September 1, 2013

Mistakes doom Dawgs

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CLEMSON, S.C. - This wasn't the type of effort Georgia was hoping for in Saturday night's opener against 8th-ranked Clemson.

Between two key turnovers, some botched execution and untimely penalties, the 5th-ranked Bulldogs basically ruined whatever chance they might have had and the Tigers took advantage en route to a 38-35 win.

"Moving the ball's fun and all that, but winning the game is what it's all about," said head coach Mark Richt, whose Bulldogs lost despite 545 yards of offense. "We're not going to celebrate that."

Actually, there was nothing for Georgia (0-1) to celebrate after what can only be described as a heart-breaking loss.

Although he completed 20 of 29 passes for 323 yards and one touchdown, quarterback Aaron Murray will be remembered for two key turnovers against the Tigers - one a second-quarter fumble inside his 20 to set up Clemson's third touchdown along with a third-quarter interception inside the Tiger 30 to stop another Bulldog drive.

Nine penalties for 84 yards only added to Georgia's offensive issues.

"I thought our defense at times did some very good things," Richt said. "The fumble deep in our territory didn't help, it gave them a really short field in that situation, and in a really close ball game you just can't afford it."

Georgia had few answers for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, either.

The senior completed 18 of 30 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Roderick McDowell rushed 22 times for 136.

Todd Gurley led all rushers with 12 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns, despite being slowed by a thigh bruise that kept him most of the second quarter.

"Our biggest challenge was dealing with the crowd noise and penalties," Murray said. "We expected that and we practiced for it, but it is tough to simulate an environment like this."

With the score tied at 21 at the half, Georgia had a chance for some quick second-half momentum.

However, Clemson had other ideas.

Three straight plays by the Bulldogs only delivered negative yards, including a hold and Vic Beasley's second sack forced Georgia to eventually punt from its 9-yard line.

"It would have been nice to have something good happen there," Richt said. "It was our fault as coaches. We did a bad job of getting them out on the field quickly enough, especially to be running a play when we get in cadence and then make a change after we see what they are doing. It just takes too much time. You could have called a timeout right off the get-go, it was just a bad job of coaching on my part."

Seven offensive plays later, Clemson was back on top, this time courtesy of Boyd who hooked up with Zac Brooks for a 31-yard score.

A little chicanery by the Bulldogs on their next possession would enable Georgia to tie the game.

After Clemson appeared to stop the Bulldogs on a third and short, Georgia pulled a fake which punter Colin Barber converted with a 5-yard run to the Tiger 39.

Georgia caught another break two plays later when Chris Conley recovered a fumble by Quayvon Hicks after a 38-yard catch and run. Todd Gurley tied the game on the next play on a 12-yard run.

But this game was far from over.

A 24-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro put the Tigers up 31-28 with 4:46 in the third.

Georgia blew a chance to tie the game moments later when a high snap on a short field goal saved Clemson, who turned away what was a first-and-5 opportunity for the Bulldogs.

A 9-yard pass from Boyd to Stanton Seckinger pushed the lead to 38-28 late in the third, pushing the margin to 10 and one Georgia would not be able to overcome. The Bulldogs did score a late touchdown on a 1-yard run by Murray with 1:06 to play. But the ensuing on-side attempt failed and Clemson was able to run out the clock.

"The little things won the game for us tonight," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We accomplished our goal - win our opener. This was a magical day."

Those predicting a shootout certainly looked like geniuses the first quarter as the teams traded a pair of touchdowns to into the second quarter tied at 14.

Anyone who blinked would have been out of luck.

After trading punts to open, Clemson put together a nine-play, 76-yard drive to go up 7-0 with 9:29 to go in the first.

The lead wouldn't last for long.

On the very next play of Georgia's ensuing possession, Gurley ripped off a career-long 75-yard run to tie game.

But the Tigers and Sammy Watkins would answer.

After starting at the 25, Boyd hit Watkins with a quick toss over the middle who turned it into a 75-yard scoring play for Clemson and a 14-7 lead.

Georgia answered with another scoring drive on its ensuing possession, first converting a fourth-down play before Marshall scored from 2-yards out to tie the game again.

The Bulldogs surged in front for the first time 21-14 on a 1-yard run by Hicks in the second quarter, and appeared to have grabbed further momentum after forcing a punt on Clemson's next possession.

But some critical mistakes by Georgia made sure that didn't happen.

First, linebacker Amarlo Herrera came inches of a possible pick-6 but couldn't hang onto the ball.
Murray would later gift-wrap Clemson's second score when he was sacked by linebacker Stephone Anthony any fumbled the ball away at his 16.

That set up Boyd, who scored five plays later to tie the game for a third time.

One possession later, Watkins put Georgia in prime position for another touchdown right before half when he fumbled a punt that Justin-Scott Wesley recovered at the Tiger 30.

But on the very next play, Murray threw the ball right to defensive end Corey Crawford, returning into Bulldog territory. Fortunately for Georgia, an illegal block brought the football back to the 20 and the Georgia defense was able to force another punt with 1:38 left in the half.

However, the score would remain tied after a sack by Travis Barnes forced the Bulldogs to run out the lock.

The Bulldogs will try to get on the winning track Saturday when South Carolina pays a visit in the 2013 SEC opener.

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