On a night when Georgia’s young defense showed its inexperience, it was mistakes by the offense that led to the Bulldogs coming up short against the Clemson Tigers by a score of 38-35 on Saturday.
Tajh Boyd masterfully maneuvered the Clemson offense as the Tigers racked up nearly 500 yards in total offense. The senior quarterback had a hand in all five of Clemson’s touchdowns, as he accounted for two on the ground and three through the air.
Georgia moved the ball with success as well, but ultimately the Dawgs made too many errors to defeat a Top 10 team on the road. Aaron Murray lost a fumble deep in Georgia territory that led to a 16-yard Clemson scoring drive in the second quarter. A few moments later, Murray threw an interception and squandered the good field position that a Clemson muffed punt had provided the Bulldogs.
Georgia’s miscues were not limited to turnovers. A bad snap on a field goal inside the 10-yard line proved to be the mathematical difference in the game, as the Bulldogs came up just three points short.
The Georgia offensive line, which remained intact from a year ago, was plagued by penalties and missed blocks for much of the night. Murray had very little time to pass, particularly late in the second half, and several long runs by Todd Gurley were negated by holding and chop block calls.
The mental errors were only exacerbated by injuries. Gurley missed a large portion of the first half with a leg injury. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was lost with a knee injury early in the game.
While the season opening loss may hearken feelings of early losses to the likes of Boise State and South Carolina, this team is still very much within reach of its ultimate goal. Two years ago, Georgia opened 0-2 with losses to Boise State and South Carolina before rallying to win 10 straight games and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. Last year, a lopsided loss to South Carolina proved to be nothing more than a speed bump, as the Dawgs cruised to another SEC East crown.
Clemson is a tremendous football team that was aided by a raucous home crowd. And despite losing the turnover battle, committing more than twice as many yards' worth of penalties and losing several stars to injury, Georgia pushed the Tigers to their limit.
Looking forward, Georgia must regroup for conference play and shift its focus to returning to the SEC Championship Game for a third consecutive year. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, this game has no bearing on that outcome other than to highlight a few areas of needed improvement.
Next week Georgia gets a tough South Carolina team, but Georgia gets the Gamecocks within the cozy confines of Sanford Stadium. Georgia’s young defense will face a talented offense, albeit one that largely lacks the explosiveness of Clemson. And a veteran offense will get a chance to play a more disciplined game.