In the first round of the fight for the SEC East title, South Carolina took haymaker after haymaker until it could no longer answer the bell.
Eleventh-ranked Georgia stopped a three-game losing streak in this series emphatically, rolling up 536 yards and beating the No. 6 Gamecocks 41-30 in the conference opener for both teams.
“It was pretty obvious Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out here today,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “We couldn’t stop them.”
A sellout crowd of 92,746 watched what has become a Sanford Stadium tradition when these two teams meet — a track meet. In the past three meetings in Athens, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs have combined for 236 points, an average of more than 78 points per game.
Georgia rushed for 227 yards and scored on seven of nine possessions on which it tried to score. (The Bulldogs took a knee to end the first half and the game.) Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray, maligned for his 1-9 record against Top 15 teams entering the day and mocked as “scared” this summer by Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, was 17-of-23 for 309 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Star Georgia tailback Todd Gurley had 132 yards, but was the day’s second-leading rusher behind South Carolina sophomore Mike Davis, who carried the ball 16 times for 149 yards.
“It was a good tail-kicking,” Spurrier said. “Give Georgia credit. They ran it right down our throat. (Former Georgia coach) Vince Dooley probably has a smile on his face the way they played today.”
Georgia had six drives of 65 yards or longer and didn’t have a turnover.
“We are going to change our defense a little bit,” Spurrier said. “We are not going to just stand there like we did today. I will give (defensive coordinator Lorenzo) Ward some suggestions.”
The Gamecocks fell to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in the SEC, while the Bulldogs improved to 1-1 and 1-0.
“We’ve been chasing them the last three years and this year, we get a chance to sit in the driver’s seat,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “The team that loses this game is waiting for the other’s bus to break down.”
South Carolina kept pace in the first half, scoring on four of its first five possessions and heading to the halftime break tied 24-24. The Gamecocks averaged more yards per play than the Bulldogs (7.4 to 7.1), but the game turned on two plays in the second half.
The Gamecocks stopped Georgia on the opening drive of the second half and were eight plays and 52 yards into their first drive of the half when quarterback Connor Shaw fumbled at the Bulldogs’ 25-yard line.
“Who knows what would have happened if he had held on, if we could have scored,” Spurrier said. “But he did fumble. There was no question about it.”
Shaw, a Georgia native, is 18-4 as South Carolina’s starting quarterback. He was 16-for-25 for 228 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 75 yards but was distraught about the fumble after the game.
“I thought I was down, but there is no excuse for that,” he said. “I tried to make a guy miss, and he punched it out. That’s going to stick with me a little bit.”
The Gamecocks still had life early in the fourth quarter, trailing 34-30 and having forced Georgia into a third-and-13 from the Bulldogs’ 15-yard line, but a scrambling Murray found a wide open Justin Scott-Wesley for an 85-yard touchdown after a blown coverage by fill-in starter T.J. Gurley.
After the game, South Carolina turned its attention to making sure Saturday wasn’t the SEC East fight’s decisive round. Georgia must play LSU in three weeks, while the Gamecocks don’t play any of the SEC West’s top three teams this year.
“Sometimes when you lose one, you regroup,” Spurrier said. “When the guys go to class, everybody is not telling them how great they are now. Hopefully, you start finding out what kind of team you got, who the ballplayers are.”
USC: FG Fry 36, 9:28.
Georgia: Lynch 3 pass from Murray (Beless kick), 7:28.
Georgia: FG Beless 22, 2:51.
Georgia: Marshall 6 pass from Murray (Beless kick), 12:22.
USC: Wilds 7 run (Fry kick), 7:07.
USC: Jones 18 pass from Shaw (Fry kick), 5:07.
Georgia: Gurley 2 run (Beless kick), 1:42.
USC: Jones 30 pass from Shaw (Fry kick), :13.
Georgia: FG Beless 37, 8:03.
Georgia: Gurley 8 pass from Murray (Beless kick), :18.
USC: Davis 3 run (kick failed), 13:55.
Georgia: Scott-Wesley 85 pass from Murray (Beless kick), 13:00.
|Time of Possession||24:58||35:02|
RUSHING: South Carolina, Davis 16-149, Shaw 16-75, Wilds 3-9, Team 1-(minus 7). Georgia, Gurley 30-132, Marshall 7-58, Douglas 5-31, Hicks 4-28, Green 1-4, Team 1-(minus 1), Murray 4-(minus 11), Barber 1-(minus 14).
PASSING: South Carolina, Shaw 16-25-0-228. Georgia, Murray 17-23-0-309.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, Jones 6-97, Davis 4-49, Roland 3-48, Ellington 1-13, Anderson 1-11, Wilds 1-10. Georgia, Scott-Wesley 3-116, Bennett 3-47, Lynch 3-26, Marshall 2-54, McGowan 2-23, Conley 2-12, Hicks 1-23, Gurley 1-8.