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Jameis Winston vs. Oklahoma State: Final Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Following an eventful offseason, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was looking to start his sophomore season with the same poise and execution that led to him winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately, he had a much different start to his second campaign.

Winston finished the night going 25-of-40 for 370 passing yards, two total touchdowns and a career-high two interceptions in a hard fought 37-31 win against Oklahoma State. That was a stark difference from his first game as a freshman, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions against Pittsburgh.

While Winston accomplished nearly everything possible in 2013, he comes into this season with even higher expectations. The sophomore spoke about his improvement this offseason, per College GameDay:

Much has been made this offseason about Winston off the field, and not much of it has been favorable. The FSU signal-caller was caught stealing crab legs along with other issues, but still remained positive throughout the experience.

Rather than living up to that hype created early on, Winston scuffled on the field throughout the first half. The pressure appeared to take its toll on Winston as he failed to find open receivers and threw two interceptions before heading to the locker room.

Mark Cooper of the Tulsa World notes just how well the Oklahoma State defense played Winston:

College GameDay also points out the difference between Winston's start of his freshman year:

The precision Winston showed as a freshman was not evident in the first half, and neither was the decision making. After losing Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL, Winston didn't appear to have the same rapport with his receivers down the field.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report points out the underwhelming start for Winston:

The second half had a similar start for the signal-caller, but he showed flashes of his dual-threat ability in the third quarter.

Oklahoma State had FSU's receivers covered like a glove, but Winston would find an opening and make a difference with his legs. Winston carved his way through the Cowboys defense for career-long 28-yard touchdown.

That huge run would not prove to be the turning point for Winston, however, as he was stymied on the following drives and left the door open for the Cowboys. But with the game on the line late, Winston pulled through with his best pass of the night.

Up by only six points with 4:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, Winston found Rashad Greene across the middle for a 50-yard touchdown. Despite throwing into a tight window, Greene hauled in the pass and raced away from defenders.

Eye on College Football gives a look at the star receiver's night:

The gutsy pass also got rave reviews from Pat Forde of Yahoo:

Though it was far from a Heisman performance by Winston, it was good enough to keep the Seminoles undefeated. With other players like Kenny Hill of Texas A&M and Todd Gurley of Georgia exploding in Week 1, Winston will need to improve to retain the Heisman.

As all eyes remain on Winston and FSU as a whole, the mounting pressure will only grow as the season goes on. Luckily, Winston has an easy test ahead of him in Citadel at home before hosting Clemson.

Thanks to a fairly easy schedule ahead of the Seminoles, Oklahoma State might have been one of the stiffest test of the season. After a difficult night under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium, getting back to Tallahassee should be a welcomed environment for the quarterback.

It's a different year and a new opportunity for the Seminoles and Winston. Despite a rough first game against Oklahoma State, expect Famous Jameis to return to form before a huge showdown with the Tigers.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Sarkisian, Trojans Block out Distractions in Dismantling of Fresno State

Nothing but about 15 yards of turf separated Fresno State safety Derron Smith from the end zone had the preseason All-American intercepted USC quarterback Cody Kessler's first pass attempt of the 2014 season. 

That play was just about the only thing that went awry for No. 15 USC in its 52-13 romp over Fresno State.

With all the turmoil leading into Saturday, a first-pass pick-six would have been an unfortunate yet fitting start to the Trojans' season. It certainly was not an improbable proposition, either—Smith took an interception of Kessler 41 yards to the house in last December's Las Vegas Bowl.

But after the disaster of Smith's near-interception was averted, Kessler settled in to go 25-of-37 passing, tying the career-high of four touchdowns he set against Fresno State last year and set a new personal best mark of 394 yards. He rushed for a fifth touchdown, just for good measure. 

Running back Javorius "Buck" Allen added 133 yards rushing and a touchdown, 10 different Trojans caught passes and the USC defense locked down Fresno State's spread offense. 

All told, it was a wholly dominant effort for a USC team that could very well have been distracted. 

If there was any distraction in the USC locker room, it was the welcome distraction playing Fresno State brought to take attention from the off-field turmoil the Trojans were mired in this week.

In his first postgame press conference as USC head coach, Steve Sarkisian called the outcome “fun," per FoxSports.com's Rahshaun Haylock: 

Some fun was just what USC needed after its week. 

USCTrojans.com published an account of redshirt cornerback Josh Shaw injuring his ankles while saving his nephew from drowning. By Tuesday, the story began to unravel, and Sarkisian suspended Shaw indefinitely on Wednesday, via Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com.

Just as Shaw started to generate national headlines, former cornerback-turned-running back Anthony Brown added fuel to the fire when he went on a since-deleted Instagram rant against Sarkisian.  

Though Sarkisian addressed the Shaw situation repeatedly throughout the week, including in an interview on ESPN’s College Gameday Saturday morning, it was apparently a non-issue internally.

Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times tweeted that Sarkisian said USC blocked out any possible distraction by not dwelling on it:  

Any frustration the Trojans may have felt was exorcised at Fresno State's expense. In the process, USC started writing a much different narrative for the outset of the Sarkisian era 

Distractions accompanied the 1-5 finish to USC's 2012 season, and distractions persisted through the first month of the 2013 campaign. Constant questions about former head coach Lane Kiffin's status seemingly plagued USC in its 3-2 start. The team's immediate turnaround following Kiffin's dismissal supports the idea.

Sarkisian's forthright manner of dealing with the Shaw story was a positive step toward establishing a different tone from USC's previous era.  

As for the team, it can perhaps thank the previous seasons' turmoil for Saturday's resounding response.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who was one of four Trojans with an interception Saturday, said last month at Pac-12 media days that past issues gave USC “a chip on [its] shoulder,” but had also taught the team to come together.

"We're looking past all the old, bad stuff in the past and just looking forward to having a great season," Williams said.  

