No. 5 Georgia's defense dominates No. 3 Clemson in season-opening win

·3 min read

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is going to have nightmares about the Georgia pass rush.

No. 5 Georgia sacked Uiagalelei seven times on Saturday night on the way to a 10-3 win over No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte. The Tigers, who have been to the College Football Playoff in each of the past six seasons, couldn't get anything going on offense as Georgia's defensive front just overwhelmed the offensive line.

Georgia's only touchdown came via the defense too. Safety Christopher Smith picked off Uiagalelei and ran the interception back for a 74-yard TD with less than three minutes to go before halftime. 

Georgia added a field goal in the second half and then ran out the clock after stopping Clemson with five minutes to go. The Tigers went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Georgia 45 but Uiagalelei was forced to rush a pass thanks to Georgia's blitz. The pass fell incomplete and Georgia never gave the ball back to the Tigers as the Bulldogs ran out the clock. 

Georgia’s defense also kept Clemson from running the ball. The Tigers were officially credited with 23 rushing attempts — sacks count as rushes in college football — for a grand total of two yards. The Tigers’ leading rusher was Lyn-J Dixon. He had a single carry for 10 yards.

The absence of Travis Etienne was evident. Will Shipley and Kobe Pace each had four carries while Uiagalelei had 14 official carries.

Is this Georgia's year?

The performance of the Georgia defense makes it easy to envision how Georgia could get back to the playoff for the first time since 2017. The Bulldogs' offense was far from spectacular — after all, it didn't score a TD — on Saturday night and that's not going to fly in a conference that features an Alabama team that rolled over Miami earlier in the day.

But it's easy to see how the foundation is there for a title contender, especially if the Georgia receiving corps is replenished as the season goes on. Tight end Darnell Washington missed the game because of an injury and LSU transfer wide receiver Arik Gilbert also didn't play. If they come back, QB J.T. Daniels will have two more very good options to throw to. 

Daniels finished the game 22-of-30 passing but for just 135 yards and one interception. That’s less than five yards an attempt. Georgia’s leading receiver was Brock Bowers; he had six catches for 43 yards.

Uiagalelei’s stat line wasn’t much better at all. He was 19-of-37 passing for 178 yards and an interception. Six of those completions went to Joseph Ngata. He had 110 yards on those six catches — Uiagalelei’s other 13 completions went for a grand total of 68 yards.

The path for Georgia is also now pretty clear for an undefeated regular season. We’re not saying that’s a lock — the Bulldogs go on the road to Auburn and play Florida in Jacksonville. But it’s reasonable to think UGA will be favored in every other regular season game the rest of the way before a likely meeting with Alabama in the SEC championship game unless something goes wrong in the regular season.

If Georgia gets to the SEC title game at 12-0, it’s hard to see how anything but a blowout loss will knock the Bulldogs out of the playoff. While a loss to the Tigers on Saturday night wouldn’t have knocked Georgia out of playoff contention, a win sure positions UGA well for the postseason even though Labor Day is still two days away. Saturday night’s game was positioned as the toughest game on Georgia’s schedule. And while you would have liked to see more from the offense, the defense’s tenacity more than made up for what the offense lacked.

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