We all knew Georgia's younger, less experienced defense would look shaky against Clemson's high-powered offense.
We knew there would be hiccups, blown assignments, coverage breakdowns and plenty of growing pains. When you lose 12 players who either started or saw significant playing time from the previous season, all of that is perfectly natural.
What shouldn't have been natural were all the missed tackles and hesitation by Bulldogs defenders in Clemson's 38-35 victory over Georgia on Saturday. That goes beyond inexperience. It goes back to the basics with technique, and that has to be troubling for Georgia's defensive coaching staff because a very physical South Carolina team is heading to Athens, Ga., this weekend.
Go back and look at the tape. The Tigers were given extra chances for extra yards all night. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is a big guy who has a tendency to be slippery at times, but he was way too slippery Saturday night. He shredded tackles with ease to either deliver one of his patented clutch passes or leg out a few more yards with those tree-trunk legs.
With help from some poor tackling on the part of the Bulldogs, Clemson registered 13 plays of 10-plus yards. Four of those plays went for 20 yards or longer, three went for 30-plus yards and one went for more than 40 yards.
That last play might have defined Clemson's offensive success against the Dawgs.
Shortly after Georgia RB Todd Gurley ripped off his impressive 75-yard run in the first quarter, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins immediately countered with a 77-yard catch-and-run to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead. On the way to paydirt, he trucked a helpless Damian Swann at midfield before turning on the jets toward the end zone.
Watkins finished the night with six catches for 127 yards, with 102 of those yards coming after the catch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was his third-highest yards-after-catch total in a game in his career.
From there, the Tigers' offense had its way with Georgia's defense as missed tackles and broken tackles extended drive after drive. The Tigers finished the game converting 7 of 16 third downs.
There wasn't enough push from a new-look defensive line, either. The Dawgs have better depth on the line, but they registered just six tackles for loss and one sack against Clemson. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins, the Dawgs' best pass-rusher, had just one tackle for loss and couldn't overcome constant double-teams.
There just wasn't an answer up front for the Dawgs, and you can't let Boyd be comfortable in the pocket and expect to win.
Making matters worse, Roderick McDowell had 22 carries for a career-high 132 rushing yards in his first start for the Tigers. He didn't score a touchdown, but he averaged 6 yards per carry. As a whole, the Tigers beat up Georgia's front seven with 197 rushing yards on 46 carries.
It wasn't a pretty sight, and the Dawgs know they can't have a repeat performance -- not with South Carolina looming. McDowell looked impressive against the Dawgs, but now this defense must try to tackle South Carolina's Mike Davis, who rushed for 115 yards on 12 carries and had a 75-yard touchdown run in the Gamecocks' 27-10 win over North Carolina.
Davis might stand only 5 feet 9 inches, but he weighs 215 pounds and resembles a bowling ball on the field. His height makes him that much tougher to bring down at times because he's so low to the ground. He's a real bruiser and is impervious to weak arm tackles and poor form.
The Georgia defense will get better. The Dawgs have too much talent, and more experience is going to help. But these youngsters are headed right back into the fire against South Carolina. The first trial didn't go so well, and if Saturday is going to be any better, Georgia's defense has to toughen up and get back to the basics.