CLEMSON, S.C. — Tajh Boyd threw three touchdown passes and rushed for two others, Clemson’s defense sacked Aaron Murray four times, and the eighth-ranked Tigers stung No. 5 Georgia, 38-35, Saturday night.
Boyd had scoring passes of 77 yards to Sammy Watkins, 24 yards to Zac Brooks, and 9 yards to Stanton Seckinger. Boyd also added TD runs of 4 and 2 yards to win the lone matchup of top-10 teams in college football’s opening weekend.
The game lived up to the billing, a back-and-forth classic that should vault Boyd to the top of the Heisman watch lists and get Clemson into the top five of the rankings.
The Tigers took the lead for good, 31-28, on Chandler Catanzaro’s 24-yard field goal in the third quarter. Georgia had a chip-shot try for a tying kick on its next possession, but couldn’t get it off after Nathan Theus’s bad snap.
Two series later, Boyd led a 12-play, 87-yard scoring drive that ended with tight end Seckinger tiptoeing the sidelines to get in.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
While Boyd soared, Murray struggled to move the Bulldogs when it counted most. He led a 64-yard, hurry-up drive in the final quarter and his 1-yard TD run cut a 10-point lead to 38-35 with 1:19 left. But Clemson recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to end Georgia’s five-game series win streak.
Watkins had six catches for 127 yards while Rod McDowell finished with 132 yards on the ground in his first game replacing 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington.
Murray completed 20 of 29 passes for 323 yards and one interception and was constantly chased around by Clemson’s lightly regarded defense.
Coach Dabo Swinney declared his group a national championship-caliber team moments after the win.
Boyd was all but certain to give up his senior season for the NFL but chose to return, he said, for the chance to win games like this. The Tigers don’t have a lot of stumbling blocks in their schedule — they play South Carolina State of the FCS next week — and might not be truly tested until Florida State plays here on Oct. 19.
Both teams spent the past eight months hearing about each other and were jacked up from the start as Georgia’s players ran through their sidelines and down toward Memorial Stadium’s hill, yelling at the Tigers as they ran onto the field.
Coaches and officials stepped between to make sure things didn’t go any further.
Early on, it looked like the high-flying matchup everyone expected as Georgia and Clemson used big plays to get in the end zone. Boyd had passes of 17 yards to Seckinger and 25 to Charone Peake to set up his 4-yard scoring run.
Moments later, Gurley flashed through the Clemson defensive line for a 75-yard touchdown. Seconds after that it was Watkins’s turn as he grabbed Boyd’s pass and raced for a 77-yard TD of his own.
Murray took control the next two times Georgia had the ball, and Keith Marshall’s 4-yard run made it 14-14.
Murray was 3-of-3 passing when the Bulldogs got the ball again and Quayvon Hicks finished the 97-yard drive with a 1-yard power rush for Georgia’s first lead, 21-14.
Clemson’s defense kicked in midway through the second quarter, with Vic Beasley sacking Murray to end one drive and linebacker Stephone Anthony jarring the ball loose on Georgia’s following possession deep in Bulldogs territory.