CLEMSON, S.C. – Once again, the Georgia football team failed on a national stage.
It was not a spectacular failure this time, not a blowout. It was a game that was there for the taking. But Georgia, a team with national title aspirations, just didn’t look the part in a season-opening 38-35 defeat at No. 8 Clemson.
It played out much as expected, a shoot-out between two strong offenses. Clemson’s was as strong as expected, while Georgia faltered at the wrong times and was undone by some key, glaring mistakes:
- A fumble deep in its own territory that set up a Clemson touchdown.
- An interaction in Clemson territory, the first play after the Tigers’ only turnover of the game. (A muffed punt return.)
- A high snap negating what would have been a game-tying chip-shot field goal.
That last one loomed the largest, the final margin after Georgia scored a touchdown with 1:22 left but couldn't recover an onsides kick.
Georgia’s offensive line also struggled immensely, and quarterback Aaron Murray had an uneven game.
Making matters worse, the Bulldogs may have suffered a key loss, as star receiver Malcolm Mitchell suffered a knee injury early in the game. He never returned.
Star tailback Todd Gurley was also injured, but powered through and did everything he could. His first carry of the season was a 75-yard touchdown. He added another touchdown and finished with over 150 yards.
But with the passing game unable to equal Gurley’s performance, the Bulldogs’ defense soon wore down.
At one time in the second half, Georgia seemed primed to turn it around. It trailed 28-21 and was set to punt in its own territory. Then punter Collin Barber took off to the left and got the first down. A few plays alter, Quayvon Hicks gained 34 yards on a catch-and-run – and then fumbled. But Chris Conley jumped on it, saving the play.
One play later, Gurley scored from 12 yards out, after first bouncing off a block of defenders on the left side. The game was tied again, momentum wrestled away from the Tigers.
But Georgia kept making mistakes.
After holding Clemson to a field goal, Georgia was poised to take the lead, driving to the 5. But three straight runs couldn’t punch it in, and Beless walked on for a game-tying field goal. He never got to try it: The snap was high, and holder Adam Erickson had to jump on it.
Three drives later, Clemson found itself inside the 10, and it was able to punch it in. That made it a two-score game, all but dooming a Georgia team whose offense largely failed it in the second half.
The scene of the game played out midway through the fourth quarter, summed it up: After what would have been a long completion, a holding call was whistled against the Georgia offensive line. Murray grabbed his helmet with both hands. Offensive tackle Kenarious Gates stomped his feet in frustration.
It was another big game. It was another performance that fell short.