Georgia Bulldogs knock off No. 3 Clemson old-school style

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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090421 Charlotte: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and tailback Zamir White celebrate a 10-3 victory over Clemson in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 4, 2021, in Charlotte. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Two of the most powerful teams of 2021 met at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night, and a game straight out of the 1970s broke out. Perhaps that was fitting with the game being played on Vince Dooley’s 89th birthday.

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No. 5 Georgia proved better playing Dooley’s style of football, besting No. 3 Clemson 10-3 in the Duke’s Mayo Classic and holding Clemson to the fewest points it’s scored in a game in the 14-year Dabo Swinney era.

It was a defensive struggle throughout, and Georgia’s defense was most stout. Six different Bulldogs sacked Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei seven times. The Tigers finished with only 180 yards of offense, and had 92 yards through three quarters.

Georgia didn’t exactly light up either. It managed just 256 yards, and the only touchdown of the night was scored by the Bulldogs’ defense.

“It was two elite defenses going at each other,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart. “But, let’s face it, defense is always ahead of offense this time of year.”

Indeed, Clemson threatened Georgia once, and that was because quarterback JT Daniels threw an interception that set up the Tigers at the UGA 33. Three plays and two sacks later, Clemson was back at the 42 and punting for the sixth time on the night.

But Georgia also struggled against Clemson’s defense, which returned 10 starters from last season’s College Football Playoff team. Georgia’s only touchdown came on a 74-yard interception return by safety Christopher Smith. Most of Zamir White’s game-high 74 yards rushing came mostly as the Bulldogs’ salted away the game’s final 4:49.

Which is just fine with Daniels.

“If the defense does that every game, then we won’t have to score much more than four points,” Georgia’s quarterback said.

He was kidding. Sort of.

Do I have a bad feeling about our offense? Hell, no,” Daniels said. “We just beat Clemson.”

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Georgia tailback Zamir White breaks loose for a long first down run against Clemson during the second half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 4, 2021, in Charlotte. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia tailback Zamir White breaks loose for a long first down run against Clemson during the second half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 4, 2021, in Charlotte.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia tailback Zamir White breaks loose for a long first down run against Clemson during the second half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 4, 2021, in Charlotte. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Tigers did get loose on Georgia in the fourth quarter. Clemson was facing third-and-10 at its own 14 when Uiagalelei finally hit a receiver in stride. He connected with Joseph Engata down the Georgia sideline, with former Clemson defensive back Derion Kendrick defending on the play. The play gained 44 yards and set up the Tigers in Georgia territory.

After reaching the UGA 5 thanks to an interference call on redshirt freshman cornerback Kelee Ringo, the Bulldogs’ defense stiffened there and forced three incompletions. The Tigers had to settle for a 22-yard field goal with 9:08 to play, and now the score was 10-3.

Clemson got the ball back after Georgia’s offense went three-and-out. It nearly blocked the ensuing punt as a tip of the ball was the only thing keeping contact on punter Jake Camarda from being a penalty. Then it all proved for naught after a review revealed that the ball actually wasn’t tipped. Georgia had to re-punt from its own 33.

This time, Clemson reached the Georgia 45-yard line, where it faced fourth-and-5. The Bulldogs blitzed half the defense, or seemingly so, and the heavy pressure forced Uiagalelei’s 18th incompletion of the night.

Georgia took over at its 45 needing a couple of first downs to ice the game. James Cook gave the Bulldogs their first one with a 2-yard run on third-and-2 to the Clemson 44. Zamir White got the second with a 11-yard run on third-and-1 at the 36. When Clemson used its last timeout at the 1:38 to play, the Bulldogs had stuffed away the victory.

To be clear, it was a significant victory. Needing to prove to the nation that it belongs in the national championship conversation, the Bulldogs did that. At the least, they should swap places with Clemson and move up to No. 3 in next week’s poll.

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But Georgia players and coaches were careful not to talk about that or even acknowledge it. While their victory might not have been a beauty to behold, it was glorious to them, especially in last night’s crackling atmosphere that featured a sellout crowd of 74,187.

“It was crazy,” said Dean, Georgia’s defensive captain. “It felt good to have everybody back, all the crazy fans. I said to Jamon (Dumas-Johnson), one of our freshman linebackers, ‘Man, I missed this last year, I missed this atmosphere, this feeling, the fans and the crowd.’ I told him how grateful he needed to be because he didn’t have to play in an empty stadium.

Georgia is expecting a sellout of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium for Saturday’s home opener against Alabama-Birmingham.