CHARLOTTE — Clemson dropped its heavyweight fight with Georgia, 10-3, on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium. Here are four moments that went a long way toward deciding the outcome, a turning point and a telling stat from the Tigers’ loss.
- Clemson’s offense spent most of the first half backed up deep in its own territory, but the Tigers had some of their best field position of the half when Will Spiers’ punt late in the second quarter bounced off Georgia running back Kendall Milton’s foot. The Tigers recovered the loose ball to give it back to their offense at midfield, but Clemson’s momentum didn’t last long. Five plays later, Christopher Smith jumped D.J. Uiagalelei’s pass intended for Justyn Ross and outraced the Tigers’ offense 74 yards for a pick-six, breaking a scoreless tie with 2 minutes, 58 seconds left before halftime.
- The Tigers had a chance to grab the momentum in the second half with the first possession out of the locker room. Clemson drove into Georgia territory with help of an 11-yard connection between Uiagalelei and Joseph Ngata, but third-and-long was a predicament the Tigers found themselves in too often. The Bulldogs brought a blitz on Clemson’s next third down, and linebacker Nakobe Dean powered through a block to drop Uiagalelei for an 8-yard loss — Georgia’s third sack at the time — and halt one of the Tigers’ more promising drives.
- Baylon Spector set Clemson’s offense up with what was easily its best starting field position of the night when he intercepted J.T. Daniels along the sideline at Georgia’s 36-yard line midway through the third quarter. But with the Tigers’ offensive line struggling to handle the Bulldogs’ defensive front, Clemson went backward from there. Back-to-back sacks pushed the Tigers out of field-goal range and thwarted the best chance the Tigers had all night to draw even.
- Clemson’s offense put together its longest drive of the night with an 82-yard march that ended with B.T Potter’s 22-yard field goal with 9:02 left, and a timely play by cornerback Andrew Booth helped the Tigers hold onto their momentum in a one-possession game. With Georgia facing third-and-4 from its own 31, the Bulldogs tried to get running back James Cook in space with a swing pass from Daniels. But Booth quickly read the play and upended Cook for a 3-yard loss to get the ball back to Clemson’s offense with less than 8 minutes to play with the Tigers trailing 10-3.
Clemson faced fourth-and-5 at Georgia’s 45 with still more than 5 minutes left. The Tigers had all three timeouts in a 10-3 game, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney rolled the dice instead of punting. The gamble didn’t pay off. Uiagalelei was pressured and threw high of E.J. Williams over the middle for an incompletion. Clemson’s offense never got the ball back as Georgia pounded away at the Tigers’ defense the rest of the way, using nine straight runs on its final possession before getting in the victory formation to milk the rest of the clock.
2 rushing yards. Clemson was going to need to incorporate some semblance of balance into the offense to keep Georgia’s defense honest, but that never happened. Instead, on a night the Bulldogs’ defensive front dominated, the Tigers had the fourth-worst rushing performance in the 126-year history of their program. Seven sacks played into that, but the Tigers’ running backs combined for just nine carries. The average on those? 2.6 yards. And Clemson didn’t have a run longer than 10 yards.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!