The push made this offseason for Georgia defensive players to slim down to get quicker and recover easier has shown results this preseason.
Georgia defensive end Ray Drew (47) sacks Missouri quarterback James Franklin (1) during the second half of the NCAA college football game between Georgia and Missouri in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto)
“Judging from what I’ve seen as far as the transformation on our team alone, everyone is moving a lot quicker, a lot faster, being able to stay out for longer periods of time, being able to endure,” defensive lineman Ray Drew said.
The proof will be in the production on the field on Aug. 30 when Georgia opens against Clemson, which established itself the last few years for being explosive with an up-tempo style.
The skill-position talent on that offense will certainly look different than those in the Tigers’ 38-35 win over Georgia in Death Valley last season.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd, receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Rod McDowell are gone.
The Tigers are turning to fifth-year senior Cole Stoudt to be the trigger man for Chad Morris’ offense.
Even with the personnel changes, Georgia coach Mark Richt expects Clemson “to go as fast as they can go. I’d be surprised if they didn’t go just as fast or faster.”
Clemson’s 2013 offense averaged 507.7 yards and 40.2 points per game.
“The first thing coach Morris told us, from Day 1, was that we’re going to be the most explosive offense in the country and that’s what we strive for every single year,” Stoudt said. “That’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it always will be, especially under coach Morris. He always has a great scheme, is a great coach and he finds a way to win.”
Clemson had 76 offensive plays last year and amassed 467 yards against Georgia. The Tigers had 86 snaps and 326 yards in a 51-14 blowout loss to Florida State and Jeremy Pruitt on Oct. 19 when the now Georgia defensive coordinator was with the Seminoles.
Players and coaches this preseason have said the slimmed down Bulldogs have been able to sustain longer on the field.
“We all had to lose weight,” said nose guard Mike Thornton, who is down to 293. “We’re all moving around faster, getting off blocks faster.”
“I feel a couple of people just dropping pounds and staying in condition, we can sustain our level of concentration and our physical playing, just knowing what to do,” safety Quincy Mauger said. “We’re strong physically and mentally.”
So how might that translate to an actual game?
“I guess you might be able to see us last a lot longer without being tired and gasping for breath, bending over,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “They’re trying to get us to get away from bending over and putting hands on our hips and stuff because it shows signs of weakness… Some of the things (Pruitt) said in a meeting was running back to the ball shows no matter how tired you are, they can’t tell if you’re running back to the ball after every play. Just that kind of stuff, mind games and stuff like that has been going on with Pruitt.”
Clemson averaged 79.8 plays per game last year. That ranked eighth nationally, according to the Charleston Post & Courier.
“That’s who they are,” ESPN analyst Kirk Hebrsteit said. “They’re not going to change that.”
It may, however, take a while for the offense to hit its stride.
In the second preseason scrimmage a week ago, “the crux of the Tiger offense — it’s uptempo nature — was lacking,” the Anderson Independent Mail reported.
Georgia has turned to scout team players to simulate Clemson now after the No. 1 offense went up against the No. 1 defense this preseason.
Starting quarterback Hutson Mason is comfortable playing uptempo.
“We at Georgia on offense go at a pretty good clip,” Richt said. “The tempo is maybe not quite as fast as Clemson goes. We opt for some formations and motions and shifts sometimes that slows us down a little bit, but we also have times that we can go as fast as anybody. The defense is at least getting some of that taste of a quick tempo offense when we go against each other.”
Pruitt said early this preseason: “We’re sustaining at practice much better. We’re competing. We’re chasing the ball better.”
Richt noted that the players had “a lot more stamina than they’ve had in the past.”
That could come in handy if substitutions can’t be made because of pace.
“Definitely the substitution thing is a hamper on that,” Jenkins said. “When they’re going full speed, you can’t get the guys in who you want to run a certain play or a certain type of defense.”
Offensive guard Brandon Kublanow noticed a difference in Jenkins and defensive tackle Sterling Bailey. Jenkins is down 20 pounds to 250. Bailey dropped about to get to 276.
“They’re a lot quicker than they were in the spring, not as powerful but more speed and quick, but they’ve definitely been a lot better,” Kublanow said. “It’s almost like a new D-line.”
That might not be good news for Clemson.
“That’s a tough game for a quarterback without a whole lot of experience to step into without looking out there and seeing Sammy Watkins and some of the other skill that they had,” Herbstreit said.
With Pruitt running what Herbstreit says is a “very complicated multiple defense, I think it’s a tough matchup for Clemson personally.”