Whether it was Clemson shedding a negative reputation or the ACC trying to put a chink in the SEC's shiny armor, all the talk surrounding the Tigers had more to do with intangibles and opinions than the players on the field. If fans are smart, that will change after Saturday night's win against the Bulldogs.
Clemson showed up against Georgia. Not in a gimmicky way, either. The Tigers ran the ball more than they passed, and while offensive coordinator Chad Morris gets credit for an up-tempo system it was Clemson's ability to keep the clock running that helped seal the victory in the second half. The defense sacked Aaron Murray four times and held the Bulldogs scoreless on four of their six second half drives -- counting both Georgia's botched field goal and the final touchdown.
When fans discuss national contenders, they know multiple key players on both sides of the ball. It is time that we stop talking about Clemson's reputation and start treating them like contenders.
Sammy Watkins' 156 receiving yards were huge, particularly on the momentum-swinging 77-yard touchdown. But just as valuable was Charone Peake's five catches for 58 yards and a pair of first down runs by Zac Brooks.
Speaking of running backs, Roderick McDowell is another name that should linger after the Tigers' win on Saturday night. After three years of backing up Andre Ellington, the redshirt senior was the featured back against the Bulldogs. McDowell carried the ball 22 times for 132 yards, and combined with Brooks the Tigers displayed a scary-good rushing attack.
Georgia got its yards against Clemson's defense, but the Tigers stepped up when it counted, particularly on third down. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Corey Crawford were among the defensive linemen that found a way to penetrate into the backfield all night long, forcing Aaron Murray to make quick throws. Running back Todd Gurley racked up 154 yards rushing, but much of that is a credit to the All-SEC running back's ability to break and bounce off of tackles -- that were admittedly weaker in the second half.
There are still a lot of games left before it is appropriate to discuss any BCS plans, especially for a Clemson team that still has to face Florida State and South Carolina. But hopefully Saturday night's game changed the tone of the Tigers' candidacy. The Tigers have more than Dabo, Boyd and a unique offense. The Tigers have talent, depth and the ability to stand on the same field with the best of the SEC.
As Swinney told ESPN on the field after the game: There's never been a non-SEC team that's beaten two Top 10 SEC teams until tonight.