A very different tone in the importance of the Georgia – Clemson game compared to last season, when national title implications seemed to be on the line. In 2014, it’s a bit mulled down, but it didn’t stop the game from being a huge showcase of supreme talent, as Todd Gurley became a one-man wrecking crew with his running, leading the Bulldogs to a 45-21 win.
Georgia had two problems last season that derailed their campaign and hopes: Injuries, and losing too many players on defense. This season comes with a new quarterback, Senior Huston Mason, who at least didn’t make any mistakes, completing 18-of-26 for 131 yards, and didn’t get in the way of Gurley and the ground game, gaining 328 yards on 41 carries, most of it coming in the second half.
Clemson had things going well for them through the first two quarters, also playing with a new quarterback in Cole Stoudt, another senior that suddenly has a chance to get some meaningful playing time. Freshman Deshaun Watson took very few snaps for Clemson, but he threw their only touchdown pass, an accurate ball between two players into the hands of Charone Peake. Stoudt was intercepted once and completed 15-of-28 passes.
The first half ended in a 21-21 tie for the second consecutive season between the teams. Gurley scored one rushing touchdown and another through a 100-yard kickoff return, reminding some of the days when he was a sub 11-second 100 meter sprinter, which obviously is an ability that hasn’t disappeared. It’s his second career return for a touchdown over that distance. The Junior finished the game with 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns, two of them coming in the second half, and just under 300 all-purpose yards for his team, as his only reception took his team back five yards.
Nick Schubb also scored a rushing touchdown in the second half, which was all Georgia, scoring 24 unanswered points. Even with 293 all-purpose yards, Gurley set a new school record, breaking Rodney Hampton’s record of 290 from 1987. Gurley is also the first FBS player with three rushing touchdowns and another return score against a ranked opponent since Maurice Drew of UCLA in 2005, playing against California.
If Clemson needed proof this season is going to be a tough one coming off winning the Orange Bowl, their visit to Athens was probably enough. Florida State are hosting them in three weeks, and that’s not going to be any easier. For Georgia, the SEC East and maybe the entire conference seems a lot more open and possibly easy to tread through than in years past, and if they can get their passing game in sync with a monstrous rushing game, some great things can be made of this season.