Monday September 25th, 2017 2:42PM

Gurley, defense lead Dogs to impressive win over Clemson

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
  Contact Editor
ATHENS -- On a day when Georgia honored some of its best players from the 1980s, the current Bulldogs channeled a lot of what made some those teams the best in program history: hard-hitting defense and a bruising ground game.<br /> <br /> Georgia racked up 351 yards rushing -- 117 in the fourth quarter -- and held Clemson to just one first down in the second half to pull away for a dominating and surprising 45-21 win at Sanford Stadium in both teams' season-openers Saturday.<br /> <br /> Junior Todd Gurley showed why he is a Heisman Trophy candidate, running through, over, and around the Clemson defense for 200 yards and three touchdowns. He added a 100-yard kickoff return for good measure in the first half.<br /> <br /> "I think by far the biggest play was the kickoff return for a touchdown. It just got us back in it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We knew we had fine backs and we knew at some point in the game that we'd have fresh legs in there and tired people trying to tackle them. And that's what happened in the second half."<br /> <br /> The Georgia defense, making its debut behind new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, shook off a shaky start and dominated the Tigers offense in the second half. The Dogs defensive front battered both Clemson quarterbacks -- Cole Stoudt and former Gainesville High standout Deshaun Watson -- repeatedly in the second half<br /> <br /> "Defensively in the second half, we challenged our men inside to keep them from running the football and we got a lot of good stuff," Richt said. "Jeremy (Pruitt) did a good job making the change. [Linebackers] (Leonard) Floyd and (Jordan) Jenkins on the edge are formidable guys, and our inside linebackers played well for the most part."<br /> <br /> Georgia finished with five sacks, four coming in the fourth quarter alone, nine other tackles for loss, and a half-dozen other knockdowns. The Georgia special teams, behind junior punter Collin Barber, also played a huge role in constantly pinning Clemson deep in its own territory in the second half.<br /> <br /> The Dogs' average starting field position was their own 43 while Clemson's average start was its own 19.<br /> <br /> "That played a huge factor in the outcome," Clemson coach Dabo Swinny said. "We just could not get the field position flipped in the fourth quarter. Eventually the Georgia defense just wore us down."<br /> <br /> The game was very much in doubt when the fourth quarter started with Georgia clinging to a 24-21 lead. A sack of Stoudt on the second play of the quarter helped force a punt and then Gurley and the Dogs running game were unleashed.<br /> <br /> Gurley bolted 38-yards around the right-end to the Clemson 42 and after a 17-yard burst by freshman Sony Michel, Gurley finished the quick five-play drive with a 17-yard sprint into the end zone for a 31-21 lead with 10:26 left.<br /> <br /> After another Georgia sack and another Clemson punt, the Dogs again struck quick. Freshman Nick Chubb went 47-yards on the first play, again around the right side, for a 38-21 lead with 8:53 left,<br /> <br /> The Georgia defense sacked Stoudt and forced a fumble he recovered to ensure another Clemson punt on the Tigers' next possession. Gurley blew through the Clemson line again on the first play for a 51-yard score and a 45-21 lead.<br /> <br /> The defense sacked Watson twice on the next drive and then the offense drove down to the Clemson 4 and ran out the clock to finish off the Tigers. Watson finished with 59 yards passing and one touchdown in his first-ever collegiate action. Stoudt was 15-of-28 for 130 yards for the Tigers.<br /> <br /> "It's a three-point game late and we don't go down there and get it done and then they come back and score to make it a 10-point game. Even then, I thought that we were right there," Swinney said. "We just couldn't get that critical play when we needed too."<br /> <br /> The Tigers opened the game on fire behind Stoudt and their fast-paced spread attack. They went 70 yards in 12 plays, capped by a 1-yard TD run by D.J. Howard less than five minutes into the game.<br /> <br /> The Georgia offense then went a quick three-and-out but the Bulldogs defense responded on Clemson's next drive forcing a three-and-out of its own.<br /> <br /> Gurley and quarterback Hutson Mason then got the Dogs offense rolling, needing just five plays to go 57 yards, capped by a 23-yard run by Gurley to tie the game. The Georgia defense stopped the Tigers deep in their territory on their next possession and then Mason would cap a short 36-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run to give Georgia its first lead at 14-7 with 35 seconds left in the first quarter.<br /> <br /> The Tigers then brought in Watson for his only series of the first half and he didn't disappoint. Watson began the drive with a 10-yard run and would cap the drive with a 29-yard pass to Mike Williams and then a 30-yard TD strike to Charone Peake to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter.<br /> <br /> "It was a great first drive for Deshaun," Swinney said. "It was good experience for him."<br /> <br /> The Dogs would go a quick three-and-out on their next possession and the Tigers reclaimed the lead 21-14 with a 10-play drive, capped by a 1-yard C.J. Davidson TD run with 7:28 left.<br /> <br /> But Gurley answered right back with an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, stiff-arming a Clemson defender the final 10-yards into the end zone.<br /> <br /> <b>SCORING SUMMARY</b><br /> <b>Visitor</b>......7....14....0....0 -- 21<br /> <b>Home</b>.....14......7....3...21 -- 45<br /> <br /> <b>First Quarter</b><br /> CU -- Howard 1 run (Lakip kick) 7-0, 10:46<br /> GA -- Gurley 23 run (Morgan kick) 7-7, 6:36<br /> GA -- Mason 2 run (Morgan kick) 14-7, 0:35<br /> <br /> <b>Second Quarter</b><br /> CU -- Peake 30 pass from Watson (Lakip kick) 14-14, 13:52<br /> CU -- Davidson 1 run (Lakip kick) 21-14, 7:28<br /> GA -- Gurley 100 kick return (Morgan kick) 21-21, 7:15<br /> <br /> <b>Third Quarter</b><br /> GA -- Morgan 27 FG, 24-21 11:27<br /> <br /> <b>Fourth Quarter</b><br /> GA -- Gurley 18 run (Morgan kick) 31-21, 10:26<br /> GA -- Chubb 47 run (Morgan kick) 38-21, 8:53<br /> GA -- Gurley 51 run (Morgan kick) 45-21, 7:34
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