Christopher Smith returned a 74-yard interception for a touchdown and Georgia, No.5, put in a defensive effort for the ages, knocking down third-place Clemson 10-3 on Saturday in the opener for both teams.
The Bulldogs held the Tigers 2 yards down and sacked DJ Uiagalelei seven times to position himself for a college football playoff run.
Uiagalelei, who entered the season as a Heisman Trophy contender, finished 19 of 37 for 178 yards with an interception. He threw snaps around, was out of sync with his receivers, and spent most of the day under heavy strain against a relentless Bulldogs run.
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Even when Georgia returned the ball, the Tigers couldn’t take advantage of it.
With Clemson down 7-0 in the third quarter, Baylon Specter appeared to give the Tigers the boost they needed when he intercepted JT Daniels’ pass at Georgia 33. But after a short win on the first down, Uiagalelei was sacked on consecutive games and Clemson was forced to kick.
Clemson did not score until 9:08 of the end of the game when a 44-yard reception by Joseph Ngata and a defensive pass interference penalty allowed BT Potter to score a 22-yard field goal, helping the Tigers to avoid their first shutout since 2003.
Although they were outplayed the entire game, the Tigers had a chance to level with 7:35 to go when they took over at their own 25. The Tigers would reach midfield and Dabo Swinney went on. in fourth and 5, only to see Uiagalelei’s rushed pass fall incomplete.
From there, the Bulldogs ran out of time.
The Georgian defense, which dominated the line of scrimmage, set the tone early on, with Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean registering third down sacks on Clemson’s first two possessions.
In a defensive-dominated first half – and some pretty impressive punts – it was only fitting that the only score came when Smith jumped past a pass from Uiagalelei intended for Justyn Ross and ran 74 yards all the way to the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead at halftime.
Former Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No.1 pick in the NFL draft in April, makes a surprise appearance at the match. Lawrence will begin his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars on September 12 when they open the season against the Houston Texans.
Georgia will jump into the top four, and possibly the top three after the Oklahoma No.2 struggled to beat Tulane. Clemson could exit the top five after being limited to 180 yards.
TO TAKE AWAY
Georgia: Defense is going to be a force to be reckoned with. He held Clemson 2 yards down and had seven sacks, barely giving Uiagalelei a chance to settle in the pocket. It is perhaps the best defense in the country.
Clemson: One of the concerns early in the game was how the Tigers were going to replace running back Travis Etienne’s production. Tigers running backs Kobe Pace and Will Shipley combined for just 14 yards on eight carries. On the other hand, Clemson’s defense is solid, holding Georgia to just three points.
Georgia: hosts Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.
Clemson: Welcomes the State of South Carolina on Saturday.