CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—Forget the injuries, inexperience and suspensions. No. 11 Georgia looks as strong as ever.
David Greene accounted for two touchdowns, D.J. Shockley ran for another and Georgia handed Clemson its first shutout in coach Tommy Bowden’s five seasons, 30-0 Saturday.
“A lot of questions were answered today,” defensive lineman David Pollack said.
That’s great news for the defending Southeastern Conference champions, who were supposed to struggle early on.
They had a new offensive line. They were without injured defensive starters Will Thompson and Kentrell Curry. Eight other Bulldogs were suspended by coach Mark Richt. And that’s not counting the embarrassing Ring-gate episode where several players sold their rings from the school’s first SEC title in 20 years.
“Things happen,” said Pollack, whose fourth-quarter interception ended the Tigers’ last real scoring chance. “We started to have a lot of injuries and we were like, ‘What’s going on?’ because guys kept falling. But we don’t doubt ourselves. We can control what we can control.”
That was about everything at sold-out Death Valley.
Greene went 12-of-17 for 203 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown pass to Fred Gibson. Greene added a 3-yard touchdown run and D.J. Shockley closed the scoring with a 29-yard scoring run.
On the Bulldogs’ first series, Greene floated a pretty pass to Gibson for the touchdown. Gibson, among the players who sold their rings, moved past Clemson’s best defender, Justin Miller, and glided into the end zone.
Greene again found Gibson on Georgia’s next drive. Gibson broke a tackle for a first down, leading to the first of Billy Bennett’s three field goals.
“It’s an easy way to go into your first game,” said tackle Daniel Inman, one of the newcomers on the offensive line. “We’ll take this and enjoy it, and then get back to work Monday.”
Gibson had four catches for 104 yards, all in the first half. Georgia’s defense was also strong, holding Clemson to 7 yards rushing in the opening two quarters.
“It’s a good feeling when you can sit around the last five, six minutes of a game and realize we got the job done today,” Greene said.
The score could have been worse.
Bennett came inches shy of a first down inside Clemson’s 15 after a high snap ruined a second-quarter field goal try. On the next series, receiver Michael Johnson watched the ball go off his hands in the end zone.
Richt was proud that his team overcame it all under tough circumstances.
“It’s tremendous, considering all the losses we had through injury and suspension. It’s a time those guys could’ve lost heart, but they came up fighting,” he said.
Clemson had pointed to its opener since an embarrassing 55-15 loss to Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl. But this wasn’t the way it wanted to end the long-running series, first played in 1897.
Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and center Tommy Sharp fumbled a snap, which was recovered by Georgia’s Marcus Jackson near midfield. Another drive ended when receiver Derrick Hamilton had the ball stripped and it flew right to safety Sean Jones.
The Tigers talked of toughening up all offseason. Instead, they tried some Bowden family trickery on their best chance to tighten the game in the first half.
On fourth-and-2 from Georgia’s 4, Whitehurst pitched to tailback Duane Coleman, who tried a pass to the quarterback in the left corner of the end zone. Coleman’s throw hung in the air, though, and gave 270-pound lineman Robert Geathers enough time to break it up.
The Tigers, down 16-0, had one last opportunity to get back in it with a first-and-goal from the 3 in the final period. Pollack picked a screen pass out of the air for the interception.
Clemson hadn’t been shutout at home since a 37-0 loss to Virginia Tech in 1998, the last season under coach Tommy West. It was also the first time Georgia held the Tigers scoreless in 15 games since a 12-0 defeat in 1978.
“I think anybody can bounce back from anything,” Miller said. “It’s just the first game of the year. You win some, you lose some, but you learn something from it, too. We’ll learn something from this for the rest of the year.”