Tigers top Dawgs in a thriller, 38-35

Cat-and-dog fight at Death Valley lives up to its billing as No. 8 Clemson edges No. 5 Georgia

Clemson's Dabo Swinney celebrates Clemson's Stanton Seckinger's touchdown during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Dabo Swinney celebrates Clemson's Stanton Seckinger's touchdown during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

Back and forth, side to side, one big volley followed by one big return — with some grinding thrown in for good measure.

The U.S. Open?

Maybe. But it better describes Clemson vs. Georgia on Saturday — watched by 83,800 fans whose heads needed to be on a swivel to keep up.

And after a long night at Memorial Stadium that featured 1,012 yards of offense (545 by the visitors) and enough big plays to stock a highlight reel, it was Clemson that claimed the game, set and Top 10 matchup by a 38-35 count.

Magical Night in the Valley

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“This was a great win,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “This was a gutsy win. The character and the toughness that our guys showed tonight was something special. We were ready to go. We knew this was going to be a slugfest for four quarters.”

The combined point total was a record in the infrequent series, which last saw Clemson win in 1990.

With nothing settled at the half and the score standing at 21-all, Clemson wore Georgia down and ultimately wore the Bulldogs out in the final 30 minutes.

Leading 31-28, Stanton Seckinger caught a 9-yard scoring pass from Tajh Boyd with 7:40 to go that helped seal the deal.

Georgia added a touchdown with 1:19 showing on the game clock, but an onside kick wound up in the paws of the Tigers and this one was history.

“Clemson is a very good football team,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They did what they had to do to win the football game. Tajh had a good game and Sammy (Watkins) did his thing.”

The QB battle between Boyd and UGA’s Aaron Murray was clearly won by the signal caller wearing orange.

Boyd finished 18-30-0 for three touchdowns and 270 yards while Murray was 20-29-1 for 323 yards and no scores. He also fumbled the ball away, leading to a Clemson TD.

“I think it was a good win,” Boyd said. “Nothing that we didn't expect as a program but I think it turned a lot of heads in the college football world. It was a very monumental win for this university, for the program, for this conference in general.

“We've just got to keep working and keep our eyes on the prize. This is only the first win. We've got 11 games left. We've got to continue to keep working.”

In the third stanza Clemson regained its edge when Zac Brooks caught a 31-yard TD pass from Boyd at 10:58 of the third, capping off a seven play, 55-yard drive. It was Brooks’ first touchdown as a collegian.

Bulldog rusher Todd Gurley, who gained 154 yards on the night, went 12 yards for the equalizer, breaking several tackles along the way to highlight a seven play, 75-yard trip.

“I thought Gurley played a great game and ran the ball hard,” Richt said. “Unfortunately he strained his quad and wasn’t as effective as he was at the beginning of the game.”

But Chandler Catanzaro put the Tigers back on top, 31-28, when he drilled a 24-yard field goal at 4:46.

Georgia would later botch a potential game-tying field goal, and trailed the rest of the night.

The Tigers struck first in the renewal of the rivalry, hurrying their way 76 yards for a tally at 9:29 of the opening quarter.

Clemson moved nine plays in 2:48, getting on the scoreboard when Boyd called his own number on a 2nd-and-goal play from the 4.

Boyd, who accounted for his 90th career score, scooted into the end zone through the left side.

Catanzaro kicked it to 7-0.

Georgia answered the challenge in 11 seconds.

Gurley took a handoff on a first down play at the 25 and turned on the jets, racing around right end for a 75-yard TD that was a career long for the sophomore.

Patrick Beless made it 7-all with the extra point.

Back came Clemson.

Watkins reeled in a pass from Boyd and turned it into a 77-yard touchdown at the 8:58 mark of the first frame, and another PAT made the score 14-7.

The pay dirt strike accounted for career bests for both the QB and wideout.

Naturally, the Bulldogs responded — even though it took a while.

Scrimmaging from its 25, UGA chipped away at the Clemson defense, mixing up the run and pass to methodically march down to the 4.

From there Marshall got the call, bulling his way across the stripe at 4:12.

The drive used up 4:46 and took 11 plays, and the kick evened this one up again at 14 apiece.

The Dawgs gained their first edge of the night when they broke the Tigers’ serve.

Clemson was forced into a rare punt and Georgia took advantage of it, venturing 97 yards in 10 plays for a TD with 13:00 remaining in the third quarter.

Fullback Quayvon Hicks sparked the drive with a 37-yard up the middle to start things off and ended it with a 1-yard run.

Murray hit Rantavious Wooten on a 33-yard pass to set the table for the 1st-and-goal situation, and the PAT had the visitors in front, 21-14.

Finally, the defense made an appearance and came up with a big play.

With the Bulldogs facing a 3rd-and-5 from their 20 Murray was pressured and tried to get away from CU linebacker Stephone Anthony.

He couldn’t do it, and after Anthony knocked the ball loose LB Spencer Shuey gobbled it up, putting the Tigers in business at the UGA 16.

Five plays later Boyd was in the end zone after a 2-yard tote, and with 3:51 left before the break it was 21-21.

