When UGA defensive tackle Tyler Clark made his monster hit against South Carolina in the second overtime, Clark’s high school coach celebrated in front of the TV.
“I turned to my son and said ‘that play might’ve just won the ballgame,’” said Erik Soliday, who coached Clark at Americus-Sumter (Ga.) High School.
Many UGA fans thought the same thing.
However, after a bizarre turn of events, the Bulldogs ended up losing the game on the next series, and Clark’s Hall of Fame hit was basically forgotten in the aftermath because of the hoopla surrounding the epic upset.
Had UGA held on to win, Clark’s stellar play would’ve gone down in Georgia folklore, perhaps getting grouped with but not topping David Pollack’s famous strip-sack-for-an interception touchdown play in 2002 (ironically, also against South Carolina).
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Tyler Clark @TylerClark50 !!!!!!!!!!!!!
— Hiro Katsuki (@KatsukiFB) October 12, 2019
Let’s rehash what happened to put Clark’s clutch play in context: In the second overtime, South Carolina got the ball first, and the Gamecocks had third down at the UGA 2-yard-line.
On the play, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Clark timed the snap perfectly, leveling South Carolina running back Rico Dowdle as soon as he got the handoff deep in the Gamecocks backfield. Not only was it a vicious hit, the loss of four yards forced South Carolina coach Will Muschamp to opt for a field goal rather than a touchdown on the next play, which was fourth down.
If you remember, that was a pretty big deal because South Carolina’s kicker had missed a chip shot for a field goal in the first overtime. There was no way Muschamp wanted to kick it again, but being all the way back at the 6-yard line forced his hand. This time, the kicker converted to put the Gamecocks ahead 20-17, and now UGA (which got the ball last in the second overtime) was in ideal position, needing a touchdown to win or “automatic” field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship to tie.
“(Clark) was always so good with his hands, and so quick off the ball,” Soliday said. “He got a great jump, he got skinny (between the offensive linemen), and he got through the gap.
“At that point of time, I thought it was going to be the difference in the ballgame. They’d still be talking about that play if they had won, no question about it. Of course, they didn’t end up winning. But what a big play at a big time.”
Last year, Clark was considered to be one of UGA’s top breakout candidates after shining for the Bulldogs in the 2017 Rose Bowl. Clark’s junior campaign didn’t go as well as expected, with him registering only one sack and four tackles for losses over 14 games.
This season, Clark has made his presence felt again in the middle. He leads UGA’s interior lineman with 14 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for losses. He also had 6 quarterback hurries and 1.5 sacks.
“Georgia has so many good players, they can rotate back and forth,” Soliday said. “If they feel like somebody is not getting it done, then they can get somebody who can. There’s a lot of competition up there, and that helps them all get better.
“We’re really proud of Tyler. He seems to be very focused this year. I think he sees the big picture – that he’s going to have some football left to play after college. He knows he’s going to have to finish strong to move up the chart (with NFL scouts).
“He’s got the size, the speed and the quickness for the next level. He’s so with his hands. And plays like that one against South Carolina show people what his potential is.”
Think I might name my daughter Tyler Clark.
— Dawgs & Niners (@billdemartini) October 12, 2019
— Andre' J. Hunt Sr. (@RevDreSr) October 12, 2019