That type of mindset proved useful this week and should help buoy USC throughout its pursuit of the Pac-12 Conference championship.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Game statistics compiled via USCTrojans.com Season statistics compiled via CFBstats.com

 

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Sarkisian, Trojans Block out Distractions in Dismantling of Fresno State

Nothing but about 15 yards of turf separated Fresno State safety Derron Smith from the end zone had the preseason All-American intercepted USC quarterback Cody Kessler 's first pass attempt of the 2014 season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Lane Kiffin Must Keep Offense Conservative for Continued Success at Alabama

Although Alabama could not blow out West Virginia as expected, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin passed his first test.

In the 33-23 win, the Crimson Tide totaled 538 yards of total offense with a quarterback making his first career start. This was thanks to Kiffin getting the most out of his talent. If he can continue this style of play-calling, he has a chance to have a very successful season.

Unlike most college coordinators, Kiffin enters the year with a lot of pressure after holding a number of high-profile jobs. The 39-year-old coach has already been in charge of USC and the Oakland Raiders, as well as a few other stops. He has not exactly been the most popular person when he left any of the teams.

As a result, there will be a lot more attention paid to the offense throughout the year. ESPN's J.A. Adande joked about how much he was being shown during the television broadcast:

Meanwhile, Colin Cowherd of ESPN was there to question the play-calling right away:

However, it is hard not to be impressed with how the offense performed as a whole. He got the most out of his stars as Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon combined for 239 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Amari Cooper totaled 12 catches for 130 yards.

It is often difficult getting the ball to so many good players, especially two elite running backs who could be among the best in the nation, as Alex Scarborough of ESPN argued:

Kiffin found a way to spread the ball around and keep both running backs fresh enough to be productive from the start of the game to the finish. Meanwhile, he was a big part of Cooper's success thanks to a number of short passes with plays directly intended for the No. 1 receiver.

Not only did this help the stars become productive, but it also took a lot of the pressure off inexperienced starting quarterback Blake Sims. The senior went 24-of-33 for 250 passing yards in his first start to go with 42 rushing yards.

Nick Saban credited Kiffin for helping to develop the young passer.

"He [Kiffin] did a great job," the head coach explained after the game, via Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee, "He really helped Blake manage the game. Very involved and even helped him with some of his checks on the sideline, which is what we thought and why we put him there."

While you can expect Sims to improve throughout the year, the game plan should not change for the Alabama offense. The system should continue to feature a lot of runs for Henry and Yeldon to wear out the opposing defense, while the short passes to Cooper create a chance for a big play.

Both of these strategies will be useful to keep the pressure off a quarterback who should not be overwhelmed on the field.

This brings us to a new problem in Tuscaloosa, a poor defense. Although you can be certain the Saban-coached team will improve as the year went on, the unit struggled against West Virginia. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was surprised by the struggles:

Even Saban called out his own squad heading into halftime:

Fortunately, the offense helped out by controlling over 37 minutes of possession. The less time the defense is on the field, the fewer points they can give up. 

The main goal for any offensive coordinator is to score points. However, Kiffin has to use his head coaching experience to realize what is best for the team.

In each game, the offense has to control possession and run the ball to keep the pressure off the inexperienced quarterback as well as the defense. Kiffin made sure this happened in Week 1, and it is the perfect strategy to help in every game going forward.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Auburn Defense Looks Championship-Worthy, Shows Ability to Adjust vs. Arkansas

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's defense was in disarray heading into the locker room at halftime Saturday.

Arkansas' talented trio of running backs averaged 7.2 yards per carry in the first half. Quarterback Brandon Allen was hitting wide-open targets on play-action passes.

Worst of all, the defensive struggles bled over into the offense, which lost momentum after scoring three straight touchdowns to open the game.

But, following a go-ahead touchdown by returning quarterback Nick Marshall to start the second half, Auburn's defense clamped down on the Razorbacks' power-running offense.

"I’m very proud of our guys coming out facing an SEC team," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "We talked to our guys and told them it would be a dogfight. I’m proud of the way our guys responded the second half. Our defense made the adjustments. We started playing physical football."

A shift in the secondary allowed the Tigers to close down quicker on Allen's receivers in the flats, and the Razorbacks were forced to go a quick three-and-out. Middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy rebounded from a quiet first half and got in the backfield to drop Alex Collins for a loss on the ensuing drive.

Then, the Auburn defense commanded all of the game's momentum with a pick-six that was caused by the newly reinstated Robenson Therezie and finished by fellow senior Jermaine Whitehead.

"[Therezie] is a freak," Whitehead said. "He does a lot for the team. With all the experience he got last year, he feels a lot more comfortable. At practice, he knows exactly what’s going on. He’s definitely going to make something this year."

Even after a lengthy lightning delay early in the fourth quarter, Auburn's defense held on for the second-half shutout, with McKinzy recording a monster sack of Allen to end any hope the Razorbacks had of a comeback.

"They brought more pressure," Allen said afterward. "They did a good job of slowing down our rush game in the second half. We didn’t make the plays we needed to get to get some drives going."

Defensive improvement out of the locker room is nothing new for the Tigers.

Auburn's rush defense was ranked 105th nationally last year in the first half of games, but halftime adjustments helped that ranking jump to 57th in the second half. The Tigers also allowed five fewer touchdowns on the ground, and those changes resurfaced again in the 2014 season opener.

That shift in ratings did not turn Auburn into an elite second-half defense, but it was one of the deciding factors in several tight games for the Tigers in their run to the SEC title.

When another conference team jumped out in the first half, it was back to the drawing board for the Auburn defense—literally.

"We just quickly took a look at what Arkansas was doing," senior defensive lineman Gabe Wright said. "Early on, it's kind of hard to see what they're all doing and then respond. At halftime, we were able to sit down and put what we needed to change on the board. Guys just focused and played more physical to get the win."

