Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2011. The Tigers also lost to OhioState in the College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on January 1, 2021. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images/TNS)

WATCH Dabo Swinney: Clemson lost ‘fistfight’ to Georgia, one play was the difference

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney handled defeat like a champion after seeing his team emerge bloodied and beaten by an elite Georgia football team.

The Bulldogs, Swinney noted, were staggered at times, too, before Georgia pulled out the 10-3 victory at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night.

RECAP: Breaking down the scoring, injuries from 10-3 win over Clemson

“That was a heavyweight fight, a tough matchup like we knew it was going to be,” said Swinney, after watching Kirby Smart’s defense hold his offense to 3 points, the fewest of his 174-game, 13-year tenure.

Georgia won a throwback-style game by outgaining the Tigers 256-189 yards, and sacking quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei seven times.

“We lost to a really good football team in a slugfest, an absolute fistfight out there,” said Swinney, 11-2 in season-opening games with his only two losses coming to Georgia. “They made a couple more body blows than we did.”

Georgia landed what proved to be the knockout blow in the second round when senior safety Christopher Smith baited Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei into unleashing a slant pass.

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Smith jumped the route, crossing in front of vaunted receiver Justyn Ross who Swinney said should have run a different route or run through his route and created more of a collision with Smith.

“They got the turnover and got the touchdown, and that was the difference in the game,” Swinney said. “When you step in the ring in games like this, you have to make the critical plays in critical moments, and they did.

“If we don’t give up a Pick 6, it’s a 3-3 game.”

Clemson actually won the turnover battled 2-1, pickling off JT Daniels and recovering a muffed punt return. It marked only the sixth time in Swinney’s 174 games at Clemson that the Tigers lost a game when they won the turnover margin.

“When you step in the ring in games like this, you have to make the critical plays in critical moments, and they did,” Swinney said. “When you’re in a game like that, the margin for error is incredibly small.

“That one play was the difference.”

Swinney said both teams have great defensive fronts, and he also said both teams could have great special teams units.

“We had 7 plays in the first quarter and field position was horrendous,” Swinney said. “Their punter was amazing, so we played backed up.”

Clemson’s offense never did get on track, failing to execute on fourth-and-5 at the Georgia 45 when Warren Brinson hurried Uiagalelei into an incomplete pass. The Bulldogs took over with 4:49 left and ran out the clock.

“We felt like we were in a good rhythm, just trying to stay aggressive and go win the game,” Swinney said of the decision. “We felt like we had them on their heels right there, but it didn’t work out.”

Swinney, whose program has lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2011, said the Tigers will regroup quickly. Clemson plays South Carolina State at 5 p.m. next Saturday before opening the ACC portion of their schedule with Georgia Tech on Sept. 18.

“I’m not going to put my head down and write the season off because we lost 10-3 to a Top 5 team,” Swinney said. “We coulda played somebody lesser, had a bunch of plays and everybody would be all excited.

“This one game is not going to define us, it’s going to develop us into what we’re capable of being.”

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