CLEMSON, S.C. -- In an early season battle featuring Heisman Trophy contenders, Clemson's Tajh Boyd had a better night than Georgia's Aaron Murray.
And Boyd's team got the best of Murray's.
Boyd passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns as No. 8 Clemson got its season off to a resounding start with a 38-35 victory over No. 5 Georgia on Saturday night.
Playing in front of a packed house of 83,830 at Memorial Stadium -- the 11th largest crowd in stadium history -- the Tigers pulled away from a 21-21 deadlock at halftime to defeat Georgia for the first time since 1990. The Bulldogs had won five straight in the series.
Clemson became the first non-Southeastern Conference team ever to defeat Top 10 SEC teams in consecutive games. The Tigers defeated ninth-ranked LSU 25-24 in the Chick-fil-Bowl on New Year's Eve.
"We just won the opener, that's all," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We've got a long way to go."
Indeed, but Clemson's triumph in the opening-game shootout certainly represented a giant step.
"One thing we pride ourselves on is we never get down," said Clemson running back Roderick "Hot Rod" McDowell, who had 132 yards on 22 carries in the first start of his career.
Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant, who had two drops and didn't catch a pass in the game, had good hands when it counted most, snatching an onside kick attempt by the Bulldogs with 1:17 remaining to seal the victory.
The game was a back-and-forth shootout befitting two teams with prolific offenses and questionable defenses rife with untested youth -- they combined for 73 points, the most total points in the history of the 63-game series.
Boyd completed 18 of 30 passes and also rushed 13 times for 42 yards. Murray connected on 20 of 29 attempts for 323 yards but was intercepted once and did not have a touchdown pass.
Clemson's defense once again exhibited a penchant for allowing big plays. The Tigers, which allowed 69 plays of 20 yards or more last season, surrendered nine such "chunk plays" against Georgia (0-1) but came up with big stops when it counted most against the Bulldogs.
In the end, a high snap on a 20-yard field goal attempt by Georgia late in the third quarter that would have tied the score at 31 proved to be the difference.
But the Bulldogs, who face another Top 10 team next week when they battle South Carolina in Athens, Ga., refused to fold, even when Clemson went ahead 38-28 with 7:40 remaining.
Georgia drove 64 yards in just five plays, culminating with Muray's 1-yard scoring plunge, to close the gap to just three points with 1:19 left.
"Both teams played a great game and had bright moments," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "At least we got it down to where we had a shot at an onside kick."
The game began in wild fashion and continued that way for the first 30 minutes. Boyd scored on a 4-yard run on Clemson's second possession, but Georgia responded 12 seconds later with a 75-yard scoring run by Todd Gurley, who finished with 154 yards on 12 carries.
Sammy Watkins struck back on the next play, however, as the Clemson sophomore receiver gathered in a Boyd pass and dashed 77 yards for a 14-7 Clemson lead. Watkins, who is being counted on heavily to replace DeAndre Hopkins, finished with six catches for 127 yards.
"I know Sammy Watkins is getting old and slow," Swinney joked. "But I guess 127 yards will have to do."
Keith Marshall added a 4-yard touchdown run and Quayvon Hicks a 1-yard score as Georgia gained a 21-14 lead early in the second quarter, but Clemson got a 2-yard run from Boyd to tie it at halftime.
Clemson's defense tightened in the second half, getting more pressure on Murray and sacking him three times.
In the third quarter, Boyd gave Clemson a temporary lead with a 31-yard scoring toss to running back Zac Brooks, but Gurley scored on a 12-yard yard to tie the score again.
Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 24-yard field goal to give Clemson the lead for good with 4:46 left in the third quarter. Tight end Stanton Seckinger scored on a 9-yard pass from Boyd with 7:40 left to give the Tigers a seemingly commanding 38-28 lead, but Georgia struck back with 1:19 left on Murray's 1-yard run to pull to within three.
NOTES: Clemson has won 23 of its last 29 season openers. ... The victory was Clemson's seventh over a Top 25 team in the last two seasons ... Georgia fell to 49-9 in non-conference games under coach Mark Richt. ... Murray has 42 career starts, making him the nation's leader in the category among active players.