After the game, Malzahn pointed to those halftime adjustments from defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and his assistants as the turning point in what had been a tight SEC contest.

"Ellis is one of the better defensive coordinators in college football," Malzahn said. "He’s been doing this a long time, and he’s good at it. He made the adjustments. They settled down and started stopping the run, and that changed the whole tone of the game, and that was a huge factor in the second half. We got quite a few stops and got the ball back to the offense."

Much like Malzahn's offense, Auburn's strength on defense comes from its ability to adapt to the opposing team.

Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme is designed to counter teams prone to airing it out, but the Tigers had a plan for the Razorbacks' power-running attack.

Auburn started four defensive tackles up front—Angelo Blackson, Jeffrey Whitaker, Wright and Montravius Adams—in a "Rhino package" that has been practiced since the start of spring camp. 

The larger front four neutralized Arkansas for a quick three-and-out to start the game, but the Razorbacks started rolling on offense when they were able to get Alex Collins, Korliss Marshall and Jonathan Williams into the second level.

When Wright got back into the locker room, his teammates said he rallied the defense to make a change and get back into the form of a championship club.

"I just see the potential of this team," Wright said. "You've got a team that runs the ball in the SEC and likes to be the bully, and we held them to a few yards in the second half. Early on, we had some things breaking off because Arkansas did a good job of showing us things we haven't seen. But guys were able to bounce back quickly, and we showed we are going to get the job done.

"It's never how you start. It's how you finish."

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Fresno State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It was hard to find much to quibble about from USC's 52-13 blowout win Saturday over Fresno State in the 2014 season opener. The debut of Steve Sarkisian's uptempo offense generated 702 yards on 104 plays, which was not only a school record but set the Pac-12 mark for offensive snaps in a single game.

But it wasn't just the explosive and diverse offense that impressed for USC. Its defense also stifled a Fresno State program that was one of the most prolific in 2013, but which no longer had its record-breaking quarterback (Derek Carr) available.

Final stats from the game can be found here. Check out our grades of USC's position units and coaching against Fresno, as well as analysis on the different facets of the 39-point victory.

 

USC Trojans Game Grades

 

USC Trojans Game Analysis

Pass Offense: Cody Kessler had the best game of his USC career, completing 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Kessler hit 10 different receivers, with junior wideout Nelson Agholor catching two TD passes and a pair of freshmen (Adoree' Jackson and Bryce Dixon) also hauling in scoring strikes. Another freshman, JuJu Smith, led USC with 123 yards on four receptions.

Run Offense: Javorius Allen picked up where he left off in 2013, rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Kessler and fullback Soma Vainuku also had scoring runs, and the Trojans ran behind an offensive line that started two true freshman and managed 268 yards.

Pass Defense: Fresno State quarterbacks Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette were both chased all over the backfield, and though neither was sacked, the pressure USC got up front kept either from being comfortable. The Trojans picked off four passes and held the Bulldogs to 160 passing yards and less than 4.5 yards per attempt.

Run Defense: Fresno's Marteze Waller ran for 94 yards on 17 carries with a pair of touchdowns, and he proved slippery in many cases. Burrell had a 32-yard scamper that came as a result of USC failing to contain the edge, though it did manage to shut down Connette's scampering ability.

Special Teams: USC's punter never had to participate in the game, which was a better effort than Trojans kicker Andre Heidari. Though he made a 27-yard field goal, he also missed a kick just before halftime and then booted the second-half kickoff out of bounds, giving Fresno State a short field that it converted into a touchdown.

Coaching: Sarkisian's play-calling was spot on, and he made sure to get numerous youngsters involved. At least a dozen freshmen played in the game, providing them with valuable experience and establishing depth ahead of the Sept. 6 trip to Stanford.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Fresno State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It was hard to find much to quibble about from USC's 52-13 blowout win Saturday over Fresno State in the 2014 season opener...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Florida vs. Idaho Season Opener Canceled Due to Inclement Weather

While the rest of the country kicked off the college football season on Saturday, Florida and Idaho will have to wait to get started.

The nonconference game was delayed several times due to harsh weather conditions until it was eventually canceled, according to Anish Shroff of ESPN:

ESPN provided a look at the lightning outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium:

While the game was originally slated to begin at 7 p.m. ET, thunderstorms caused an extended delay while the teams waited in the locker rooms. The game actually got underway with a Florida kickoff return, but another lightning strike once again halted the action.

Landon Watnick of Rivals.com described the only play of the game:

After the game was officially called off for the night, Mark Long of The Associated Press provided the details on the next step for both sides:

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press pointed out how the money factor could affect the decisions:

Assuming the game is not rescheduled this weekend, Florida will instead begin its season on Sept. 6 with a home game against Eastern Michigan. 

After losing the last seven games last season to finish an alarming 4-8, the Gators will likely want as many "easy" games as possible before starting a much more difficult conference schedule in the SEC. Considering Idaho finished last season with a 1-11 record, Will Muschamp's squad was not expecting this matchup to be much of a challenge.

For the Vandals, this cancellation could end up costing the school a big payday, depending on how the situation is worked out.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Jameis Winston Scrambles for Amazing Career-Long Rushing TD vs. Oklahoma State

2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had gone two-and-half quarters without a truly breathtaking highlight play. That all changed when he took off running.

Jameis Winston career long 28 yard TD run https://t.co/oH742vywhu

— gifdsports (@gifdsports) August 31, 2014

Winston juked, hurdled and sidestepped en route to a career-long 28-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 27-17 in favor of Florida State after a made extra point.

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. College football is back.

[Twitter]

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Video: Todd Gurley Makes Early Heisman Statement vs. Clemson

Todd Gurley had a stellar performance against the Clemson Tigers in Week 1 of the 2014 season. With a handful of offensive plays, combined with a phenomenal kickoff return, he is making a statement for the Heisman trophy.

