CLEMSON, S.C. -- Saturday night's game between Clemson and Georgia featured two teams ranked in the top 10 and several of the biggest names in college football. Led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and an opportunistic defense, the Tigers came away with a 38-35 victory over the Bulldogs. Here are some of my observations from the game:
» Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had a very impressive all-around performance. He showed a quick release and was very accurate on the variety of wide receiver screens featured in the Clemson offense. The ball jumps out of his hand and he spins it beautifully. He displayed outstanding touch on a handful of deep balls but the results varied because of a few drops by WR Martavis Bryant. His passing statistics would've been eye-opening (he was still 18 for 30 for 270 yards and three touchdowns) if Bryant had corralled those passes.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris featured Boyd as a runner early and often in this contest. He finished with 13 carries for 42 yards and two rushing scores. Boyd has excellent quickness and will occasionally make defenders miss, but I was most impressed by his power to break tackles. He is a weapon around the goal line because of his ability to find a narrow crease and force his way into the end zone.
» Georgia lost the game but the Bulldogs did have the best player on the field. Sophomore running back Todd Gurley put all of his talents on display while racking up 157 yards and two touchdowns despite only carrying the ball 12 times. He looked big when I studied him on tape but you have to stand next to him on the field to fully appreciate his size. He is a hulking runner and he played to his size, exploding through several tackles without breaking stride. He also showed off his speed by out-racing the Clemson secondary on a 75-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. His build and style reminded me of two players: Jamal Lewis and Marshawn Lynch.
» Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had a solid statistical performance (20-of-29 for 323 yards) but it was far from a flawless outing. On the positive side, he was accurate on throws in the middle of the field and he tossed several accurate passes while on the move. On the negative side, he consistently struggled to drive the ball with down-the-field throws and he suffered two costly turnovers. In Murray's defense, he wasn't getting nearly the same protection afforded Boyd but there was a clear gap between the two signal-callers. Boyd is on a different level than Murray.
» Clemson WR Sammy Watkins didn't waste any time proving to everyone he was back to his 2011 form. Midway through the first quarter, he caught the ball on a quick slant route, trucked Georgia cornerback Damian Swann, and raced 77 yards to the end zone. The explosiveness to pull away from the rest of the defense was something we've seen from Watkins in the past, but the power to violently break the tackle was a new addition to his repertoire. He has added both weight and strength during the offseason and it was very noticeable. He is an elite player.
» Clemson running back Roderick McDowell had the best game of his college career. The senior running back had big shoes to fill after the departure of Andre Ellington to the NFL, and he stepped up with 132 yards on 22 carries. He isn't a big back (5-foot-10, 200 pounds), but he has a nice mix of vision, balance and elusiveness. He made two Georgia defenders look silly in the open field.
» Entering this game, there was a lot of hype about Watkins receiving mate, Martavis Bryant. He is a tall, long athlete with excellent top speed, and there was plenty of buzz about his performance on the practice field. Unfortunately for him, he struggled to transfer that success over to the game field. He was able to consistently get on top of coverage but he dropped three very catchable balls that would've resulted in huge gains. It will be interesting to see how he responds next week against South Carolina State.