ATHENS, Ga. — Todd Gurley ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns, returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score, and No. 12 Georgia gained some early style points in the national race with a 45-21 victory over No. 16 Clemson on Saturday night.
If rating Heisman Trophy favorites after Week 1, Gurley would surely be among the favorites. He made the most of his limited touches on a sweltering night between the hedges, averaging 17.2 yards every time he got his hands on the ball. He set a school record for all-purpose yards with 293, breaking the record of 290 set by Rodney Hampton in 1987.
Georgia broke open a game that was tied 21-all at halftime, shutting down Clemson and a fast-break offense that didn’t look nearly as effective without record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and star receiver Sammy Watkins.
Hutson Mason turned in a nondescript performance in the first game of his only full season as Georgia’s starting quarterback. The fifth-year senior, an understudy to Aaron Murray throughout his career, completed 18-of-26 for 131 yards and didn’t do much damage downfield without speedy receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley.
It didn’t really matter. Gurley pretty much finished off Clemson by himself.
The junior running back, looking to shine after an injury-plagued sophomore season, got things started with a 23-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Then he electrified the crowd of more than 92,000 by taking a kickoff at the goal line, bursting through a gap straight up the middle of the field, and leaving everyone in his wake with a stunning display of speed.
Mindful of Gurley’s injuries last season and not wanting to tire him out in the humid conditions, Georgia limited him to four carries, one pass reception (for a 5-yard loss) and that dynamic kickoff return in the first half.
The strategy paid off over the final two quarters.
Gurley just kept right on running like he wasn’t even tired, while Clemson found it increasingly difficult to bring him down. In the final period, he pushed Georgia to a 31-21 lead with an 18-yard touchdown run, breaking a tackle at the line and cutting to his left to reach the end zone without being touched again.
Then, picking his way through a hole with a hand on the back of a lineman, Gurley suddenly broke free down the right sideline on his 15th, and final, carry of the night for 51-yard touchdown that turned a game that was close most of the way into a blowout.
Georgia showed stunning depth at running back, also giving extensive playing time to Keith Marshall, coming back from a knee injury, and freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Grubb also scored in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard run.
that looked downright Gurley-esque, breaking tackles and pulling away from the secondary with a burst down the sidelines. He had 70 yards on four carries. Michel turned in 33 yards on six carries as the Bulldogs piled up 328 rushing yards on a defense that returned most of its front seven from last season.
Cole Stoudt, taking over at quarterback for Boyd, was just 15 of 28 for 130 yards with an interception. There will surely be calls for the Tigers to give more playing time to touted freshman Deshaun Watson. In limited snaps, Watson guided the Tigers to a touchdown with a 30-yard pass to Charone Peake.