Check out this compilation of Gurley's explosive runs against Clemson. 

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Alabama Football: Grading Blake Sims' Week 1 Performance

Blake Sims didn't just start at quarterback for Alabama in the season-opening win over West Virginia; he started and played the whole game.

Well, sort of. Presumed rotation quarterback Jake Coker came in for mop-up duty once the outcome was in hand. But for all intents and purposes, Sims was Alabama's starter, and Coker was his backup. The redshirt senior played well enough to stay on the field.

That very nearly wasn't the case. According to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, head coach Nick Saban said he thought about going to Coker in the second quarter, scared that Sims was starting to get rattled. But instead of pulling the plug, he settled Sims down by going to—of all things—the no-huddle offense:

 

Playing From the No-Huddle

In many ways, settling Sims down with the no-huddle offense—a concept that seems foreign to Alabama football—was a fitting touch to an impressive starting debut. This is not the archetypical modern Tide quarterback, and he deserves to be handled as such.

What's more: It worked! Sims looked markedly better once Alabama went to the no-huddle, especially in the red zone. He is adept at making quick decisions, and the fact that he is a redshirt senior helps in this regard. He is on precisely the same page as his teammates.

Coker did his best to catch up with Sims, but he only had one fall camp to Sims' five years. Communication and trust are the keys of a no-huddle offense, and if that's something Alabama wants to employ this season, Sims is the right guy for the job.

He proved that on Saturday night.

Grade: A-

 

The Mobility Factor

Sims made a few plays with his legs that the AJ McCarrons, Greg McElroys and Cokers of the world cannot make. He rushed six times for 42 yards, but more than that, he eluded multiple pass-rushers, extended multiple plays and always kept his eyes down the field.

He didn't throw a touchdown pass, but he completed a serviceable 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards—numbers that should have been even better if not for an egregious drop by Christion Jones on a broken-play heave down the field. That was one of many instances where Sims' nifty footwork created an opportunity out of nothing:

Forty-two yards does not jump off the page as a wildly successful running night. But Sims was at his best going east-to-west, shifting around or outside the pocket to elude pressure and buy time.

Especially behind a young offensive line that remains a work in progress, his ability to do that was invaluable.

Grade: A-

 

Pocket Passing

Pocket passing is the weakest part of Sims' game, and it looked that way on Saturday. He wasn't bad, by any stretch, but he wasn't as sharp on first-read throws as he was when he was moving around.

The interception he threw to Daryl Worley was ill-advised and gave West Virginia a pulse late in the game. The incompletion he threw to a wide-open DeAndrew White in the first half was painful to watch. There were places where his arm and his mind have to improve.

Alabama's offense has been among the best in the country these past few seasons, which makes a fundamental schematic change seem crazy. But Sims looked so much better in no-huddle and out-of-the-pocket situations than he did in, well, traditional-Alabama-quarterback situations that it almost has to be discussed.

"We'll certainly consider it," said Saban of running more no-huddle sets, per Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. "I think we will do what we think benefits our players the most."

If Sims is his quarterback, this is what benefits his players the most.

Grade: C-plus 

 

Finding Amari Cooper

Sims did make a few more traditionally impressive throws, showing decent arm strength to get the ball out to the sideline. He didn't force much but did a great job getting the ball to his best receiver, Amari Cooper, who finished with 12 catches for 130 yards.

On the heels of Cooper's "down" 2013 season, that was important. It was extra important given the struggles USC had getting the ball to Marqise Lee under then head coach Lane Kiffin in 2013.

Sims and Kiffin combined to get the ball into their best weapon's hands early and often, and that deserves to be commended.

Grade: B+

 

Overall

For the most part,  Sims did everything an Alabama quarterback needs to do.

He leaned on the two-headed monster of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry (40 carries, 239 yards, three touchdowns), and he made the defense pay when it bit too hard on run-fakes. He broke the school record for completions and attempts in a starting debut, and he did it without ever feeling overused.

"I didn't think about it too much," Sims said of the pressure that came with finally getting his first start. "I just went out there and played."

After overcoming early jitters, the looseness of Sims' game showed. That's why a B-plus for his first game seems the fairest grade. He didn't blow anybody away, but he wasn't asked to. He was asked to, well, "just go out there and play."

If he irons out the jagged edges of his throwing motion—the ones that led to ugly ducks such as the one he threw to White—Sims can start earning A's later on in the season. He won't be a Heisman finalist like McCarron, but that doesn't mean he can't do just as well at his job.

"Remember when Alabama had a quarterback competition?" asked Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee after the game. "That ended quickly."

For Sims, that means the mission was accomplished.

Overall Grade: B+

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Wisconsin Badgers Freshman Kicker Busts a Move After Hitting 51-Yard Field Goal

Wisconsin Badgers freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone nailed a 51-yard field goal vs. LSU in the first quarter on Saturday night, and the burly athlete decided to celebrate.

[Vine, h/t Next Impulse Sports]


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Cole Stoudt's Performance at UGA Creates More Questions Than Answers for Clemson

Entering Saturday’s much-anticipated season opener at Georgia, Clemson had questions about how it would replace Tajh Boyd in Chad Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

With good reason: Boyd (who was cut by the New York Jets Saturday) owns every significant career program passing record. He is the ACC’s all-time passing touchdown leader and No. 2 in career passing yards behind N.C. State’s Philip Rivers.

Clemson coaches expressed confidence in senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, who had spent his first three seasons on campus as Boyd’s backup. But the No. 16 Tigers’ 45-21 loss at No. 12 Georgia makes it clear: The Tigers haven’t answered their quarterback questions yet, and it’s not clear if they can do so with Stoudt under center.

Stoudt got off to a very strong start, leading Clemson to paydirt on his first drive. But he peaked in the first half and wore down after halftime. Following a 21-21 tie at the break, the Tigers were shut out while managing just 15 yards and no first downs in the second half.

