CLEMSON, S.C.‚Äî Lifting the lid on its season against a top-10 opponent certainly brought Georgia plenty of attention again this year, but again the Bulldogs couldn‚Äôt translate it into victory.
Fifth-ranked Georgia didn‚Äôt quite measure up against a formidable foe in another opener, losing 38-35 to No. 8 Clemson before a sold-out crowd of 83,830 in Memorial Stadium and in front of a national television audience on ABC.
It was a disappointing result for the Bulldogs just like high-profile first games against No. 5 Boise State in 2011 and No. 9 Oklahoma State in 2009.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt see anybody in there ready to jump off a bridge or anything,‚Äù Georgia coach Mark Richt said after emerging from the postgame locker room. ‚ÄúI think they all know that happens in football. If you play a really good football team you could get beat and if you do, then you move on and you continue to play well and get better and make corrections. We‚Äôre still learning a lot about this team.‚Äù
Georgia and Clemson, returning explosive offenses and having suspect defenses, provided plenty of scoring and a compelling game until the end.
‚ÄúThis was a great win, this was a gutsy win,‚Äù Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ‚ÄúWe knew this was going to be a slugfest for four quarters. ‚Ä¶We stood them up in the trenches when we needed to, we got stops when we needed to and we ran the ball when we needed to.‚Äù
Clemson snapped a five-game losing streak to Georgia going back to 1990 and Richt lost for the first time in 12 games to the Tigers, including nine games as a Florida State assistant coach.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs very disappointing, but that‚Äôs football,‚Äù Georgia receiver Justin Scott-Wesley said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a game of inches. We didn‚Äôt come up with the win, but we know what it takes to be great.‚Äù
Clemson knocked off another top-10 ranked SEC team after upsetting LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season.
‚ÄúPeople are going to feel like the season‚Äôs lost but it‚Äôs not,‚Äù offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got a lot of football to play. We‚Äôve got to regroup because we‚Äôve got a very good team coming into our place next Saturday.‚Äù
That would be No. 6 South Carolina, but on this Saturday night college football got what it expected.
The teams traded touchdowns on four straight possessions in the first half and the first quarter total offensive stats showed Georgia with 218 and Clemson 179.
Georgia, which started three true freshmen on its overhauled defense, couldn‚Äôt stop Clemson junior wideout Sammy Watkins, who had six catches for 127 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter when Damian Swann missed on a chance to tackle Watkins and he was gone.
‚ÄúThe difference was we gave up too many easy points on a missed tackle, wheel routes, eyes were not where they needed to be,‚Äù defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. ‚ÄúThe teams we‚Äôre getting ready to play don‚Äôt really care if we‚Äôre freshmen or not.‚Äù
Eighth-ranked Clemson‚Äôs offense kept going. No. 5 Georgia, which lost receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a knee injury that could keep him out against South Carolina and perhaps longer, couldn‚Äôt keep pace until the Bulldogs drove and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Aaron Murray with 1:19 remaining and pulled within a field goal.
Murray completed 20 of 29 passes for 323 yards. He was sacked four times, lost a fumble that led to a Clemson touchdown and threw a second-quarter interception when Georgia had the ball at the Clemson 30. Georgia was penalized nine times for 84 yards.
‚ÄúWe kind of hit a little bit of a lull there, but they adjusted defensively and made some plays,‚Äù Bobo said.
‚ÄúWhen we got some stops in a game of two pretty darn good offensive football teams, you‚Äôve got to find a way to get the lead when you get the chance,‚Äù Richt said.
It was the most points combined in the 63 meetings between the schools.
Georgia outgained Clemson 545-467 in total yards.
¬†‚ÄúMoving the ball‚Äôs fun and all that, but winning the game is what it‚Äôs about,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not going to celebrate that.‚Äù
Gurley rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard scamper to get the scoring going for Georgia but he injured a quadricep on the play and was limited to just 12 carries in the game. Mitchell got hurt on the play when he jumped up to celebrate and came down on the knee, Richt said.
Gurley‚Äôs 12-yard touchdown run with 7:41 left in the third quarter tied the game but Clemson went back ahead 31-28 on a 24-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro.
Georgia, which led 21-14 after a Quayvon Hicks 1-yard, second-quarter touchdown run, had a chance to tie the game for a fifth time on a chip-shot field goal in the third quarter.
Patrick Beless, in for the suspended Marshall Morgan who missed the game after a boating under the influence arrest, never got the kick off.
Nathan Theus‚Äô high snap wasn‚Äôt cleanly handled. Holder Adam Erickson smothered the ball and Georgia got nothing after having having first down at the 5-yard-line.
The second half for Georgia began with a delay of game penalty and a holding call, and the Bulldogs faced a third-and-25 from its own 3.
After Georgia punted, quarterback Tajh Boyd (18 of 30 for 270 yards with three touchdowns) hit Zac Brooks for a 31-yard touchdown. Boyd later added a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Stanton Seckinger for a 38-28 lead with 7:40 to play. He was called out at the 2 but replay reversed it.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of football left,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúWe didn‚Äôt get it done today. We‚Äôve got to learn from that and move on.‚Äù