For the second consecutive year, Clemson and Georgia battled in the first game of the 2014 season for both teams. Much like the 2013 version, the Tigers and Bulldogs put on an entertaining show, but this time it was the SEC team coming out on top, 45-21.
This was a strange game to watch, as it turned into a tale of two halves. In the first half, both teams were lighting up the scoreboard, going into the break tied at 21. The second half turned into a defensive battle early before Georgia pulled away in the fourth quarter behind its power running game that finished with 328 of the team's 459 total yards.
We've got all the details and instant reaction from Georgia's big win, but first here's a look at the scoring breakdown:
|Team||1st Quarter||2nd Quarter||3rd Quarter||4th Quarter||Final|
Since the conversation around this game is going to start with Georgia's running game, you have to begin with Todd Gurley. During some moments the Heisman hopeful seemed lost in the first half, only carrying the ball four times with five total touches. But when he did get the ball, it counted.
In the first 30 minutes, Gurley had two touchdowns. One came on a 23-yard run in the first quarter to tie the game at seven. The second one came on a 100-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 21, embedded below.
Gurley's dynamic performance in the first half prompted this response from Bleacher Report Lead College Football Writer Adam Kramer on Twitter:
I want to own an NFL team just so I can draft Todd Gurley. We don’t need any other picks or even actual games. Just Gurley.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) August 30, 2014
As impressive as the first half was, even with a limited number of touches, Gurley was just getting started. Georgia head coach Mark Richt finally remembered what he had in the backfield, giving his horse exponentially more work in the second half.
Needless to say, it paid off. Gurley finished with a career-high 198 rushing yards and ran for two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a blowout. Including his kickoff return (and a minus-five-yard reception) Gurley finished with 293 yards combined. Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com noted the similarities between the current running back and a former Georgia star:
THEORY: Georgia is using Herschel Walker as some kind of running back stud horse.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) August 31, 2014
Gurley may or may not end up being Herschel Walker, but Saturday was a clear statement to the rest of college football that he's a bad man.
Who will win the 2014 Heisman?
It wasn't all about the offense for Georgia, though. The Bulldogs defense kicked things into gear in the second half against Clemson quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson. Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd had a great game, particularly the fourth quarter with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Floyd seemed like he was on the cusp of a breakout season after a 2013 campaign that saw him record 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com before this game that his growth came from a poor freshman season:
I should be better than what I was as a freshman. I’ll do anything to make a play. I’ll run sideline to sideline 100 times just to make a play. I’m trying to be the best player possible, so I’ll do whatever it takes.
On the other side of the field, Clemson came out firing on all cylinders with a touchdown on its opening drive and some solid plays made by Stoudt in his first career start. ESPN's College GameDay Twitter account even noted that it was a perfect beginning for the Tigers:
Dabo couldn’t have asked for a better start. Tigers go 12 plays, 70 yards and punch it in on 4 and goal. #CLEMvsUGA— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) August 30, 2014
However, when you are replacing all the talent Clemson has, there are going to be some growing pains. According to ESPNU's official Twitter feed, the Tigers entered 2014 without 73 percent of their offensive production from last season:
Eventually, the youth started to show, and Georgia's offense wore down the Tigers defense. Clemson had just 291 yards of total offense, including just 15 in the second half. All six of the Tigers' possessions in the final 30 minutes consisted of four plays or fewer.
This was exactly the start that Georgia needed, especially coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season and considering it's breaking in Hutson Mason at quarterback. The running game was dominant, and the defense came out in full force when it needed to.
Clemson deserves credit for sticking with a good team for 30 minutes, but Dabo Swinney's group had to play a perfect game to win with so many new pieces. It looked the part for a while, just not long enough.
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