ALDLAND kicked off the 2013 college football season with a bang, as I joined Magalan and commodawg on the ground in Clemson, South Carolina for the weekend’s feature matchup, and the site of ESPN’s College Gameday: Georgia vs. Clemson.
It was a non-conference game– Ole Miss and Vanderbilt may have played the only in-conference game in week one– but it was one of substantial consequence as both teams were ranked in the top ten, and both teams have returning senior quarterbacks with national championship aspirations. On paper, this probably was the biggest game of the first three weeks of the season (with an honorable mention to Alabama-Texas A&M in week three). Given the teams’ subsequent schedules, the result of this game would have a greater bearing on Clemson’s fortunes than Georgia’s, but that’s only a relative statement: this was a big game for both teams.
The game lived up to its hype. Each team’s stars shined brightly. In the end, Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley couldn’t keep pace with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and the Dawgs failed on a field-goal attempt that was the difference in the final score.
There was more bad news for Georgia: Gurley was limited by a thigh injury, and top receiver Malcolm Mitchell is out for the year after damaging his ACL while celebrating a Gurley touchdown run.
For Clemson, they’ll enter week two as the #4 team in the AP poll, where they also received one first-place vote, but it’s not a bed of lilies for these Tigers. Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris is ticked at his starting quarterback, saying, “We can play faster. Tajh slowed us down a whole bunch. That was some of our biggest downfalls.” The pace thing might not seem like that big of a deal in the afterglow of a big win, but anyone who saw Florida State’s performance in their win over Pittsburgh knows that Clemson will need to operate at a high rate of speed to defeat their only worthy ACC foe this October. (From the last game of the weekend to the first, we also saw that South Carolina, Clemson’s final regular-season opponent, can be susceptible to a speedy offense as well.)
Attending this game required me to make my first-ever entry into the state of South Carolina, and in my roughly twenty-four hours there, I found it to be a pleasant place with pleasant highway rest stops and people. As we approached campus, I was expecting a big tailgating scene, but I still was impressed at the breadth of its geographical footprint. Clemson doesn’t have the sprawling parking lots of Ann Arbor or the choked downtown (that we saw) of Athens. It’s hilly, rural country, and atop every hill and tucked in every dale were happy tailgaters enjoying an increasingly sweaty afternoon. There weren’t many direct paths to anything– we were fortunate to have had an experienced guide with us– and we regularly encountered small, roving bands of fans traveling overland to destinations not quite precisely defined. In some sense, it all was like the physically projected manifestation of the tailgater’s mind, and it was great. By one estimate, there were 200,000 fans on hand for the day’s festivities.
Unlike the rah-rah timbre that might have been present elsewhere at a pregame environment prior to a tilt of this magnitude, everything at Clemson (or, “Clempson,” as I was taught on Saturday) was noticeably laid back. That’s not to say there wasn’t deeply abiding emotion present, because there was, and that was detectable too. It simply tended to present itself in a more muted fashion.
By gametime, though, the home crowd was fully revved up and ready to go bonkers, which they did when they released a cloud of orange balloons and welcomed their team into (college football’s original) Death Valley. Without tickets, we watched the game from a satellite television perched in the trunk of a jeep located a fifteen-second downhill sprint from the stadium. The crowd (and a group of uphill tailgaters with a better TV feed) previewed every major play by a few seconds.
As an outsider on his first visit, the only real conflict I met was the steady visual inundation of silent arguments for the proposition that orange and purple are colors that go together in equal measure. I’m not sure I was convinced, but I’d like to go back again in the hopes of understanding it all a little better.
For more on the other games around the country from college football’s opening weekend, listen to the latest episode of the ALDLAND Podcast, where you’ll also find previews of next week’s biggest games. (We also have things to say about Johnny Manziel here, here, and here.) And keep it here all week as ALDLAND looks to start the season 2/2 on ESPN College Gameday matchups, with Brendan and Physguy set to be in Ann Arbor this Saturday night.