Highly touted freshman quarterback DeShaun Watson—who accounted for more than 17,000 yards of total offense at Gainesville (Georgia) High, just down the road from Sanford Stadium—struggled in the second half but flashed his potential in his first collegiate series.

Clemson coaches said Watson would play against the Bulldogs, and he entered following three consecutive Stoudt-led three-and-outs.

He was very impressive, leading a quick six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown laser to sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams.

But Watson yielded to Stoudt on the next drive—and Stoudt led a touchdown drive of his own, a 10-play, 53-yard excursion that finished with C.J. Davidson’s one-yard touchdown run.

Clemson wouldn’t see the end zone again. The Bulldogs defense (which had questions of its own under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt) wore the Tigers down in the second half. In seven drives, Clemson’s offense gained a total of 15 yards.

While UGA junior tailback Todd Gurley (198 rushing yards, four total touchdowns) was impressive, the Tigers defense was worn down by the offense’s utter inefficiency. Clemson started only one of its seven second-half possessions beyond its own 17, and UGA started only two of its nine second-half possessions inside its own 33, with a pair in Clemson territory.

Stoudt completed 15 of 28 passes for 130 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Watson was 2-of-4 with 59 yards and a touchdown.

It’s fair to wonder how much Clemson missed NFL draft picks Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant as well as 1,000-yard rusher Rod McDowell. And the offensive line didn’t do the offense any favors after halftime, while the running game was so-so—Davidson led Clemson with 66 yards on 13 carries.

Clemson has some time to think about its quarterback situation with a showdown at Florida State still three weeks away. (South Carolina State visits next week, followed by an off-week Sept. 13.)

But if Chad Morris wants to find out what he has with Watson, an extended look might not be a bad idea. If Stoudt’s upside in the offense is what he displayed Saturday, Clemson has little to lose.

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Jeremy Pruitt Proves He Can Make Georgia Defense SEC Championship-Caliber

Of the many revelations from Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson on Saturday, one stood out: This Bulldog defense can be SEC Championship-caliber.

Yes, Todd Gurley is a Heisman Trophy candidate.  Sure, the special teams play was noticeably improved.  But the play of Georgia's defense—particularly in the second half—was the most pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs.

New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's unit started slow against a surprisingly potent 1-2 punch of Tiger quarterbacks, but halftime adjustments gave way to a havoc-wreaking, pressure-driven second half shutdown.

To be sure, mistake were made.  But quite encouragingly for Georgia fans, the lion's share of those missteps were made in the first half.  Accordingly, this game won't be remembered for missed tackles or an inability to locate the ball on deep passes.  Instead, Pruitt's first game at Georgia will be remembered for two scoreless quarters. 

After experiencing success and posting 21 points in the first half, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson (Clemson's two quarterbacks) were altogether unable to manufacture anything resembling a long drive after halftime.  Chaotic blitzing schemes dialed up by Pruitt and sound open-field tackling by the Bulldogs kept the Tigers from achieving first down yardage until the final play of the third quarter.

Surprisingly, Clemson did manage to complete several passes during that stretch, but marked improvements in wrapping up elusive receivers in the flats kept the Tigers in check.

In the fourth quarter, Pruitt didn't let up.  To the contrary, he ramped up pressure on the quarterback by relying on various zone blitzes and misdirection.  Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins showed signs of quarterback pursuit before dropping into coverage.  Their feigned attempts proved just enough to allow inside pressure from the likes of Amarlo Herrera to break through the line of scrimmage. 

Simultaneously, middle linebackers and even defensive backs would show blitz alignments before dropping back into coverage.  As a result, Floyd spent the bulk of the second half in the Tiger backfield.  His pressure—and that of the Bulldog front seven as a whole—was relentless.  More importantly, it was effective.

And yet, the individual achievements pale in comparison to the symbolic achievement of the win.  Sure, holding Clemson to just one first down in the second half was a noteworthy feat.  But more significant was the stark contrast of on-field production following halftime.

There were signs of promise early in the game.  The defense seemed to swarm the way fans expected a Pruitt-coached unit to do.  Walk-on redshirt freshman Aaron Davis, who was buried on the depth chart in 2013, made a first-half interception.  A variety of alignments were used to varying degrees of success.

But none of those hints prepared Georgia fans—or Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, for that matter—for what was to come in the game's final two quarters.  Pruitt's ability to tweak defensive packages and completely eliminate the demonstrated strengths of the Tigers' offensive attack while simultaneously patching up (or at least hiding) Georgia's biggest holes was inspiring for a young defense.  Furthermore, it was a welcome change from the coaching style of former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Grantham routinely stuck to his scheme and remained loyal to his personnel—even when success was limited.  Pruitt came ready to adjust anything and everything, and that's what was necessary to put together such a stellar performance on Saturday night.

That's also what it will take to compete for an SEC Championship.

Georgia's individual parts will improve on defense.  After all, Pruitt is an educator who likes to teach fundamentals, as he told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer earlier this month.  But he's already implementing championship-caliber in-game adjustments.  And that's an immeasurable step forward for this Georgia defense.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

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Derrick Henry Deserves to Be Lead Running Back in Nick Saban's System

Alabama clearly has an embarrassment of riches at running back, with Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon all set to dish out plenty of punishment to college defenses in 2014. The pair combined for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 33-23 victory over West Virginia University on Saturday.

Head coach Nick Saban always seems to have two exemplary running backs under his command to take turns mowing down opposing defenses. It's a strategy that has brought Alabama three national titles since 2009.

Based on the evidence from the victory over West Virginia, this trend is set to continue. It's a fine strategy that gives offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin plenty to work with, but the scheme would be at its best with the 6'3", 241-pound Henry, not Yeldon, in the lead role. 

