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Clemson ready for Top-5 showdown with Georgia

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 5:48 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 31, 2021 at 6:34 PM EDT
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CLEMSON, S.C. (WIS) - Clemson’s season opener features a pair of potential playoff teams.

Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney knows it’s rare to kick off a season with this type of high-level matchup. For only the fourth time this century, two top-five programs clash in an opener when (3)Clemson plays (5)Georgia in Charlotte. It’s exciting and provides great intrigue.

“This is a big boy football game right out of the gate,” said Swinney.

The Tigers and Bulldogs enter with the second and third best odds respectively to win the national title—two talented programs vying to claim a signature victory to start a championship drive.

“It’s a tough matchup, and there’s a lot to learn about your team,” added Swinney.

Neither will be declared a national champion by winning Saturday. So, win or lose the opener, playing a great opponent in the opener provides the best opportunity to improve quickly.

“You’ll come out of the game with a lot to work on,” Swinney said. “Whether you win it or lose it, there will be a lot to work on with this team. Where do we need to improve technically? Where do we need to improve fundamentally? Where do we need to improve mentally?”

Of course, winning the opener is the goal every year. Against Georgia, tackling will be key.

“Haven’t tackled in a year, outside of two days, where you’ve really tackled,” Swinney mentioned. “And now you got to go out and tackle at an incredibly high level to be successful. The margin for error in a game like this is very small.”

Even so, defensively, Dabo feels good about how his team tackled and played the ball during the preseason. Of course, camp is a tad different than playing an opponent.

“Add another level: excitement and energy and the magnitude of a game like this. That’s going to be key.”

Georgia won that last showdown between the two back in 2014, 45-21. As the two rekindle their rivalry, field position could be a key factor if the Tigers want to come out as the victors on Saturday.

“You just know there’s going to be some mistakes and adversity along the way,” Swinney said. “Field position is one of those hidden things within the game that can certainly be an advantage or disadvantage.”

Dabo understands how special it is for Clemson to play Georgia. He recalled back in 2009, his first full year on the job, people were asking him about playing Georgia in 2013. He was trying to keep a job, not look into the future.

That story serves as a reminder heading into this week how fun a battle Clemson-Georgia will be.

“I remember it vividly,” Swinney said. “I don’t even know if I’m going to be the head coach or alive in 2013. I’m just trying to survive ‘09.”

“There’s a tradition there and history that both sides have a lot of respect.”

This top-five battle is set for 7:30 pm on Saturday from Charlotte.

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