CLEMSON, S.C. — Georgia’s young defense got the test it expected, just not the results it wanted in Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Clemson.
AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia defensive end Sterling Bailey (58) sacks Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) during the first half of an NCAA college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013.
The game marked the college debut for three starters in the secondary and was the first time since 2002 that coach Mark Richt started a true freshman on that side of the ball in a season opener.
“It’s all about growth and maturity,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said. “Tonight, they got thrown into the fire. They saw what football was all about. At the end of the day, they’ve got to learn from it, keep learning, keep playing. That’s what it’s all about, that’s what develops you into a better player and man.”
The Bulldogs’ defense spent most of the evening chasing quarterback Tajh Boyd’s targets. And when the Clemson quarterback wasn’t throwing for 270 yards and three touchdowns, he was efficient enough on the ground with 43 yards and a pair of scores.
It all added up quickly, with Boyd spreading the ball around and Sammy Watkins, Stanton Seckinger and Zac Brooks hauling in a touchdown apiece.
“We didn’t get many freebies because of not being lined up, not being organized,” Richt said. “So we did have some nice plays defensively. A few lapses, too, obviously.”
It didn’t help that the Bulldogs also had to make their debut shorthanded, too. Junior safety Corey Moore sat out with a knee injury and sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was suspended for the opener.
Match that up with Clemson’s speedy style and it was a recipe for trouble at times as Boyd tested Georgia freshman defensive backs Leonard Floyd and Brendan Langley, as well as senior safety Connor Norman.
For those new to the starting roles, Clemson’s speed — the Tigers ran 76 plays — took some getting used to.
“In the past, I thought Clemson was almost an SEC team at times, and I thought they came out running plays pretty fast, and that’s something we had to get used to,” sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “For the first game for the freshmen, it might have been a little bit hectic, but I’m glad we’ve got this under our belt now so we can get ready to play in SEC play and adjust and finish out the season strong.”
Coaches and players said they expected the defense would only improve, especially as others return to the lineup. And the Bulldogs are familiar with the way new opportunities can still open up even after early season stumbles.
“You can’t cry over spilled milk,” Smith said. “You’ve just got to keep going forward. There ain’t nothing you can do about what happened tonight. You can’t get a time machine and change it. We’ve still got like 12 more games to play, we’ve got to just keep getting better and finish the season out. We can’t dwell on the past.”