SMITH COLUMN: The Clemson aftermath for Georgia

Published 9:30 am Thursday, September 9, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Georgia’s opening game victory has been hashed by the varied minions who range from the unwashed to the expert — some of whom are self-anointed — with the Bulldogs earning high marks for its ruinous defense amid worry about an offense which did not produce a single touchdown in this day and age of high-octane scoring.

There are always going to be those times when one side of the ball has to carry the day. There will be those games when the offense will have to outscore the opposition.  Just win, baby.

My guess is that when the grades were posted Sunday afternoon, the young offensive line didn’t do as poorly as the negative generalization and carping by some fans might suggest. The O-line helped accumulate 256 yards of total offense and only allowed a single sack while the defense collected seven against the Clemson quarterback.

And think about this: Georgia may not face a better defensive line than Clemson’s unless it reaches the playoffs at the conclusion of the regular season.

If you had seen the look on offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s face when he entered the locker room at Bank of America Stadium Saturday evening, you would have concluded that as the one most responsible for point production, he is also the most determined to fix what needs fixing.  He was not a happy camper.

Give the offensive line time to get settled. This group, we know, is well coached. It is talented, it has the heft to mash opponents. As you fret, remember that Clemson didn’t come to Charlotte with a defensive front that had been mollycoddled. They are seasoned, and they are good. Their quarterback was, perhaps, embarrassed, but it might be a different story in late November when the playoff committee meets with playoff slots on the line. Clemson expects to play its way back into the playoff mix.

Post-game and early Sunday morning at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, Bulldog team headquarters, there were rampant musings about this game being the most dominant defensive outing in Georgia history. 

If you take into account that in other games where the defense was dominant, the question sauntering front and center is what was the rank of the opposition? Clemson was ranked No. 3 coming into the opener, which suggests that if this was not the most dominant defensive effort of the ages, it has to be one of the very best ever.

Cursory research, dating back to the forties, confirms that, based on rankings, this well could have been the most dominant defensive game for the Bulldogs.   

In 1942, Georgia, ranked No. 1 in the country much of the season was upset by Auburn in Columbus which caused the Bulldog to drop to No.5 in the polls and allowed for cross-state rival, Georgia Tech, to rise to a No. 2 ranking.

The Rose Bowl announced that the winner of the game between Tech and Georgia on Saturday after Thanksgiving would be given an invitation to play in Pasadena. The Bulldogs literally destroyed the Jackets, 34-0.

Not sure if there is anybody living today who might have seen that game between-the-hedges, but the score is a reminder that a shutout in those circumstances meant that the Bulldogs might have had superior firepower with Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi on offense, but the defense was as dominant as you could expect.  The defense shut down Tech with something consequential on the line — a Rose Bowl invitation. 

Other great defensive performances would include the 1976 Georgia-Alabama game in Athens during Bear Bryant’s prime years in Tuscaloosa. Georgia was ranked No. 6 and Alabama was ranked No. 10. To shut out Alabama certainly suggests that this was a gem of a defensive performance. Georgia won the SEC title that year.

In 1985 in Jacksonville, Florida entered the game ranked No.1 in the country and Georgia kept the Gators out of the end zone, winning 24-3.  That was one of the most humiliating defeats in the series for Florida. 

Remember 1980, Georgia-Clemson between-the-hedges? Final score, the Bulldogs over the Tigers 20-16, with the home team winning with only a single offensive scoring drive — a one-yard quarterback sneak by Buck Bellue following a Scott Woerner interception return when he was knocked out of bounds at the Clemson one-yard line. That game was similar to the one in Charlotte last weekend. The defense carried the day with an offense that featured Belue, Herschel Walker and Lindsay Scott.

Two years later when the Georgia-Clemson game was moved to start the football season on ABC’s Monday Night Football slot (the NFL began its schedule a week later), the two teams represented a matchup of the two most recent defending national champions, Georgia in 1980 and Clemson, 1981.

Herschel Walker did not start the game, owing to a broken thumb, suffered in pre-season practice.  e did get into the game and offensive coordinator, George Haffner was ready with a surprise play. Quarterback John Lastinger faked a handoff to Herschel and then pitched out to Tron Jackson who went around left end to the end zone untouched. Unfortunately, the Georgia center was flagged for holding. Still, it was noteworthy that Clemson only scored once in that game.

A big victory early on in Vince Dooley’s career, was shutting out Georgia Tech between the hedges in 1964. Ole Miss was still dominant in the SEC under Johnny Vaught in 1966 when Georgia won 9-6 in Athens.

If last Saturday was Georgia’s most dominant defensive performance in history, it will mean nothing unless it leads to something.  Anyone with any sense about this game has to know what Kirby Smart is preaching to his team this week. Don’t listen to the backslappers. UAB is physical, tough and capable of raining on your parade.

The big question is, “Are they listening?”