Defensive gem lifts No. 5 Georgia past No. 3 Clemson, 10-3

Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Georgia coach Kirby Smart knew his defense was super athletic.

He didn’t know they would be this good.

Christopher Smith returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown and the fifth-ranked Bulldogs turned in a defensive effort for the ages, toppling No. 3 Clemson 10-3 on Saturday in the opener for both teams.

The Bulldogs held the Tigers to 2 yards rushing and sacked D.J. Uiagalelei seven times to position themselves for a serious run at the College Football Playoffs.

Uiagalelei finished 19 of 37 for 178 yards with one interception. He bobbled snaps, was out of sync with his receivers and spent most of the day under heavy duress against a relentless Bulldogs pass rush.

“We frustrated and confused them,” Smart said.

Even when Georgia turned the ball over, the Tigers couldn’t take advantage.

Trailing 7-0 in the third quarter, Baylon Specter appeared to give the Tigers some momentum when he intercepted JT Daniels‘ pass at the Georgia 33. But after a short gain on first down Uiagalelei was sacked on consecutive plays and Clemson was forced to punt.

Clemson didn’t score until 9:08 left in the game when a 44-yard reception by Joseph Ngata and a defensive pass interference penalty set up a 22-yard field goal by B.T. Potter, helping the Tigers avoid their first shutout since 2003.

Despite being dominated all game, the Tigers had a chance to tie with 7:35 left when they took over at their own 25. Clemson reached midfield and Dabo Swinney went for on fourth-and-5, only to see Uiagalelei’s hurried pass fall incomplete. From there, the Bulldogs ran out the clock.

“I knew we were would be pretty good and pretty deep on defense,” Smart said. “But we’re more athletic than when we were in the past.”

The loss leaves Clemson with a razor-thin margin for error when it comes to making its seventh straight College Football Playoff appearance. No team has ever made the playoff with two losses since the new four-team format began in 2015.

“I’m not going to write the season off because we lost 10-3 to a top five team,” Swinney said.

Georgia’s defense, which dominated the line of scrimmage, set the tone early with Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean registering third-down sacks on Clemson’s first two possessions.

The only touchdown of the game came late in the second quarter when Smith jumped in front of a Uiagalelei pass intended for Justyn Ross and raced 74 yards to the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead at halftime. Swinney placed the blame on Ross making a bad decision on the route, saying he was supposed to “sit down or turn out” but instead kept running a slant.

“That’s the receiver putting the quarterback in bad spot,” Swinney said. “He just didn’t make the right decision.”

Uiagalelei wasn’t blaming anyone but himself.

“I didn’t play well today and everyone could see that,” Uiagalelei said.

DANIELS DAY

Daniels had a pedestrian day for Georgia, completing 22 of 30 passes for 135 yards with one interception, but walked away with a smile on his face saying, “We just beat Clemson, so I’m happy.”

SURPRISE GUEST

Former Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft, made a surprise appearance at the game. Lawrence will start his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 12 when they open the season at the Houston Texans.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Georgia will make a leap into the top four, and possibly the top three after No. 2 Oklahoma struggled to beat Tulane. Clemson could drop out of the top five after being held to 180 yards.

TAKEAWAYS

Georgia: The defense is going to be a force to reckoned with. It held Clemson to 2 yards rushing and had seven sacks, barely giving Uiagalelei a chance to set up in the pocket. This may very well be the best defense in the country. The offense will need to become more explosive, although Daniels said with a grin “if the defense does that every game, we don’t need to score more than four points.”

Clemson: One of the concerns entering the game was how the Tigers were going to replace the production of running back Travis Etienne. Tigers running backs Kobe Pace and Will Shipley combined for just 14 yards on eight carries. On the flip side, Clemson’s defense is strong, holding Georgia to just three points. “Take away the interception and it’s a 3-3 game,” Swinney said.

UP NEXT

Georgia: Hosts Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.

Clemson: Hosts South Carolina State on Saturday.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.