ATHENS, Ga. — Score the debut of Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as a resounding success.
Facing the challenge of a Clemson offense headed by coordinator Chad Morris, the highest-paid assistant in college football, the Bulldogs took their early lumps Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. It was a different story after halftime, however, as Georgia's defense held the Tigers to 15 yards in the 45-21 Bulldogs runaway.
"We felt like we were a great defense last year, but the players didn't know what to do," sophomore outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. "Ever since Coach Pruitt came in, he made sure every player was on the same page, and now we're balling out.
"Coach Pruitt told us at halftime to stay focused and to play the same way we had been playing. We ran the same plays in the second half, but we just executed a lot better."
Clemson racked up 54 plays for 276 yards in the first half, including 102 rushing yards. In the second half, the Tigers rushed 13 times for a net of zero yards.
The longest gain for the Tigers in the second half came on a 14-yard pass ending the third quarter.
Floyd had seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, while senior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera had a team-high 12 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, two of which were sacks.
"We got that feeling in the second half, and we kept pushing the gas pedal," Herrera said. "We were stopping them every time we went out there. Now we've got to make it all four quarters.
"We've got to start out fast and keep it going the whole game.
Junior kicker Marshall Morgan put the Bulldogs ahead to stay with a 27-yard field goal that capped Georgia's first possession of the second half.
That made the score 24-21, but the kick was also Morgan's 18th in a row. The 18 straight ties the SEC record set by Tennessee's Fuad Reveiz in 1984.
"That's good, and hopefully I can keep going with it," Morgan said, "but personally I hope most all of my points keep coming off extra points."
Gurley's long return
Todd Gurley's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that knotted the score at 21 midway through the second quarter was the second of his career. Gurley took his first career return 100 yards for a score in the 2012 opener against Buffalo.
Gurley collected the fifth 100-yard kickoff return in school history. Current Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin had the first three.
Odds and ends
Six first-time starters took the field for the Bulldogs: senior nose tackle Mike Thornton, freshman cornerback Dominick Sanders, redshirt freshman safety Aaron Davis, redshirt sophomore guard Greg Pyke, sophomore guard Brandon Kublanow and senior fullback Taylor Maxey. ... True freshman tailback Sony Michel not only had six carries for 33 yards but collected a tackle in both kickoff and punt coverage. ... Former Ridgeland High standout Devin Bowman made his second career start at cornerback and made one tackle. ... Junior punter Collin Barber averaged 45.4 yards on five attempts and had a 60-yarder in the first quarter. ... Georgia players wore a "Magill" emblem on their helmets to honor the late Dan Magill, who was a former tennis coach, sports information director and sports historian for the university.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...