had Georgia started a freshman on defense. The Bulldogs started three on Saturday night.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, cornerback Brendan Langley and safety Tray Matthews were three of Georgia’s 11 defensive starters against Clemson.
It was widely known that Matthews would earn the nod pending the status of a shoulder and hamstring he’d been nursing for most of fall camp. Langley was listed opposite Damian Swann in Georgia’s first depth chart released on Monday, earning the spot over Sheldon Dawson, who also suffered a sprained shoulder in August.
But Floyd was a relative surprise. He garnered much respect among teammates and coaches this preseason, but was listed as a backup in Monday’s depth chart.
“Some guys are playing by virtue of the lack of depth and some guys are playing because they’ve earned the right to move ahead of some veteran,” coach Mark Richt said earlier this week. “Any time you lose as many starters as we did, you’re going to have inexperienced guys jump in there.”
The Georgia defense gave up 38 points, though it was playing a Clemson team that ranked eighth nationally last year in total offense and returned eight starters on that side of the ball.
Nonetheless, a few Tigers said that they were impressed with what they expected to be a more amateur defense than what Georgia displayed.
“They played us well. They maintained us,” Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins said. “I think they did a lot of different plays that we didn’t see on film with their coverages.”
Added Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: “I don’t want to play them again. They are a team that really makes you slug it out.”
Georgia churns out strong run game
Tailback Todd Gurley picked up right where he left off from a year ago.
The talented sophomore explosively powered for a 75-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven early in the first quarter. Not only was it Gurley’s first attempt of the season, but also marked a career high.
Gurley left for the locker room later in the quarter with a quad injury before returning to the sidelines at the start of the second.
When the Bulldogs fell behind late in the third, it was Gurley who provided a burst. He racked up 31 yards in the span of six plays and put Georgia on the goal line. A stout Clemson stop kept Georgia from the end zone and forced the Bulldogs to attempt a field goal that was no good due to a botched snap. It wound up being the difference-maker of the game.
Despite his injury and playing against a Tigers D-line that had four sacks, Gurley set a career high with 154 rushing yards.
“I thought Gurley played a great game and ran the ball hard,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Unfortunately he strained his quad and wasn’t as effective as he was at the beginning of the game. He came back later in the game and was able to do a little more of what Todd is capable of.”
Fullback Quayvon Hicks also had an eventful evening.
Hicks scored the game’s fifth touchdown and tallied 76 all-purpose yards, including a 38-yard catch.
Hicks was primarily reserved to special teams in 2012 before supplanting Merritt Hall as the starter this spring. The Bulldogs showed that they could be utilizing fullbacks more in 2013 after just 23 runs for 89 yards a year ago.
Tailbacks Keith Marshall (43 yards and a touchdown) and J.J. Green (3 yards) also saw action against Clemson.
New faces on special teams
After speculation on Marshall Morgan’s status following a boating under the influence arrest this summer, it was confirmed before kickoff that he would not play.
Colin Barber and Patrick Beless split punting and placekicking duties, respectively.
Barber, the walk-on sophomore from Cartersville, appeared in all 14 games last year with 60 punts. Beless, a redshirt freshman from Atlanta, played in his first college game ever on Saturday. He notched five total PAT’s.
Beless did come on for a 20-yard field goal in the third quarter, but a high snap kept him from even attempting the kick.
Kolton Houston's long-awaited return
In what was the feel-good story of the evening, Kolton Houston earned his first collegiate start against Clemson.
Houston, the beleaguered offensive tackle from Buford, ended a three-year battle with the NCAA in July over questions regarding his eligibility.
Houston failed a random drug test in April 2010 when traces of a banned steroid were found in his system. He immediately received a one-year ban, though it would eventually strecth to three.
“It’s a big day for him,” center David Andrews said. “I can’t imagine the first time he’s been able to play college football. I remember my first game. I know it’s going to be a neat experience for him. It’s going to be tough playing your first game in that environment, but he’s got a great supporting staff with us. I know he’s going to be ready to go.”
Houston has one year of eligibility left after the 2013 season and could appeal for another.
Dawgs lose Malcolm Mitchell
Malcolm Mitchell’s injury plagues continued on Saturday night.
Georgia’s starting receiver suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter against Clemson and did not return. Mitchell tore his meniscus in the same knee this spring and was forced to miss the G-Day game and some offseason workouts.
It was the second straight game that Mitchell left early to health issues dating back to last year’s Capital One Bowl.
An ailing hamstring kept him out of three games in 2011 yet he finished as the team’s leading receiver. He also missed last year’s season opener with a sprained ankle.