CLEMSON, S.C. -- Let’s take a look at five factors to consider in Georgia's 38-35 loss at Clemson on Saturday, and let's look ahead as well.
1. Injuries hurt Bulldogs: Georgia rolled up 35 points and outgained Clemson 545 yards to 467. It did so without All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley available for a chunk of the game and also without receiver Malcolm Mitchell for nearly the entire game.
Not that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt was willing to use that as an excuse afterward.
“Moving the ball’s fun and all that, but winning the game’s what it’s about,” Richt said. “We’re not going to celebrate that.”
Gurley and Marshall actually sustained their injuries on the same play, with potentially devastating effects for the Bulldogs. Gurley strained his quad while completing a 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and then Mitchell suffered a right knee injury during the post-touchdown celebration.
“He got hurt after Gurley scored and in the end zone, [Mitchell] jumped up to celebrate with him,” Richt said. “When he came down, he hurt his knee.”
Richt was unsure about the status of either player for next Saturday’s South Carolina game, although he said of Mitchell’s injury that “I’ve got a feeling his might be worse than Todd’s.”
2. Gurley still runs tough: Despite the injury, Gurley returned to the game -- to his coach’s surprise -- and ran effectively in the second half.
“I really was surprised he came back into the game to be honest with you,” Richt said. “He came back earlier in the game after that and just was not effective at all. He came back later in the game and was able to do a little bit more of what Todd is capable of.”
After rushing four times for 81 yards in the first half, Gurley carried eight times for 73 more yards after intermission, finishing with 154 yards and two touchdowns. And he did much of that damage on runs between the tackles.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Gurley ran 11 times for 142 on designed runs between the tackles, including three runs of 10 yards or more. Unfortunately for Georgia, the rest of the Bulldogs ran 19 times for 75 yards on between-the-tackles runs, with only 14 coming in the second half (2.0 ypc).
3. Young defense struggles: Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said afterward that he was pleased with the effort shown by the many newbies in his lineup, but lamented that many of their mistakes -- such as missed tackles and a blown coverage on a wheel route -- were typical of inexperienced players.
Perhaps the most costly missed tackle came in the first quarter when Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins broke away from Damian Swann’s tackle attempt and went 77 yards for a touchdown. But that wasn’t the only example.
ESPN Stats and Information reports that Watkins accounted for 102 yards after the catch against Georgia -- the third-best YAC game of his career trailing the 137 and 105 he posted against Auburn and Florida State, respectively, in 2011.
4. Murray’s turnovers costly: Georgia raced up and down the field in the first quarter, but a number of protection issues hurt the Bulldogs and quarterback Aaron Murray in the second.
Clemson accounted for three of its four sacks in the second quarter alone -- and one of them led to a Tigers touchdown. Stephone Anthony knocked the ball away from Murray at the Georgia 20 and Spencer Shuey recovered at the 16. Five plays later, the Tigers scored a touchdown to make it 21-all.
“The fumble was unfortunate,” Richt said. “We’ve got to squeeze the ball better. That was a tough turnover right there, and it cost us a short field and seven points.”
Georgia was soon in prime scoring position after Justin Scott-Wesley recovered a Watkins punt fumble at the Clemson 30, but Tigers defensive end Corey Crawford surprised Murray by dropping into coverage and picking off Murray’s first-down pass at the 17.
Richt credited Clemson and Crawford for a good play call and an outstanding play on the interception.
Clemson punted after the second Murray turnover, but the Tigers had stifled one of the Bulldogs’ best scoring opportunities of the quarter.
“As [Murray] let the ball loose, he didn’t see the guy on the back side -- and off of a play fake … it’s not like you dropped back in the pocket and can see the whole field. So he just did a good job of being in the right spot and made a nice catch.”
5. Win no longer probable after botched FG: This season ESPN is introducing a number of new methods of statistically analyzing the sport -- one of which measures win probability through the course of the game.
Find an explanation of the set of new metrics here:
Clemson held the advantage for most of the game, although Georgia became the more likely victor -- with a 53-percent likelihood of victory -- late in the third quarter when it trailed 31-28 and earned first-and-goal at the Clemson 5. When the Bulldogs failed to reach the end zone after three straight runs, their win probability dropped to 40 percent. And when holder Adam Erickson couldn’t corral Nathan Theus’ high snap on a potential 20-yard, game-tying field goal, Georgia’s chances for victory dropped to 30 percent.
Georgia trimmed Clemson’s lead to three points late in the final period, but that missed opportunity late in the third was the Bulldogs’ best chance to seize the game, according to ESPN’s new metric.