This is to take nothing away from the extraordinary ability of running back T.J. Yeldon, but when you have a revolutionary combination of size and speed at running back, it's in the best interest of the team to make sure that force of nature is on the field as often as possible. Yeldon will still get his carries, but Henry should get the lion's share.

Henry has apparently already displaced Kenyan Drake, who tallied 694 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns in 2013 and yet carried the ball just three times for seven yards against West Virginia.

Jacksonville Jaguars radio play-by-play man Frank Frangie believes Henry is Alabama's best back:

It is still tempting to take the consistency of Yeldon, who carried the ball 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns against West Virginia, while continuing to utilize Henry as a freakish change-of-pace weapon—similar to the way UCLA used linebacker Myles Jack as a part-time halfback last season.

However, Henry doesn't have defensive responsibilities to worry about. He could easily be the throwback, workhorse rusher who can make mincemeat of college defenses behind a behemoth Crimson Tide offensive line. In fact, he already dresses the part of an old-school player, via Bleacher Report's own Barrett Sallee:

When—okay, if—Alabama fans think back to the disappointing Sugar Bowl defeat to Oklahoma last year, Henry is likely the only part of the contest they recall with any true fondness.

The then-freshman made a statement, putting up 161 yards of offense on just nine touches. It became increasingly clear he is a dynamic back just waiting to be unleashed.

Henry has the ability to make game-breaking plays at any moment with his athleticism, but those opportunities are mitigated if he isn't on the field enough. Henry needs to be in the game more often to best maximize his game-altering potential.

He also could be useful if Alabama speeds up its normally plodding offense. CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler noted that Saban sped up the team's offense in order to suit the needs of quarterback Blake Sims, a fifth-year senior making his first start for the Crimson Tide:

But then Saban had another thought. He told Kiffin to dial up a faster pace. 

Sims (24-of-33 for 250 yards and an interception) was at his best when the Tide offense fired off six plays in 1:27 to end the half, an average of 14.5 seconds per play, twice the per-play pace of the previous drive. 

During that span, Sims completed all four of his passes for 28 yards and ran for another 21 to set up a 41-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

If Alabama continues to utilize hurry-up packages, it could limit substitution opportunities in the backfield. Henry is the best fit for these situations with his ability to make big plays. If he's designated as the lead back, the Crimson Tide are more likely to have him on the field in these pivotal, fast-paced situations.

He showed off his ability to scamper down the sideline for big gains against West Virginia:

Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben watched Henry play and questioned the football legality of his presence on the gridiron:

The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is a non-factor in this contest. Henry had that 61-yard touchdown catch in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, but that was his first of the season. Yeldon tallied just 20 receptions in 2013, and had all of one catch for a single yard against the Mountaineers on Saturday.

Clearly, Henry would do well to refine this aspect of his game, but he could get into the flow of things if he sees more snaps. Yeldon hasn't set the bar very high in this aspect of the game, which should keep the opportunities coming for Henry as a possible decoy on obvious passing downs.

He also spoke about making a concerted effort to improve as a pass-blocker this offseason.

"I’ve just really been focusing in the meetings and in practice, making sure I’m paying attention to [pass blocking and picking up the blitz] because that’s really big in college," said Henry, via ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "There are a lot of defenses, different defenses, so you’ve got to know the blitzes if you want to play."

It would be tough to take away Yeldon's status as the top back at Alabama, but as the season wears on the Crimson Tide can use a rusher who will dish out plenty of punishment to tired defenses that may be quick to tip back on their heels with a rampaging rusher heading straight toward them.

Henry narrowly edges out Yeldon in this regard, although both backs will need plenty of carries for Alabama to pull out victories without a bona fide star—or even starter, for that matter—at quarterback.

Blake Sims was serviceable against West Virginia, and transfer signal-caller Jacob Coker is lurking in the background. But neither of those players will light up SEC defenses. That is a task designed specifically for Yeldon and Henry, but best left to the latter player.

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LSU's Anthony Jennings Finds Travin Dural for 80-Yard Touchdown vs. Wisconsin

The LSU Tigers were dealing with an early 10-point deficit on Saturday against the Wisconsin Badgers when quarterback Anthony Jennings stepped up big.

In the first quarter, Jennings found Travin Dural on a beautiful pass that resulted in a massive 80-yard touchdown on the very first play of the drive. The touchdown gave the Tigers their first points of the year, but they were still down 10-7 in the game.

[Twitter]

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Konrad Zagzebski Injury: Updates on Wisconsin DT's Status and Return

Wisconsin nose guard Konrad Zagzebski suffered what looked to be a head injury during the Badgers' Top-25 clash with LSU on Saturday.

Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal reported that the senior may have been kneed in the head while trying to bring down Tigers running back Kenny Hilliard:

Zagzebski was then stretchered off the field, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune:

ESPN.com had more details:

The senior had motion in his extremities -- he gave a thumbs-up sign as he was taken off the field -- and ESPN's Todd McShay reported that Zagzebski was accompanied by his father to Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more:

In his first three years at Madison, Zagzebski recorded 25 total tackles, including two tackles for loss. He'd carved out a role on the line at defensive end, but Badgers head coach Gary Andersen decided to move him inside for 2014, per ESPNWisconsin.com's Zach Heilprin:

I don't know if (Zagzebski) really does anything different at the nose guard position, but it's just the natural ability, and where those two kids are sitting in their progression in their college career. It's just the best spot for them to be at this point. (Zagzebski) excited about it.

Zagzebski's absence will leave a hole in the Wisconsin defensive line, but that certainly takes a back seat to his health at the moment. Watching a player carried off on a stretcher is never a good sign.

The team will be hopeful that the he'll make a full return at some point this year.

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Grading Performances of Suspended Notre Dame Players' Backups

SOUTH BEND, Indiana—Academic issues have surrounded Notre Dame football of late, with quarterback Everett Golson making his return and a quintet of players being held out of practice and competition.