The teams swapped turnovers as the last two-plus minutes of the first half ticked away, and headed to the locker room all square.

“The little things won the game for us,” Swinney said.” Our effort and intensity was awesome. This was a good start to the season. We accomplished our first goal – win the opener. We need to get better. I’m proud of this team and our fans. This was a magical day. The energy all day was incredible and it was capped off by a special night. We’re going to celebrate this win today and refocus tomorrow. Our goal is to get better by next week”

Watkins: Tiger fans made day special

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Roderick McDowell racked up 132 yards on 22 carries for Clemson and Watkins finished with 127 yards on six catches.

The Tiger “D” was paced by Shuey’s 12 tackles (five solo) with Robert Smith and Anthony adding seven each.

Anthony had a sack to go with his forced fumble.

Michael Bennett was the top pass-catcher for UGA with five catches for 60 yards.

Inside linebacker Ramik Wilson recorded 13 tackles for the Bulldog, while inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera had 12 tackles (eight unassisted).

UGA had nine penalties for 84 yards.

“Our biggest challenge was dealing with the crowd noise and penalties,” Murray said. “We killed ourselves with penalties tonight.”

Clemson returns to action next Saturday when South Carolina State comes to Memorial Stadium for a 12:30 p.m. start, while UGA hosts South Carolina at 4:30 p.m.

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Comments » 7

TrevorT writes:

"pulling a Clemson" (new definition) (v): Beating a top ten ranked SEC team, leaving their quarterback with grass stains all over his butt.

rsb8931#286014 writes:

Georgia's running game is scary. After that 97 yard drive they had I thought they had us. The sign of a championship team is how well do they handle adversity. If that's true, we aren't going to have any problems this season because we had plenty of adversity last night and kept coming back. Generally speaking, you get better as the weeks go by. We were a real good team last night, but how much better are or can we get? There's no telling what we will all be talking about this Christmas. Before the big bowl games. I do think we have some promise. I can't wait for the season to progress and see how well we do play some of these games. Georgia was scary and we found a way to beat them. We were good last night and that had a lot to do with it. They were good, too, but we were a little bit better and we won because of it.

brookesdad729 writes:

in response to rsb8931#286014:

Georgia's running game is scary. After that 97 yard drive they had I thought they had us. The sign of a championship team is how well do they handle adversity. If that's true, we aren't going to have any problems this season because we had plenty of adversity last night and kept coming back. Generally speaking, you get better as the weeks go by. We were a real good team last night, but how much better are or can we get? There's no telling what we will all be talking about this Christmas. Before the big bowl games. I do think we have some promise. I can't wait for the season to progress and see how well we do play some of these games. Georgia was scary and we found a way to beat them. We were good last night and that had a lot to do with it. They were good, too, but we were a little bit better and we won because of it.

Great game and a quality win! I believe also that we will get better as the year progresses! Overall, I give it a B+ to A- and that's because the defense gave up too many big plays and missed a lot of tackles. I don't know how in the world they missed that fake punt though. I was screaming at the TV before they even lined up but they converted and consequently scored off of it but we got the win and that's all that matters right now! Murray found himself on the ground a few times last night for sure! Go Tigers!

TigerNE writes:

It was exciting to see that the defense could and did shift gears and start to control the line. I don't know if they will see backs like Gurley or Hicks again in this season. You give them the eye of a needle open and they are off and running. We contained Marshall pretty well a number of times.

Now that defense just needs to prove they can step up when needed in key games this season and fix letting a good QB find holes in coverage too often like Murray did, and FSU and SCar will be winnable.

clmtgr92 writes:

It was a great win, but there is still lots to fix. The non-Sammy WR have to stop dropping passes. The LBs have to cover the middle better. I do like the way the defensive line played overall. A slow start, but then they attacked like they had a chip on their shoulder.
Hod Rod and Pinion were my MVPs. When was the last time you watched a Clemson football game and the opponent had ZERO kick off returns? That was huge.

Xander5000 writes:

AWESOME! AWESOME! AWESOME! Got to hold on to those passes. Sammy may not be as suited to return punts. Defense will have to work on clogging up the middle of the secondary and wrap up ball carriers. Other than that awesome game, awesome crowd, and awesome win. Lets keep it going.

AFTiger87 writes:

in response to clmtgr92:

It was a great win, but there is still lots to fix. The non-Sammy WR have to stop dropping passes. The LBs have to cover the middle better. I do like the way the defensive line played overall. A slow start, but then they attacked like they had a chip on their shoulder.
Hod Rod and Pinion were my MVPs. When was the last time you watched a Clemson football game and the opponent had ZERO kick off returns? That was huge.

There were a few dropped passes, but if you look at it it wasn't b/c they just dropped them. One of Charone's was punched out at the last sec. I think Charone will now pull the ball down with two hands instead of just one and tuck. Bryant had one or two that were dropped on the transition to the tuck, and that is a fundamental thing. That is all stuff that be easily corrected and I believe it will, but there were a few that should've been caught. Just think what the score could have been had there not been a couple of drops.

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