CLEMSON—The Clemson Tigers offense has no illusions as to the caliber of defense they will face Saturday night (7:30 pm, ABC) when they take on the Georgia Bulldogs in Charlotte, NC.
"I think the last one (defense like Georgia's) that I can remember was on our own practice filled with Dexter Lawrence, you know, Dexter was a big, was a big man that was hard to move," Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "I'm trying to think of just some, some big guys, you know, some of the guys at Alabama that we played in the past and, you know, structured, you know, Kirby's from that Alabama tree defensively. And so they're going to be built, uh, very similar."
The Bulldog defense is as deep and experienced as perhaps they have ever been along the defensive line. Ten-game starter Devonte Wyatt led all interior linemen with 25 tackles, including two for loss, last season and will return for a sixth year of eligibility. Jordan Davis notched 16 tackles in seven games and freed teammates by taking on multiple blockers. He highlighted his junior season by blocking a Cincinnati field goal in the Chick- fil-A Peach Bowl. As a freshman, Jalen Carter emerged with 14 tackles in 2020, three for loss, and even caught a touchdown pass on offense.
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"Hey, maybe we're not going to run for 250 yards, but we might need 125," Elliott said. "You know, the the biggest thing is you gotta keep them honest, uh, and you gotta set the tempo and the trenches and.
"When we're at our best is when we're balanced and we can run the football. Number one last two years, they're built to stop the run. They support the run from the secondary level, uh, very, very well. But you're going to have to, you're going to have to generate run game just in, and we saw that last year when we played up a Notre Dame, we didn't have enough run game to keep them honest."
Georgia’s defense led the nation in rushing defense in both 2019 (74.6 ypg) and 2020 (72.3 ypg), in scoring defense in 2019 (12.6 ppg), and in rushing TDs allowed in 2019 (2, UGA record). The Bulldogs ranked 2nd and 3rd nationally in total defense in the 2020 and 2019 seasons.
Those kinds of numbers mean that Elliott and the Tiger offense may not want to put a number on how much they need to run the ball, but they cannot become pass-heavy if they expect to win.
"So you don't become one-dimensional," Elliott said. "So I think you're not necessarily going to put a statistical number. But it's got to be effective, you know, if you can be effective, then it sets up some of your other things and understanding too, that it may not just be a traditional handoff that you count as run game."