ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia junior tailback Todd Gurley did a nice job of keeping the No. 12 Bulldogs close Saturday night in the first half against No. 16 Clemson.
Then he did a sensational job of burying the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
Gurley, often referred to as the top Heisman Trophy candidate in Southeastern Conference football, had a remarkable opening act in a 45-21 triumph over Clemson before a frenzied sellout crowd at Sanford Stadium. The 6-foot-1, 226-pounder rushed 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns and also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score.
"I had a pretty good first half, but it was still tied up, so that definitely wasn't good enough," Gurley said. "We came out in the second half and put it away."
Put it away indeed.
Taking a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs compiled 211 yards in the final 15 minutes while holding the Tigers to minus-19. Georgia lost last year's matchup 38-35 in Clemson, when Gurley rushed 12 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns but missed more than a quarter with a strained quadriceps.
Gurley had just five touches at halftime Saturday night, which included a 23-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter and his 100-yard kickoff return midway through the second. His 38-yard carry on Georgia's second play of its first possession of the fourth helped set up his 18-yard score that made it 31-21 with 10:22 remaining, and the rout was on.
After three Clemson plays netted minus-3 yards, Bulldogs freshman tailback Nick Chubb bolted 47 yards for a touchdown. Chubb finished with 70 yards on four carries, while fellow touted freshman Sony Michel had 33 on six.
Junior tailback Keith Marshall, in his first game since tearing his ACL last October at Tennessee, had six carries for 8 yards.
"It's special blocking for all those guys," senior center David Andrews said. "God did something when he made all those guys, because I didn't get any of that. Those guys are special."
Said Gurley: "That's what we do every day in practice, so it was no big deal. I knew they were going to do that."
Clemson took its opening possession 70 yards in 12 plays for a 7-0 lead, while Georgia went three-and-out, with Gurley losing 2 yards on a run and then 4 on a reception. The Tigers outgained the Bulldogs 276-113 in the first half, but the game was deadlocked at 21.
"It was a game of momentum, and I think by far the biggest play was the kickoff return for a touchdown," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We knew we had fine backs, and we knew at some point in the game that we would have fresh legs in there and tired people trying to tackle them. That's what happened in the second half."
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason completed 18 of 26 passes for 131 yards in his first career start at home. Michael Bennett was his favorite target, catching five passes for 60 yards.
Richt credited all three phases for the win, and Clemson counterpart Dabo Swinney echoed that.
"Georgia's average start in the second half was on their 43-yard line, and our average start was on our 19," Swinney said. "That's the difference in the game."
That, of course, and Gurley, who Swinney called "obviously as good as it gets."
Clemson will host South Carolina State this Saturday, while Georgia is off before a Sept. 13 trip to South Carolina.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...