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UGA faces big test against Clemson’s big, physical receivers

Despite Clemson having lost its top two receivers from last year—Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell, each of whom was selected in the most recent NFL Draft—it arguably has the top receiving corps in the country entering the 2021 campaign. After Rodgers and Powell, the Tigers essentially return everyone else in the unit from last season, along with preseason All-American Justyn Ross.

According to Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, not only are Clemson’s wideouts adept at receiving the ball, but the group is as big and physical as they come.

“That is definitely a strong group. They are big, they are physical,” Smart said of Clemson’s receivers following Tuesday’s practice. “They do a very good job going up and getting the ball. … They are a matchup problem…Their guys are 210, 220 [pounds].”

Before missing last season with an injury, Clemson’s Ross combined to total 1,865 receiving yards and 17 touchdown receptions as a freshman and sophomore. Other Tiger wideouts who will likely see their share of snaps this Saturday against Georgia include juniors Frank Ladson (18 receptions for 281 yards in 2020) and Joseph Ngata (7-83) and sophomores E.J. Williams (24-306) and Brannon Spector (16-136). Of the five Clemson receivers mentioned, all but Spector stand at least 6-foot-3 in height and all but Spector and Williams weight at least 205 pounds.

According to Georgia’s Ameer Speed, a fifth-year defensive back, the Tigers’ receiving unit is indeed big and physical. Still, the Bulldogs have a couple of larger-sized cornerbacks who will be covering the sizable wideouts.

“They have a very big set of physical wideouts, but we’re looking forward to that,” Speed said of Clemson. “We’re planning on all of us using our size and ability to match and play their receivers the best we can.”

Speed, a possible starter who only saw 39 snaps on defense last season, is Georgia’s largest cornerback at 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds. He is followed by redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo, who is 6-foot-2 and 205. Other cornerbacks Derion Kendrick, Jalen Kimber, Kamari Lassiter, and Nyland Green are all listed at 6-foot-0 or 6-foot-1.

According to Speed, the Georgia cornerbacks adjust their “approach and mindset” for each opposing receiver, whether physically big or small.

“When it comes to big receivers, you have to be more heavy, you have to be more physical,” Speed said. “[Clemson’s receivers] are big, but we’re big. So, there could be a lot of contact. Knowing the type of ball they want to throw to bigger receivers should help us and allow us to play better.”

According to Smart, Georgia is just as concerned about the blocking by Clemson’s large receivers as their ability to go up and gather passes. In fact, to simulate the size of the Tigers’ wideouts, the Bulldogs have pitted its cornerbacks in practice against the team’s tight ends. It’s the unit’s ability to go up for 50-50 balls, but primarily its blocking on the perimeter, which concerns Smart the most regarding Clemson’s hefty receiving corps.

“The thing that concerns you is 50-50 balls and blocking on the perimeter. That’s critical to be able to block on the perimeter,” Smart said. “Getting on and off blocks, it’s critical to every football game, but it’s really critical to this game…You’ve got to be able to tackle and get off blocks. Those big [Clemson receivers] make that hard to do.”

Cornerback Ameer Speed (photo courtesy of Tony Walsh of UGA Sports Comm.).
Cornerback Ameer Speed (photo courtesy of Tony Walsh of UGA Sports Comm.).