Georgia-Clemson features elite QB matchup
August, 30, 2013
By Katie Sharp and Mackenzie Kraemer, ESPN Stats & Info | ESPN.com
Getty Images Getty ImagesAaron Murray (left) and Tajh Boyd (right) are two of the top returning quarterbacks in college football.Two of the nation’s top offensive teams will face off Saturday night, with the Georgia Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers matched up in the season’s first top-10 game (8 p.m. ET on ABC).
Fans will also get an early look at two of the nation’s top quarterbacks and Heisman candidates, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd.
Georgia returns nine starters from an offense that averaged an FBS-best 7.1 yards per play last season, thanks in part to Murray, who was the only FBS quarterback to average more than 10 yards per pass attempt last year.
While most of Murray’s weapons return, he will need to adjust to playing without his best deep threat, Tavarres King. King caught more than 25 percent of Murray’s passes that went for 20-plus yards, and his 22.6 yards per reception was the highest among BCS-AQ players last season.
Without King, Malcolm Mitchell becomes a full-time receiver after splitting time between receiver and cornerback his first two seasons. Mitchell, Georgia’s second-leading receiver last season, did most of his damage on underneath passes, catching a team-high 16 of Murray’s completions that went fewer than 10 yards.
Wide Receiver Michael Bennett also returns from a torn ACL. Through five games prior to his injury, Bennett led the Bulldogs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Murray also needs to prove he can play well against quality competition.
In five starts against top-10 teams since 2011, Murray posted a QBR of just 17.2, 60 points worse than his mark against other opponents. In his only win - last season against Florida - Murray threw for just 150 yards with three interceptions.
Boyd needs to make big plays of his own to snap Clemson’s five-game losing streak against Georgia.
Boyd led FBS with 48 completions of at least 25 yards last season. But he will need to adjust to life without DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 20 of those passes. In fact, 28 of Boyd’s 36 touchdown passes were caught by players who will not suit up against Georgia.
Boyd will need to reconnect with Sammy Watkins. After a breakout freshman season, Watkins’s numbers dipped last year, particularly against top opponents. Watkins had a total of 61 receiving yards in two full games against ranked opponents (Florida State and South Carolina).
Those teams were successful because they limited Watkins after the catch. He averaged nearly six fewer yards after the catch against ranked teams compared to unranked foes.
Against Florida State, Boyd’s six completions to Watkins traveled a combined one yard behind the line of scrimmage and Watkins finished with just 24 receiving yards.
Can Georgia, which finished eighth in pass defense last season, stop Boyd this weekend? The unit must undergo an overhaul this season with seven starters lost and the team’s defensive MVP this spring, Josh Harvey-Clemons, suspended for Saturday’s game.