South Carolina made No. 2 Georgia work a full day, at least, which is more than the rest of the SEC can say this season.
The Gamecocks (6-3 overall, 4-3 SEC) fell 24-10 to the Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0) in front of 92,746 fans in Sanford Stadium, outgained 438 yards to 270 yards but keeping the game respectable into the fourth quarter.
“We have continued to improve throughout the year,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “We are a much better football team right now than we were in weeks 1, 2, 3. We are going to continue to improve as the season wears on.”
Georgia, which is No. 1 in the CFB Playoff standings, had beaten its previous five SEC opponents by an average of 32 points this season. The Bulldogs, who have now won three straight in this series, snapped a three-game South Carolina winning streak.
“I appreciate our players and the way they fought,” Muschamp said. “We came up short. We have to make a few more plays. We have to coach a little better. We have to play a little better in these situations.”
The Bulldogs didn’t get their first breathing room until the first drive of the second half, when they went 75 yards in 10 plays and capped it with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman that put Georgia ahead 21-7 with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs’ two-headed tailback monster of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 183 yards on 36 carries. Overall, Georgia rushed for 242 yards, more than any South Carolina opponent this season.
“We teach tackling every day. That’s something you do every day,” Muschamp said. “There’s not many 27s (Chubb) and 1s (Michel) walking around on this Earth.”
Georgia led 14-7 at halftime on the strength of an 8-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel and 10-yard touchdown catch by Javon Wims. South Carolina’s touchdown came on a 12-yard pass from Jake Bentley to Bryan Edwards that was initially ruled incomplete but overturned on instant replay. That score tied the game at 7-7 with 14:07 left in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs retook the lead with 9:27 left in the quarter on Wims’ score.
Star of the game: Tight end Hayden Hurst led South Carolina with seven catches for a career high 93 yards and also threw two passes (more on that later). He was one short of tying his career high in catches. “He’s a great competitor no matter if he’s catching seven balls or he’s catching one,” Muschamp said. “He’s having a fantastic year for us.”
Play of the game: South Carolina kept itself in the game with a successful fake punt in the third quarter. Hurst’s pass to Skai Moore fell incomplete but the Bulldogs were called for defensive holding against Moore, resulting in a first down at the 50-yard line. “Just trying to steal a possession at the end of the day,” Muschamp said. “We were fatigued defensively. You are just trying to stay on the field as much as you can, keep 27 and 1 off the field as much as you can.” South Carolina called on Hurst to throw again on the next play as Bentley threw a lateral to Hurst, who tried to find A.J. Turner on the other side of the field, but the pass fell incomplete.
Stat of the game: The fatal flaw in South Carolina’s defensive effort came on third down. The Gamecocks made Georgia march down the field for the most part but couldn’t get off the field on third down. The Bulldogs converted eight of their first 12 third down attempts. “The difference in the game was their running backs and us not getting off the field on third down,” Muschamp said.
Upon further review: South Carolina safety Chris Lammons didn’t seem convinced this week that Georgia could move the ball through the air. “They can’t pass,” Lammons said. However, Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm finished 16-of-22 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. “We forced Jake Fromm to throw the ball, and I want to compliment Jake, he played extremely well tonight,” Muschamp said.
Missed chance early: Freshman place-kicker Parker White missed a 46-yard attempt wide right on South Carolina’s first possession of the game. White had hit six of his previous seven attempts but fell to 9-of-18 on the season with the miss. “It’s frustrating, but I’ve got confidence in the guy,” Muschamp said. The attempt came after a short drive set up when the Bulldogs tried to catch South Carolina napping to start the game and attempted an onside kick that was recovered by the Caleb Kinlaw at the 50-yard line.
Banged up: The Gamecocks didn’t need any more injuries, but got some in the first half. Most notably, starting defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth was hurt after chasing down Fromm on a 12-yard carry. Stallworth did not return, but Muschamp said after the game that he is “fine.” Both of South Carolina’s starting safeties – D.J. Smith and Steven Montac – had to leave the field because of injury in the first half but both returned before halftime. Injured wide receiver Deebo Samuel (leg) didn’t make the trip to Athens.
Who: Florida at South Carolina
When: Saturday, Nov. 11, Noon
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium