ATHENS, Ga. - All the sweat melting off Clemson defensive players during those hot August practices, all in preparation for the mighty Georgia running game, paid off.
For three quarters.
It's that fourth quarter that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Clemson players and defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
The No. 16-ranked Tigers hung toe-to-toe with the No. 12 Bulldogs between the hedges for about three periods, but Georgia's running game and defense commanded the fourth quarter to secure revenge and a 45-21 victory Saturday night at Sanford Stadium - though the score was 24-21 entering the fourth.
"The game was in reach. It just got out of hand," Clemson note guard Grady Jarrett said. "We knew who we were getting coming into this game. You gotta get the guy on the ground."
The guy was a full-grown man. Todd Gurley was just too much for the Tigers. With a school-record 293 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, the junior proved he might be the most spectacular tailback in the country.
"That fourth quarter was very fundamental. We weren't as aggressive setting the edge," Venables said. "Toss sweep left, toss sweep right, that's the foundation of who you are."
Georgia gained 211 yards in the fourth quarter. Clemson moved 19 yards in the fourth quarter - in reverse.
"There ain't nothing worse than letting someone run the ball on you. That's my opinion as a defensive coordinator," Venables said. "Those last eight minutes or whatever were pretty disgusting."
The momentum-turning score was a kickoff return Gurley caught on his own goal line and sprinted across the other, outracing Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson's fastest man) on his way to tying the game at 21-21 midway through the second quarter.
Gurley opened the Dawgs' scoring with a 23-yard trot past linebacker Stephone Anthony and safety Jayron Kearse, and danced in from 18 yards out early in the fourth quarter to let Georgia (1-0) exhale with a 10-point advantage. Bolstering his early Heisman Trophy statement, he added a 51-yard touchdown to close the scoring.
"I feel like 45 points in no way dictates our defense at all," junior safety Robert Smith said. "Because I've seen how far we've come throughout the summer. We know we're better than that."
Freshman Nick Chubb got in on the action with 8:53 remaining, breaking tackles along the right sideline for a 47-yard touchdown dagger, giving the Bulldogs a 38-21 lead.
Clearly, Clemson (0-1) ran out of gas (though Jarrett disagreed), the defense getting gashed for 346 yards in the second half. That, after holding the Bulldogs to 113 yards in the first 30 minutes.
"I wouldn't say we wore down," Jarrett said. "If the offense gets stopped, then we've gotta go out there and get a stop, too."
The Tigers' offense ran 54 first-half plays (good for 276 yards), but had no response for new Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's halftime adjustments. Their first seven second-half drives yielded seven punts, and just one first down with a total of 15 yards.
Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt wasn't aided by a few first-quarter drops from his receivers, and while he was mostly sturdy, his stat line was little to write home about in his inaugural start: 15-for-28, 130 yards and an interception.
The senior did steer two scoring drives of 70 and 68 yards, each of those capped by short runs by running backs D.J. Howard and C.J. Davidson.
Stoudt's sidekick, Deshaun Watson, was more than just a backup. The true freshman played three series, the first traveling 78 yards in six plays lasting just 102 seconds. Watson, playing just 40 miles from his home in Gainesville, Ga., unleashed a breath-taking laser to Charone Peake in between two defenders for his first touchdown toss.
"Yeah, it was beautiful. That's what he came here for," Peake said.
"He makes great passes every day in practice."
Davidson churned out a career-best 66 rushing yards on 13 carries. Sophomore receiver Mike Williams dropped Stoudt passes on consecutive plays, but caught three balls for a career-high 88 yards.
The Tigers fell to 45-7 in the Swinney era when leading or tied at halftime. Clemson can regroup next Saturday in its home opener against FCS foe South Carolina State, followed by two weeks of preparation for a visit to national champion Florida State.