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

Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross is tackled by Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine (16) during...
Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross is tackled by Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine (16) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C.(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Published: Sep. 4, 2021 at 11:30 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Christopher Smith returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown and No. 5 Georgia turned in a defensive effort for the ages, toppling third-ranked 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 run at the College Football Playoffs.

Uiagalelei, who entered the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, 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.

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

With Clemson down 7-0 in the third quarter, Baylon Specter appeared to give the Tigers the momentum they needed when he intercepted J.T. 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. The Tigers would reach 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.

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.

In a first half dominated by defense — and some pretty impressive punting — it was only fitting the only score came 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.

UP NEXT

Georgia: Hosts Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.

Clemson: Hosts South Carolina State on Saturday.

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