As far as Tajh Boyd is concerned, Clemson’s victory against Georgia wasn’t a statement as much as a step toward much greater goals.
Boyd threw three touchdown passes and ran for two others as Clemson defeated No. 5 Georgia 38-35 on Saturday night. It was the Tigers second straight win over a top-10 opponent from the Southeastern Conference. While the victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl left Clemson with a strong finish to last season, this win over gave the Tigers a strong start on what they hope is a special season.
"I think it was a good win," Boyd said. "Nothing that we didn’t expect as a program, but it turned a lot of heads in college football."
Especially if Boyd and the Tigers keep playing this well.
Boyd matched Georgia when Clemson’s defense struggled early on. When the Tigers turned up the pressure on Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray, Boyd made Georgia pay.
The Tigers took the lead for good on Chandler Catanzaro’s 24-yard field goal in the third quarter. Boyd pushed the margin to 38-28 in the final quarter with an 87-yard drive that ended with tight end Stanton Seckinger tip-toeing the sideline on a 9-yard TD pass.
"In games like this, it’s always five or six plays that you’ve got to make. And we did," Swinney said.
Murray was sacked four times by Clemson’s defense, considered one of the team’s biggest question marks.
Boyd also had a 77-yard TD pass to Sammy Watkins and a 24-yard scoring throw to Zac Brooks. Boyd added touchdown runs of 4 and 2 yards to win the lone matchup of top-10 teams in college football’s opening weekend.
It lived up to the billing, a back-and-forth classic that should vault Boyd to the top of the Heisman watch lists and get Clemson into the top five of the rankings. Boyd kept Georgia’s defense on its heels all game.
"He never rattled. He never shook. His ability to run the football made us successful," Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
Georgia had a chip-shot try for a tying kick on its next possession after Catanzaro’s go-ahead field goal, but couldn’t get if off because of a low snap by Nathan Theus.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He was slowed by a quad injury, coach Mark Richt said, after his early 75-yard touchdown run.
While Boyd soared, Murray struggled to move the Bulldogs when it counted most. He led a 64-yard, hurry up drive in the final quarter and his 1-yard TD run cut a 10-point lead to 38-35 with 1:19 left. But Clemson recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to end Georgia’s five-game series win streak.
The teams open the 2014 season in Athens.
Watkins had six catches for 127 yards while Rod McDowell finished with 132 yards on the ground in his first game replacing 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington.
Murray completed 20 of 29 passes for 323 yards. But threw an interception and was constantly chased around by Clemson’s lightly regarded defense. The victory gives the Tigers back-to-back wins over power schools from the Southeastern Conference following the 25-24 win over LSU at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last New Year’s Eve.
Tiger fans chanted "A-C-C, A-C-C," after time ran out.
Boyd was the star of that bowl, too, the game’s MVP. Coach Dabo Swinney declared his group a national championship team moments after the win.
Boyd was all but certain to give up his senior season for the NFL but chose to return, he said, for the chance to win games like this. The Tigers don’t have a lot of stumbling blocks in their schedule — they play South Carolina State of the FCS next week — and might not be truly tested until Florida State plays here on Oct. 19.
Clemson pulled out the stops in the weekend’s only showdown of top 10 teams. ESPN’s College GameDay came to campus and the university inducted fan hero Danny Ford — he coached the Tigers to the 1981 national championship — into its Ring of Honor on the facing of the football stadium.
Both teams spent the past eight months hearing about each other and were jacked up from the start as Georgia’s players ran through their sidelines and down toward Memorial Stadium’s hill, yelling at the Tigers as they ran onto the field.
Coaches and officials stepped between to make sure things didn’t go any further.
Early on, it looked like the high-flying, Techmo Bowl matchup everyone expected as Georgia and Clemson used big plays to get in the end zone. Boyd had passes of 17 yards to Seckinger and 25 to Charone Peake to set up his 4-yard scoring run.
Moments later, Gurley flashed through the Clemson defensive line for a 75-yard touchdown. Seconds after that it was Sammy Watkins turn as he grabbed Boyd’s pass and raced for a 77-yard TD of his own.
Murray took control the next two times Georgia had the ball, and Keith Marshall’s 4-yard run made it 14-all.
Murray was 3-of-3 passing when the Bulldogs got the ball again and Quayvon Hicks finished the 97-yard drive with a 1-yard power rush for Georgia’s first lead, 21-14.
Clemson’s defense kicked in midway through the second quarter, Vic Beasley sacking Murray to end one drive and linebacker Stephone Anthony jarring the ball loose on Georgia’s following possession deep in Bulldogs territory.
Boyd ran for 10 yards on the scoring drive, finishing it with a 2-yard run as he stretched the ball over the goal line to make it 21-all.
The Bulldogs lost last year’s second leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a knee injury early in the game when he celebrated Gurley’s scoring run, according to Richt.
Georgia has rebounded from early season losses before, two years ago advancing to the SEC title game after starting the season 0-2. The Bulldogs open SEC play next Saturday against No. 6 South Carolina.
"It’s huge," said Murray. "We’ve got to get the win."