It was a really bad night for offense, as not a single offensive touchdowns was scored between Georgia and Clemson. While neither offense crossed the goal line, Clemson’s offense struggled the most and committed the biggest mistake.
The Georgia front-seven made their living in the Clemson backfield Saturday night. The nightmares began for Clemson fans on their first offensive possession. Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagelelei was sacked on third down all the way back at the two-yard line.
Things never got better for Uiagalelei and the Tigers’ offense.
The Dawgs would sack Uiagalelei six more times in the game, including two from this year’s leader of the Georgia defense, linebacker Nakobe Dean. If that wasn’t enough, the Dawgs were wreaking havoc in other ways. Whether it was batting down passes at the line or flushing the inexperienced Clemson quarterback out of the pocket, Georgia defenders gave Uiagalelei fits.
Uiagalelei never looked comfortable. It’s hard to blame a young quarterback when he keeps getting put on his back. His offensive line couldn’t give him any time to throw and to make matters worse, the Tigers had even less success running the football.
Clemson ran for a total of two yards Saturday night.
Yes, this does include the 46 yards lost from sacks, but the point remains. Georgia clamped up the run and they didn’t have to worry about deep shots. Short quick passes were the only plays consistently run for positive yardage. The Clemson offense was forced to become predictable and they went to the well one too many times.
Uiagalelei, as bad as he played up until a critical moment, did not yet make a critical error. That changed in the blink of an eye.
It was third and four on Georgia’s 30 yard line. Uiagalelei was seeking out potential 2022 first round pick Justyn Ross on a quick slant over the middle, but senior safety Chris Smith had seen this movie before.
Smith jumped the route, picked the ball off and took it back 74 yards for the lone touchdown of the game.
“He threw it right to me, and the rest was history,” Smith said postgame.
Clemson would get a field goal in the fourth quarter, but that was it. Just three points for the Tigers. Clemson hadn’t been held to three points since 2007, before head coach Dabo Swinney got there the year after.
Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart was asked in his postgame press conference if he ever would’ve thought his defense could hold the Tigers to three points.
“No,” Smart said. “I never would’ve thought that.”
Smart said getting to Uiagalelei early had a big impact on the game.
“I think we frustrated them and confused them,” Smart said. “We didn’t do really well offensively either, but we did have some moments when we could run the ball.”
Smart’s right, and the Clemson defense deserves a lot of credit. They too held the Georgia offense without an offensive touchdown. Big plays were hard to come by for the Dawgs, and that’s a credit largely to the tackling ability of the Tigers. However, as Smart said, the difference was that the Dawgs were able to find success with the running game when they absolutely had to.
The Dawgs used the ground game to convert key third-and-short plays in the fourth quarter. They were led by Zamir White. Zeus, as Dawg fans know him, had 74 yards on 13 carries, averaging 5.7 yards a pop. He also added one catch for 13 yards. Georgia quarterback JT Daniels was 22-of-30 for 135 yards and an interception.
Did this game have playoff implications? Yes. But was this game completely season defining? No, and Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney recognized that after the game.
“I’m not going to write the season off because we lost 10-3 to a top five team,” Swinney said.
Georgia is by far the best team the Tigers will face in the regular season, and as long as Uiagalelei doesn’t let this disappointing performance affect the rest of his year, Clemson will be presented with a rather easy path to the ACC championship. If Clemson handles its business as they should, the Tigers be looking to go to their seventh straight playoff appearance.
For Georgia, it’s a big win they’ll look to build off of and it propels their hopes of getting over the hump and winning their first national championship since 1980.
Both teams are back home this Saturday.
Clemson hosts South Carolina State at 5 p.m. Georgia hosts UAB at 3:30 p.m.