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
“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
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.