ABC and Clemson got what they wanted. Georgia clearly did not.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs played their part in the offensive showdown that everybody predicted. But Georgia lost two offensive starters for much of the game, briefly forgot how to protect both the passer and the football and the No. 8 Tigers roared past for a 38-35 victory.
The 73 most points were the most scored in the 73-game series that began in 1897, and it was the Tigers’ first win in their past five games against Georgia. Their fans rushed the field after the game.
“This was a great win; this was a gutsy win,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “… We finally got to them in the second half and wore them down in the trenches.”
It will get no easier for Georgia next week. The Bulldogs (0-1) play host to No. 7 South Carolina (1-0) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Gamecocks, who are expected to move up in the rankings released Sunday, have beaten Georgia three years in a row.
“I don’t see anybody in there ready to jump off a bridge or anything like that,” coach Mark Richt said after leaving the Georgia locker room underneath Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. “That’s what happens sometimes when you play a good football team. We’ll get some firepower back next week.
The Bulldogs lost tailback Todd Gurley and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on the same play. Gurley strained a thigh muscle on a 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and Mitchell aggravated a right knee injury when he leaped in the air celebrate with Gurley in the end zone.
Mitchell never returned. Gurley came back to rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns. But he finished with only 12 carries and missed long stretches of the second and third quarters.
“I was really surprised he came back,” Richt said of Gurley. As for Mitchell, he said, “it’s sad we didn’t have the part of the game Malcolm brings to us.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offensive stars never left the game. Quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns, passing for three and a total of passed for 270 yards. Sammy Watkins had six catches for 127 yards and a score and tailback Roderick McDowell ran for 132 yards on 22 carries. That and a raucous Memorial Stadium was the edge they needed.
Nevertheless, the Bulldogs still had a chance to win the game. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray scored on a 1-yard run with 1:19 remaining to get the Bulldogs within three points. But the onside kick attempted by Adam Erickson was corralled by Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, and the Tigers were able to run out the clock.
It was somewhat ironic that the Bulldogs would lose by a field goal. They were playing without sophomore kicker Marshall Morgan, who was suspended for the game because of an alcohol-related arrest this summer. Walk-on Patrick Beless of Atlanta filled in, but he never got to attempt the only field-goal try of his career. The snap from Nathan Theus was high, and the holder Erickson fell down trying to handle it.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had 323 yards on 20-of-29 passing, but was undone by a fumble and an interception. He was sacked five times, twice by Georgian Vic Beasley.
With the score 21-21 to start the second half, Clemson surged ahead on its first possession, after the Tigers’ defense pushed back Georgia’s offense 19 yards to open the third quarter. They took over at midfield and went 55 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 35-yard pass from Boyd to Zac Brooks to go ahead 28-21.
Gurley, out since the first half with a thigh injury, came back in to finish off a 75-yard drive, scoring on a 12-yard run to tie the game at 28. As it turned out, that would be the Bulldogs’ last score of the game.
Known for its hurry-up offense, the Tigers got insurance on a 12-play, 87-yard drive that included two third-down conversions and chewed up 4:23 of clock. It ended with a 9-yard touchdown catch by tight end Stanton Seckinger that gave Clemson a 38-28 lead with 7:40 to play.
Georgia looked as if it would answer again with a 23-yard run by Gurley to midfield on the ensuing possession. But a costly holding penalty negated another first-down run by Gurley, and the Bulldogs had to punt the ball away.
“We’ve got 11 more to go,” sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I feel like we played pretty well at times, and I’m glad the freshmen got this one under their belts. Nobody likes to lose, but they know what it’s to play football in college. I still feel like we’ve got so much potential. There’s a lot we can take from this and get better the rest of the season.”