Clemson notes: Field position knocks Tigers on heels all night

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talks to players on the field in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 45-21. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Dabo Swinney surmised earlier this week he wishes Clemson and Georgia would get together annually, to boost recruiting and strength of schedule.

Fans of football probably wouldn't mind such a deal, for entertainment purposes. Although Saturday's final score of 45-21 doesn't show it, the encore was every bit as enthralling as last year's reunion - for a while.

Just like the 2013 lid-lifter in Death Valley - which Clemson won 38-35 - there were twists, turns, stretches of dominant defense interrupted by explosive plays, before the Bulldogs ripped off 31 unanswered points in the final 37:15.

Still, Swinney refused to acknowledge getting knocked out in the rendezvous was an outright blowout.

"We couldn't get that critical play when we needed it," Swinney said. "Disappointing, because of a couple scores there late, which I don't think is indicative of the game. But hey, it is what it is. We'll take our whooping and learn from it."

The third quarter felt like a tug-of-war battle when Clemson didn't quite release the rope, but Georgia slowly started to pull away. That's because the Bulldogs were playing on a shorter gridirion; the home team's average starting point was its 42-yard-line, while Clemson's drives began on average on its own 18.

"We just literally could not get the field position flipped," Swinney said. "You cannot keep giving a good offense the ball in great field position like we did.

"Eventually, that's going to catch up with you. It's hard when you're playing uphill all day, in the second half."

Georgia has now won 24 of 27 matchups (with two losses and a tie) with Clemson in Athens in the past 100 years. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 42-18-4.

These were the first two meetings of Clemson and Georgia since 2002-03. Both programs have no non-conference openings until 2018 and thereafter.

Clemson ran 54 plays in the first 30 minutes, well ahead of offensive coordinator Chad Morris' 80-plays-per-game goal.

And yet, according to starting quarterback Cole Stoudt, that wasn't enough.

"We were even thinking we were playing slow," Stoudt said. "Could've gone faster. We'll see how we can get better."

Todd Gurley is best known as Georgia's Heisman Trophy candidate running back, but - contrary to pre-game depth charts - he was back to return kickoffs, too.

Gurley scored on a 100-yard return to tie the game, 21-21, with 7:15 left in the second quarter. The 6-1, 226-pound junior didn't return any kicks in 2013 but had seven returns (one for a touchdown) as a freshman in 2012.

Good riddance, Gurley

Nobody will be happier to burn all Gurley gametape than defensive coordinator Brent Venables and the Tigers.

In his two games vs. Clemson, Gurley carried 27 times for 352 yards and five touchdowns.

The first of five objectives on Clemson's goal sheet every year: win the opener.

For the first time in Swinney's head coaching career, the Tigers did not do that.

"So this is new territory for me," Swinney said. "Used to walking in after the first game being 1-0, but that's not the case tonight.

"But we're just 0-1. Every goal we have is still in front of us. We got a long way to go."

The last two high school players to earn the Post and Courier's Lowcountry Player of the Year honor are on the Georgia roster. Redshirt freshman strong safety Tramel Terry (Goose Creek) is not on the Bulldogs' two-deep depth chart. True freshman quarterback Jacob Park (Stratford) likely will redshirt.

Strong safety Robert Smith was down receiving medical attention for a few minutes after breaking up a third-down pass to the end zone, but the Woodland product trotted off unassisted and did not miss a play, returning on the next drive.

Starting defensive end Tavaris Barnes was carried off the field by two assistants. Venables did not have an update on his status

Tight end Stanton Seckinger (Porter-Gaud) suited up, after missing three weeks in fall camp due to a sprained ankle. He had one of only two catches among Clemson tight ends, for no gain ... Former WR Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round Steelers pick last May, was on the sideline supporting his teammates ... the Tigers heard from NFL greats Ray Lewis and Jerome Bettis at the team hotel Saturday morning.

Gene Sapakoff contributed to this report.