As far as scouts are concerned, there may not be a more significant game this weekend than when Georgia visits Clemson. Both Aaron Murray and Tahj Boyd have hopes of being high selections in the NFL Draft, and this big stage is going to give both players a chance to separate themselves from their peers.
Which QB will stand out the most? Who else will step up early for Clemson and Georgia?
A primetime matchup in Death Valley, scouts will get a chance to see two quarterbacks that operate in entirely different schemes but are both highly productive, efficient and mechanically sound passers. Georgia’s Aaron Murray (#11) has a chance to break every meaningful SEC passing record, but a 4-10 record versus ranked opponents places a serious asterisk mark on his play to date. Murray has a very good arm to go along with refined mechanics, command of the offense and impressive passing skills on the rollout, however, he’ll have to be more creative from within the pocket in locating passing lanes for himself and avoid having passes broken up at the line of scrimmage. Willing to test downfield and vertically thanks to confidence in both his arm and receiving corps, Murray needs to continue his development as a quarterback in terms of eye discipline and quickness through progressions. At times, Murray flashes the ability to get to second and third reads, however, he can be prone to locking his feet and eyes into certain throws which ultimately allows defensive backs to read, react and disrupt at the catch point.
For Clemson’s Tahj Boyd (#10), you see a more willing scrambler and creative thrower within the pocket, as he can shake of sack attempts, adjust his arm angle and make due within a muddy pocket. On the flip side, Boyd struggles when presented with tight windows and will have to improve his completion rate on “drive” throws. Losing his top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top running back Andre Ellington to the NFL, the 2013 season will shed light on whether or not Tahj Boyd can elevate the level of play from a younger receiving corps. In the quick passing game, Adam Humphries (#13) is an overlooked junior that can help alleviate those losses as a reliable, shifty slot receiver. His toughness through contact and ability to create after the catch stood out in 2012 despite limited playing time, so look for Humphries to capitalize on added snaps. With that being said, Clemson still possesses an electrifying, downfield weapon in junior Sammy Watkins (#2), who will serve as Boyd’s primary weapon. Watkins can do a ton of damage after the catch with his open field running skills and straight-line speed, but it’ll be important to note how he progresses in his third season as a route runner. Facing a Georgia secondary that graduated four senior starters from last season, Watkins will be matched up frequently with a big time playmaker for Georgia in junior Damian Swann (#5). Swann doesn’t have the speed to cover on an island versus Watkins, so giving him safety help over the top and allowing him to play aggressively will be a critical aspect of game-planning by the Georgia defensive staff.
The Georgia Bulldogs have an explosive receiving threat of their own in Malcolm Mitchell. Alternating between cornerback and receiver snaps in each of the past two seasons, the Georgia coaching staff has finally (at least they say) decided to stick with Mitchell on the offensive side of the ball. So sudden in his movements and decisive in his route breaks, Mitchell impresses with athletic traits that readily translate to the pro game –he handles contact in route very well, can win vertically with speed, creates noticeable separation at the top of curl, bench and dig routes, and more importantly attacks the football with his hands to pluck receptions while shielding the defender. In addition to Mitchell, Georgia also added a top JUCO transfer in Jonathan Rumph (#18) and welcomed back Michael Bennett (#82), who only played in 5 games before suffering a torn ACL in practice. A few more experienced and talented targets include Chris Conley (#31), Rantavious Wooten (#17), as well as Aaron Murray’s trusted friend and roommate Arthur Lynch (#88).
The difference in this game may very well be the experience upfront with the Georgia offensive line, as they return all 5 starters from a season ago. Junior center David Andrews (#61) headlines the group as a scrapper that wins with active hands, good on the move blocking skills and awareness for calls and checks at the line of scrimmage. As far as the seniors go, Kenarious Gates (#72) has the most realistic shot of being drafted, although he will be viewed as an offensive guard.
Others to watch:
Chris Burnette, OG, Georgia – #68, 6’2, 314
Garrison Smith, DT, Georgia – #56, 6’3, 299
(JR) Ray Drew, DE, Georgia – #47, 6’5, 276
(JR) Ramik Wilson, ILB, Georgia – #51, 6’2, 232
(JR) Amario Herrera, ILB, Georgia – #52, 6’2, 244
Chase Vasser, OLB, Georgia – #33, 6’3, 219
Rhett McGowan, WR Georgia – #27, 6’0, 180
Connor Norman, S, Georgia – #11, 5’10, 201
Blake Sailors, CB, Georgia – #7, 5’11, 179
Tyler Shatley, OG, Clemson – #62, 6’3, 295
Brandon Thomas, OT, Clemson – #63, 6’3, 305
Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson – #25, 5’9, 195
(JR) Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson – #1, 6’5, 200
(JR) Charone Peake, WR, Clemson – #19, 6’2, 205
(JR) Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson – #3, 6’2, 235
(JR) Corey Crawford, DE, Clemson – #93, 6’5, 270