• No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 16 Clemson
• Stanford Stadium
• Saturday, 5:30
• ESPN & 102.3 FM
ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia's focus has shifted from preseason optimism to Saturday's opening challenge against visiting Clemson.
Yet plans for another record-setting offense remain.
The Bulldogs set a program record in 2012 by amassing 6,547 yards, and their 484.2 yards per game last year resulted in another school standard. In the past two seasons combined, Georgia has tallied a whopping 130 touchdowns.
"Obviously we've got a lot of the same guys that we broke those records with," junior tailback Todd Gurley said Tuesday. "Hopefully we have gotten better than the past two years. We're definitely a lot smarter and know a lot more than we did my freshman and sophomore years, so I think we have the potential to break more records than we did in the past."
Gurley has compiled 2,932 rushing and receiving yards the past two seasons and has been a major reason for Georgia's offensive explosiveness, but so was former quarterback Aaron Murray. In his four seasons as the starter, Murray set Southeastern Conference records for career passing yards (13,166) and career passing touchdowns (121).
Murray had his memorable college stint cut short by a knee injury last November against Kentucky, which allowed current fifth-year senior Hutson Mason to get a couple of sooner-than-expected starts.
"When you lose a guy as prolific as Aaron, there is a little bit of concern," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said earlier this month, "but I'm very confident in Hutson and the experience he got last year. We're going to set goals and try to reach them every week, but at the end of the day, we would be happy to win games 10-7.
"We all want to score points and set records, but we want to win football games and try to get back to Atlanta [for the SEC championship game]."
Mason got his first career start in the regular-season finale at Georgia Tech, where he helped lead the Bulldogs from a 20-0 deficit to a 41-34 double-overtime triumph. His second start wasn't as memorable, as the Bulldogs sloshed through a 24-19 Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.
When the No. 12 Bulldogs face the No. 16 Tigers in a rematch of Clemson's 38-35 victory last season in Death Valley, it will be Mason's first start in Sanford Stadium.
"It's important to me, because for five years it's been a dream of mine," Mason said. "As a student, you go across that North Campus bridge and dream of hearing your name called in Sanford Stadium. It means a lot, especially being an in-state kid."
Mason will be working behind an offensive line that will have only center David Andrews in the same starting position from when last season ended. John Theus has shifted from right to left tackle and can expect an immediate challenge from menacing Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, while guards Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow will be first-time starters.
The Bulldogs will not have deep-threat receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley against the Tigers but do have the veteran tandem of Michael Bennett and Chris Conley. Sophomore Reggie Davis is the top long-range threat for now, while tight end will have a new look following Arthur Lynch's departure, whether it's Jay Rome coming off a foot injury or Quayvon Hicks, who also will play some fullback.
It's an offense that isn't without questions, but it's also one that expects to maintain a high level of play.
"We have that capability when we're fully healthy," Mason said. "Records will come with it if you prepare and execute, but at the end of the day, I don't care if we throw for 100 yards as long as we win the game."
Said Bennett: "I think our offense still has the potential to put up crazy numbers and put up a lot of points. We definitely have the talent. I think we'll be all right."
Georgia's offensive productivity the past two seasons coincided with the maturity of Bobo as a play-caller and Murray as a quarterback. It also coincided with the arrival of Gurley, who is eager to atone for an injury-hampered sophomore season.
"He ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run on us, and we didn't have anybody who could catch him," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "The combination that he has of size and strength and speed is very rare."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...