And while Golson stole the show Saturday with 336 yards of total offense and five touchdowns (two passing, three rushing), it’s worth analyzing how Notre Dame fared without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams, linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy in its 48-17 demolition of Rice.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised his team’s resolve in focusing on the task at hand without those five.

“They have been really focused on their job and going out there,” Kelly said following the victory. “They have been really purposeful every single day. They have not been a distracted group and that says a lot about them. I've got good leaders, and I've got young guys that have really followed the lead here.”

We’ll take a look here at how the Irish replacements performed in place of Russell, Daniels and Williams. Moore was not expected to have a major role, and Notre Dame’s depth at safety mitigates Hardy’s absence.

 

Cole Luke and Devin Butler

The absence of Russell might be the biggest setback for the Irish, but cornerback is a deep position. Cody Riggs held down one side, and sophomore Cole Luke started on the other.

Luke tallied two tackles and a pass defensed, providing steady play. Notre Dame had some breakdowns in the secondary, but the majority of those were blunders by safeties.

Great close by Cole Luke to blow up that screen

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 30, 2014

Great coverage by Cole Luke, Jackson wanted to throw to Parks, but Luke had him locked down. Forced coverage sack

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 30, 2014

Fellow sophomore Devin Butler saw time in certain sub-packages. Butler’s biggest play was forcing a fumble by Rice wide receiver Cameron Decell late in the fourth quarter.

All things considered, Notre Dame held its own in the secondary without Russell. Riggs has become an even more important cog in the Irish defense now that he has been elevated to the top spot. If Riggs continues to play like a No. 1 corner and Luke and Butler continue to develop, the Irish can at least weather Russell’s absence.

Still, you don’t replace Russell.

Grade: B+

 

Receivers

It’s tough to pinpoint one wide receiver who stepped in for DaVaris Daniels. Kelly and Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have said since the spring that multiple wide receivers will be utilized as Notre Dame spreads the ball.

That balance and variety was evident Saturday, as four different Irish pass-catchers reached at least 50 yards receiving. Sophomore Will Fuller tallied four grabs for 85 yards—75 of which came on the first-quarter touchdown pass from Golson—to lead the group. Senior Amir Carlisle added two receptions for 54 yards, and junior C.J. Prosise hauled in the 53-yard touchdown strike with five seconds remaining in the first half.

“I don't think we are going to have one particular guy that's going to eat up all the catches,” Kelly said. “There's not one guy. It's going to spread all the way across the board. Everybody is going to get touches.”

While Daniels is likely Notre Dame’s most complete receiver, the Irish have an intriguing crop of youngsters. Kelly commended Fuller’s “elite” speed, junior Chris Brown’s reliability and sophomore Corey Robinson’s “great matchup” ability.

No one receiver can match Daniels’ package of skills, but Notre Dame should be able to get good performances from a host of targets.

Grade: A-

 

Isaac Rochell

Sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell didn’t boast an impressive stat line—one tackle—but he delivered a solid outing in place of Williams.

Kelly has raved about Rochell’s strength in recent weeks, and the second-year end mostly held the point of attack Saturday. “Isaac Rochell has been extremely physical and difficult to move with our offensive line,” Kelly said after the Rice game.

Asked if Notre Dame’s defense surprised him at all, Kelly lauded the line:

No, I thought as we progressed into camp and had settled into the past week or so, I like the physical play of our front four...I just really thought that we were going to be able to hold up very well, and Joe Schmidt with Jaylon [Smith] were outstanding. You've got those six guys; if they can hold up against the run, we're going to be from pretty good shape, and I thought that was going to be the case and it ended up being it today.

With more consistent play and continued development, Rochell can lessen the impact of the loss of Williams.

Grade: B

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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James Franklin Shows Joe Paterno-Style Football Never Coming Back to Penn State

What does new Penn State coach James Franklin have in common with Joe Paterno? Well, they both won their first game as head coach of the Nittany Lions. But the comparisons stop there.

That was made clear Saturday as Franklin bet all his chips on the arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and had his faith rewarded with a game-winning drive and the first 400-yard passing game in school history.

Playing in Dublin, Ireland, on a hacked-up rugby field, Hackenberg squeaked out a 26-24 victory over Central Florida while also closing the book on Penn State’s days as Linebacker U.

The bad news for Penn State fans is that if the Nittany Lions are to have more joyous days like this, it will all be on Hackenberg. Penn State rushed for only 57 yards on 28 totes, a 2.0 average.

But the great news for Penn State is that it appears Hackenberg has plenty more where this came from. He finished an eye-popping 32-of-47, for 454 yards, 114 more than he had ever amassed in a college game. Hackenberg probably established himself as the Big Ten’s best quarterback now that Ohio State has lost Braxton Miller to shoulder surgery.  At the very least, he is the most clutch. 

Down, 24-23, with just 1:13 left after a go-ahead UCF touchdown, Hackenberg directed a seven-play drive that moved Penn State from its 26-yard line to the UCF 19. Besides his throwing, Hackenberg also generated a crucial first down with an eight-yard run on fourth down.

That march positioned Sam Ficken for his fourth field goal of the day.

"There was only a minute or so left in the game, and I looked across the sideline and there wasn't doubt in anybody's eye,” Franklin said (via The Associated Press). “Everybody believed. They believed in Hack. They believed in Ficken."

And don't be surprised if Hackenberg enters conversations about being Penn State’s second-best quarterback ever before this season ends.

Right now, that top spot belongs to Kerry Collins, who threw for more than 40,000 NFL yards. But after that, Hackenberg is up against only the likes of Todd Blackledge, Michael Robinson, Chuck Fusina and a whole lot of other guys who millennials never heard of. They’re part of what largely was a no-name legacy of quarterbacks at Penn State under Paterno.

