Often it takes a team some time to establish championship credentials once a new season gets underway.
Clemson did it in 60 minutes.
The No. 8 Tigers upset No. 5 Georgia 38-35 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, a signature win that helped Dabo Swinney’s club get the full attention of the college football world. Combined with its Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over No. 9 LSU last December, Clemson is now the only non-SEC school to beat Top 10-ranked SEC teams in back-to-back games.
Swinney is quick to point out that Saturday’s conquest was a big step, but only the first step in a fresh campaign.
Yet the coach has plenty of reason to brag on his charges.
“It was a really great win,” Swinney said on Sunday. “We made some really big mistakes in all areas but we made some huge plays in all areas. It was a great team win. The team was ready for the moment. Proud of the staff and the heart and toughness the players played with all night.
“It’s something to teach and learn from. It’s a great start and gave us some early momentum early in the season.”
A national television audience got to see a fun and frenzied affair under the lights, with the teams swapping punches from wire to wire and the outcome hanging in the balance until almost the very end.
On the other hand the bulk of the 83,000-plus fans in attendance were more interested in seeing a Clemson team show up and show off on a big stage, led by a quarterback who thrived in the primetime spotlight.
Tajh Boyd’s numbers were outstanding — he hit 18 of 30 passes for 270 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for two TDs.
Beyond that the senior signal caller took the fight to a Georgia defense that was able to track him down and sack him only once.
No. 10 had poise in the pocket and beyond.
Boyd admitted after the game he wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Top 10 matchup, but he was prepared regardless of how it played out.
“We kind of knew what the situation would be,” he said. “I kind of took it in two different ways, either this game is going to be a tight one or all around it’s not going to be as close as people think it was. Again, it was a little tight throughout the game, but that’s what we play for. This team is a veteran team. We’ve been in every situation you could possibly imagine.”
Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins was certainly impressed with the opposing quarterback.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Tajh, he made a lot of big plays,” Jenkins said. “They used a lot of motion mixed with quick passes. A lot of times they blocked us with double-teams. I think I had a fullback, tackle and a tight end blocking me at one point. But we can’t use that as an excuse.
“We needed to have a better pass rush, and I don’t think we did a good job with that.”
Boyd said the ups and downs the Tigers have experienced during his time in Clemson have prepared the team for any situation.
“We’ve been down 18.” He said. “We’ve been up and lost. We just got absolutely blew out. It’s situations like these where you know what type of team you have. You know what type of players you have surrounding you and you know that they’ll leave everything out there on that field.
“That’s just what I expected from my team (Saturday).”
He got it.
The offense rolled up 467 yards and had just one turnover. And the hosts were limited to just 38 yards in penalties (on five flags) while Georgia racked up 84 backward yards.
The defense was lit up for 545 yards and gave up several big plays — but it also came up with stops and forced turnovers at key times.
In the final analysis all that mattered was what showed up on the scoreboard, and the Tigers had three more points than the Dawgs.
“Clemson is coming and this right here really stamps it forward,” said running back Rod McDowell, who had 132 rushing yards on 22 carries against UGA. “There is more games to come. We just can’t say, ‘Okay, we beat Georgia, now everything else is easy now.’ Every day we have to come to play.”
Next up is a 12:30 p.m. home game against Football Championship Subdivision foe South Carolina State on Saturday.
“(Beating Georgia) was the first goal but there are a lot more to go,” Swinney said. “Now the goal is to be better next Saturday than last Saturday.”