In the first Top-10 matchup of the college football season, No. 8 Clemson was able to outlast No. 5 Georgia, 38-35, in a scintillating, back-and-forth battle.
Before the game even started, it featured a fantastic entrance by Clemson as captured by ESPN:
The game boasted an incredible amount of offensive talent on both of the teams, but in the end, the trio of Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell and Sammy Watkins was enough for the Tigers to get a massive August win in front of a raucous home crowd at Memorial Stadium.
Clemson's win is its 2nd straight over a top-10 SEC team after beating 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 1, 2013
After a three-and-out from each team to start the game, it started to look like we were headed for a defensive battle.
That notion couldn't have been more wrong.
On the Tigers' second drive of the game, Boyd and McDowell drove down the field on a decisive nine-play, 76-yard march that ended in a four-yard run for the dynamic QB.
Raising a few eyebrows, he celebrated with what appeared to be a nod to polarizing quarterback Johnny Manziel's similar "money fingers" celebration from earlier on Saturday:
It took Georgia 12 seconds to even the score, however, as supremely talented sophomore running back Todd Gurley took the next play from scrimmage 75 yards for the score, showcasing some blazing speed:
Not to be outdone, Clemson's Sammy Watkins—once again, on the very next play from scrimmage—took a short pass from Boyd and turned it into a 77-yard touchdown reception:
Just like that, three plays, three touchdowns and two unbelievable displays of talent
The Bulldogs responded with two straight methodical drives—one that went 75 yards and ended with a four-yard touchdown run by Keith Marshall, and one 97-yard drive that started and ended with fullback Quayvon Hicks.
After a series of punts, though, Clemson's Stephone Anthony broke through for a sack and forced Aaron Murray to cough it up, setting up the Tigers in an ideal position on Georgia's 16 yard line.
Boyd took care of the rest, running four times and eventually scoring from two yards out to lock things up at 21.
Murray would throw an interception to 270-pound defensive end Corey Crawford on the next series, but the game would still enter halftime with the score tied.
After a nightmarish series to start the second half for Georgia, Boyd once again took over, leading a seven-play, 55-yard touchdown drive in less than two minutes, this time through the air. He completed five-of-six passes on the drive for 55 yards, including a beautiful 31-yard strike to Zac Brooks for the touchdown that had seemingly everyone impressed, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:
Tajh Boyd. First round quarterback.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 1, 2013
As was only typical in this thriller of game, Georgia came right back. After Murray completed a couple of passes to move the Bulldogs down the field, Gurley—you know, the same guy who put his jaw-dropping speed on display earlier in the game—made a slick cut and barreled his way through a couple of tacklers, showcasing some impressive power and burst on a 12-yard touchdown run.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah summed up the sophomore's tantalizing skill set pretty well:
Gurley is a monster.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 1, 2013
Todd Gurley is 50% Jamal Lewis and 50% Marshawn Lynch.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 1, 2013
Down the stretch, however, Dabo Swinney's squad made the crucial, game-winning plays.
After Chandler Catanzaro put the Tigers ahead by three with a chip shot, Clemson got a massive goal-line stop and forced two more punts, setting up another Boyd touchdown throw—this time a nine-yard toss to Stanton Seckinger—to take a 38-28 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Murray led a late drive and capped it with a short touchdown run to make things interesting, but the Tigers recovered the ensuing onside kick to secure the victory.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: A
He was a little inaccurate early in the game, but Boyd quickly settled in and started stringing together completions, extending plays with his athletic ability and impressing with some NFL-quality throws.
In the end, the senior completed 18-of-30 passes for 270 yards, three scores and zero interceptions. He also added 42 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a true playmaking performance.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: A
After breaking off an electrifying 75-yard touchdown score, Gurley was forced back to the locker room with an injury.
But he came back out and didn't miss a beat, showing an unreal combination of speed, agility and strength en route to 12 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Sorry, SEC, but this athletic, dynamic, forceful 230-pound freak of nature is just a true sophomore, meaning he has at least two seasons left at this level.
Player of the Game for Clemson?
Clemson Defense: C+
Give the Tigers defense some credit.
They gave up 544 total yards and 35 points, sure, but they forced two turnovers and with a three point lead in the third quarter, they got a crucial goal-line stop against one of the best rushing teams in America—a massive stand that set the tone for the rest of the game.
When you have an offense as explosive as Clemson's, a bend-but-don't-break defense can work.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: B
It was a so-so performance for the preseason All-SEC First Team QB.
On the one hand, he completed a very impressive 20-of-29 passes for 323 yards and, for the most part, looked accurate and sharp throwing the ball.
On the other, he had two turnovers (one interception, one fumble) and seemed to struggle with the noisy Clemson crowd, as Miller and ESPN's Todd McShay pointed out:
Aaron Murray is struggling with pressure, noise and time management. Odd from a senior quarterback.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 1, 2013
@KirkHerbstreit is dead on re:Murray and play clock. Shocking for such an experienced signal caller.— Todd McShay (@McShay13) September 1, 2013
Murray wasn't bad by any means, but he could have been better in the loss.