CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had a message for the college football world: Get used to the eighth-ranked Tigers winning big games.
Over his five seasons on campus, Boyd had grown tired of his team's reputation in the sport for flopping in the biggest games and most critical moments.
"There have been times when we have been absolutely crucified," Boyd says, "for being one of those teams that can't win big games."
That's finished, according to Boyd, who almost single-handedly put the "same old Clemson" adage to rest in his past two games.
Boyd threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns as Clemson closed last season by defeating LSU, 25-24, in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Boyd passed for 270 yards and three TDs. He also ran for 42 yards and two scores as the Tigers rallied past the Bulldogs to become the first non-SEC opponent to take down top-10 teams from the powerhouse SEC in consecutive games.
"We understand what we want to do as a program," Boyd said. "And I hate hearing that we have letdowns because we are one of the more consistent teams in the country."
Boyd might not want to listen the next few weeks because talk of potential letdowns will be frequent. The Tigers face South Carolina State of the Football Championship Division (the old Division I-AA) on Saturday. They start Atlantic Coast Conference play on Thursday, Sept. 19, at North Carolina State and mark time until their next true challenge against Florida State at Death Valley on Oct. 19 — a game seen as deciding the ACC Atlantic Division.
Clemson will be favored the rest of the way after that until the season finale at rival South Carolina on Nov. 30. The sixth-ranked Gamecocks have won four straight in the series.
That's too far down the road for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. He was proud of Boyd and the Tigers, saying they showed toughness and talent in a big spot. "But all this is for us is a good start," he said Sunday.
He understands the concern about slip-ups given the Tigers' history and the upcoming FCS opponent. Swinney says he count on senior leaders like Boyd to keep the younger players pointed in the right direction.
Clemson played like a focused team against Georgia. When the Bulldogs scored on three straight possessions and appeared too much for the Tigers to handle, Clemson's defensive line took charge and sacked Aaron Murray four times. Murray was also pressured into an interception and a fumble that led to a Tigers' touchdown.
Swinney said his defensive line was disruptive and physical throughout.
"I think it was something like four games before we had four sacks last year," Swinney said.
Clemson got positive answers to a couple of offensive questions: Would receiver Sammy Watkins flash his freshman All-American form this year and could Rod McDowell step in for two-time 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington.
Watkins had his eighth-career 100-yard receiving game, which included an electrifying 77-yard catch and run from Boyd in the first half to regain momentum.
McDowell finished with 132 yards on 22 carries and proved difficult for Georgia's young defense to slow down. As excited as McDowell is about defeating Georgia, he knows how long the road ahead will be for the Tigers.
"There are more games to come. We just can't say 'OK, we beat Georgia, now everything else is easy now,'" McDowell said. "Every day we have to come to play."
Georgia has less than a week to rebound for a much bigger game, it's SEC opener with South Carolina on Saturday. Lose and second straight and the Bulldogs know how difficult it will be to win the Eastern Division and play in the league title game a third straight year.
"South Carolina is going to be watching this," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "We have to figure out what went wrong and do it better."
That task was made more difficult Sunday when coach Mark Richt said receiver Malcolm Mitchell tore an ACL in his knee, will need surgery and be lost for the year.
Swinney said he and his players enjoyed the win Saturday night, but are ready to get back to work and make sure Clemson is prepared for every contest, big or small.
"This gives us a lot of momentum early in the season," Swinney said. "But we've got to continue to develop the depth that we need to have the type of season we want."