In a heavyweight matchup that resembled a heavyweight fight, No. 5 Georgia was the one left standing with a massive 10-3 defeat of No. 2 Clemson that will have ramifications on the College Football Playoff picture come December.
The expected defensive struggle was effectively decided by an interception as the Bulldogs scored first on a 74-yard return by Christopher Smith in the second quarter. The offenses struggled to gain much footing throughout with each putting together a drive for a field goal, but neither finding the end zone.
This was just the third time this century that teams ranked in the top five of the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll met in the opening week. Add the renewal of the rivalry that had 64 previous meetings and emotions ran high with such significant stakes on the line.
Here's three takeaways from the Georgia victory:
An ugly win that looks pretty
It wasn't an offensive masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the Bulldogs were methodical in wearing down the Tigers by sticking to their running game and having quarterback JT Daniels throw short passes underneath coverage.
That's an easy strategy to employ when your defense is as good as Georgia's. The Bulldogs, though, didn't get discouraged when Jack Podlesny missed a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter. The interception by Smith gave them some breathing room and eventually Clemson's defense started to wear down.
It's worth noting that Daniels was without his top two receivers – George Pickens and Kearis Jackson – out and playing a limited role due to injury, respectively. Also sidelined were tight end Darnell Washington and receiver Dominick Blaylock. There should be much more explosiveness in this group when everyone is at full strength.
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Some of the same issues for Clemson
Even with Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, the Tigers were inconsistent with their running game against quality opponents last season. Those problems remain as Clemson couldn't generate any push against the elite front of Georgia.
Clemson managed just 90 yards of offense and just one rushing yard in the first half. It was the first time the Tigers were held scoreless in the first 30 minutes since 2010 – Dabo Swinney's second full season.
The passing game wasn't much better as the Bulldogs consistently applied pressure to quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and receivers couldn't find any space against tight coverage. Uiagalelei threw for 781 yards in his two starts against Boston College and Notre Dame last year. Saturday night he was just 19-of-37 for 178 yards and the one critical interception.
The struggles were encapsulated when Clemson came away with an interception early in the third quarter on the Georgia 33. Given an excellent opportunity to tie the score, the offense went backward as Uiagalelei was sacked twice and the Tigers were forced to punt.
Playoff picture gets a different look
This game meant significantly more for Georgia as it faces a much more difficult road in the rugged SEC, compared to the relatively easy path for Clemson in the ACC.
Now with a huge non-conference victory in their pocket, the Bulldogs have some margin for error they wouldn't have had with a loss. Should they complete the regular season unbeaten, a loss to expected opponent Alabama in the conference title game might not knock them out of the playoff race. And any slip-up before Atlanta could be overcome by winning the SEC title.
Clemson's situation now is just to continue to dominate the ACC as it has the previous six seasons. Despite the offensive struggles, there isn't a team with close to Georgia's talent on its remaining schedule. Things will get better for the offense as the players jell around Uiagalelei. The rest of the conference doesn't look so tough after Week 1. North Carolina was thought to be the toughest contender for the Tigers this season, and the Tar Heels already have one loss. It might end up that the game against North Carolina State later this month is the toughest obstacle. So expect to see the Tigers in the CFP semifinals again.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia win over Clemson is early boost for College Football Playoff