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Georgia Bulldogs have high expectations for season, opener

Georgia coach Mark Richt will lead the No. 12 Bulldogs against Clemson today in a non-conference game at Stanford Stadium. (Jeff Hurndon Photography)

Georgia coach Mark Richt will lead the No. 12 Bulldogs against Clemson today in a non-conference game at Stanford Stadium. (Jeff Hurndon Photography)

Clemson at Georgia

When, where: 5:30 p.m. at Stanford Stadium, Athens

TV: ESPN

Records, rankings: Season opener for both team. Georgia is ranked No. 12 in coaches poll

Last meeting: Clemson won 38-35

Series record: Georgia leads 41-18-4

What to look for: 1. How well does Georgia offensive line does in protecting Hutson Mason. 2. Can Georgia contain Clemson’s speedy receivers. 3. Bulldogs running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall

ATHENS — There is a new guy under center and someone different calling the defensive shots this season at Georgia.

How well both of them do could go a long way in deciding what type of season the Bulldogs will have this year.

Life without four-year starter and record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray at quarterback will begin on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium in Athens.

Fifth-year senior Hutson Mason has inherited the job and looks to keep the Bulldogs in contention for the SEC East title. Mason is 1-1 as a starter for the Bulldogs after replacing Murray when he went down with an injury late last season.

Now, he must get the job down on a full-time basis if No. 12 Georgia is going to climb into the national championship picture.

To help take some of the pressure off of Mason, the Bulldogs boast one of the best running back tandems in the country. Georgia is led by junior tailback Todd Gurley, who is a Heisman Trophy candidate, and junior tailback Keith Marshall is back healthy after tearing his ACL last season.

Georgia faces a challenging test in opening the season against Clemson. The following week, the Bulldogs are idle before making the trek to South Carolina in their SEC opener. South Carolina lost to Texas A&M on Thursday night at home.

For now, Georgia is strictly focused on Clemson.

“I am also looking forward to our fans wearing red and getting after it and creating enough noise that we can hopefully disrupt some of the things they are trying to do offensively,” Georgia coach Mark Richt told Reuters. “It is going to take everybody, and our fans are going to be a huge part of it.”

This is the second straight year Georgia and Clemson will open the season against each other. The Tigers prevailed last year with a 38-35 victory while Georgia won 31-28 in the last matchup between the teams in Athens. Georgia is 20-2 against Clemson at Stanford Stadium.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has expressed a desire to make the rivalry an annual occurrence.

“Personally I wish we played Georgia and South Carolina every year,” Swinney told Reuters. “It would just make life easy — not competitively, but it would make life easy from a scheduling standpoint, and it would be great for our fans. That would be my preference.”

All eyes will be on the Bulldogs defense, which features new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who won national championships at Alabama and most recently Florida State last season.

“He’s a very demanding coach,” Richt said. “He’s definitely got a plan. I think he’s a very good teacher and communicator. He’s driven to have a great defense and over time he’ll do a phenomenal job.”

Two former Southern Crescent players will play a big part on the Bulldogs defensive this season. Former North Clayton standout Amarlo Herrera will be starting full-time for the second straight season at inside linebacker. He was third in the SEC in tackles last season with 112 to go with one interception.

Former Luella standout Aaron Davis earned a starting spot in the secondary after walking on this spring. He was considered a major college prospect in high school, but two knee injuries turn several colleges away.