Paterno didn’t obsess over the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game quite as much as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, but he was always content to win without airing out his offensive attack.

That definitely won’t be the case for Franklin. And as the 42-year-old Pennsylvania native shoulders the task of cleansing his program of the remaining wreckage from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, he couldn’t ask for a better recruiting tool than Hackenberg.

His Saturday stats show Penn State is going to play 21st-century football. Despite entering the season without a proven go-to receiver, Hackenberg anointed two of them against UCF, hitting Geno Lewis with eight passes for 173 yards and finding DaeSean Hamilton for 11 catches and 165 yards. Lewis’ receptions included a 79-yard touchdown strike.

And Hackenberg’s big game can’t be diminished with any talk of opening against a so-so opponent, as so many teams do. UCF has nine defensive starters back from the team that went 12-1 last season, including the entire secondary, according to the Shannon Owens-Green of the Orlando Sentinel.

UCF also finished 26th in the initial Associated Press rankings and was 23rd in ESPN’s Power Rankings heading into the season.

According Mark Wogenrich of The Morning Call, Hackenberg is the youngest Penn State team captain in 70 years, one more sign that Franklin’s program is rapidly distancing itself from old-school mentality.

Wogenrich also points out that the 6’3” Hackenberg beefed up some in the offseason, to 234 pounds, in hopes of becoming “bulletproof.” As for his play-calling burdens, the difference between playing for Bill O’Brien last season and now is that Franklin’s system has more multiple sets and formations that call for quick shifts.

"He's pretty far ahead for a kid who is a true sophomore," Franklin told The Morning Call.

He's a conceptual learner, and that's the way I like to teach...When you bring in someone that runs a completely different system, that's hard, especially when a kid has had success in one and believes that's the right way to do it. But Hack has adjusted well.

While it’s too early to assess Franklin as a sure thing at Penn State, it is worth noting what has happened at his previous place of employment, Vanderbilt. In that school’s season opener, at home no less, Vandy was shelled, 37-7, by lowly regarded Temple.

That simply isn’t supposed to happen to a Southeastern Conference team. And if Vanderbilt’s fall continues, it will make Franklin’s three bowl games in three seasons with that traditional doormat look even more impressive. Before Franklin, Vanderbilt had never made it to bowl games in consecutive seasons.

Franklin also never had a household-name quarterback at Vanderbilt, unless you count Jordan Rodgers, who had a slight measure of fame for having a big brother in the NFL named Aaron.

But if Hackenberg keeps having Heisman-caliber games, Franklin will be able to make his case to the next generation of tier-one quarterbacks. And who knows? Linebacker U might even become Quarterback State.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Clemson vs. Georgia: Score and Twitter Reaction

For the second consecutive year, Clemson and Georgia battled in the first game of the 2014 season for both teams. Much like the 2013 version, the Tigers and Bulldogs put on an entertaining show, but this time it was the SEC team coming out on top, 45-21. 

This was a strange game to watch, as it turned into a tale of two halves. In the first half, both teams were lighting up the scoreboard, going into the break tied at 21. The second half turned into a defensive battle early before Georgia pulled away in the fourth quarter behind its power running game that finished with 328 of the team's 459 total yards. 

We've got all the details and instant reaction from Georgia's big win, but first here's a look at the scoring breakdown:

Since the conversation around this game is going to start with Georgia's running game, you have to begin with Todd Gurley. During some moments the Heisman hopeful seemed lost in the first half, only carrying the ball four times with five total touches. But when he did get the ball, it counted. 

In the first 30 minutes, Gurley had two touchdowns. One came on a 23-yard run in the first quarter to tie the game at seven. The second one came on a 100-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 21, embedded below. 

Gurley's dynamic performance in the first half prompted this response from Bleacher Report Lead College Football Writer Adam Kramer on Twitter:

As impressive as the first half was, even with a limited number of touches, Gurley was just getting started. Georgia head coach Mark Richt finally remembered what he had in the backfield, giving his horse exponentially more work in the second half. 

Needless to say, it paid off. Gurley finished with a career-high 198 rushing yards and ran for two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a blowout. Including his kickoff return (and a minus-five-yard reception) Gurley finished with 293 yards combined. Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com noted the similarities between the current running back and a former Georgia star:

Gurley may or may not end up being Herschel Walker, but Saturday was a clear statement to the rest of college football that he's a bad man. 

It wasn't all about the offense for Georgia, though. The Bulldogs defense kicked things into gear in the second half against Clemson quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson. Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd had a great game, particularly the fourth quarter with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Floyd seemed like he was on the cusp of a breakout season after a 2013 campaign that saw him record 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com before this game that his growth came from a poor freshman season:

I should be better than what I was as a freshman. I’ll do anything to make a play. I’ll run sideline to sideline 100 times just to make a play. I’m trying to be the best player possible, so I’ll do whatever it takes.

On the other side of the field, Clemson came out firing on all cylinders with a touchdown on its opening drive and some solid plays made by Stoudt in his first career start. ESPN's College GameDay Twitter account even noted that it was a perfect beginning for the Tigers:

However, when you are replacing all the talent Clemson has, there are going to be some growing pains. According to ESPNU's official Twitter feed, the Tigers entered 2014 without 73 percent of their offensive production from last season:

Eventually, the youth started to show, and Georgia's offense wore down the Tigers defense. Clemson had just 291 yards of total offense, including just 15 in the second half. All six of the Tigers' possessions in the final 30 minutes consisted of four plays or fewer. 

This was exactly the start that Georgia needed, especially coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season and considering it's breaking in Hutson Mason at quarterback. The running game was dominant, and the defense came out in full force when it needed to. 

Clemson deserves credit for sticking with a good team for 30 minutes, but Dabo Swinney's group had to play a perfect game to win with so many new pieces. It looked the part for a while, just not long enough. 

 

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