Josh Kendall

Gap between USC and Georgia larger than Gamecocks want to admit

After Saturday’s game against Georgia, South Carolina players insisted the gap between them and the Bulldogs isn’t as wide as the scoreboard suggested. The problem is, Georgia had just spent the 60 minutes of the game suggesting strongly that it is.

The No. 3 Bulldogs trounced the No. 24 Gamecocks 41-17 in front of 83,140 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium, winning their fourth straight in this series and signaling that more may be on the way.

“Disappointed with how we played,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “Give Georgia credit, they have a good football team. We needed to play better, and that’s on me. Lot of ball to play, and we’ll look to improve.”

While the Bulldogs improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, South Carolina fell to 1-1 and 0-1 in the conference and was left to try to make sense of its worst home loss to Georgia since 1971.

“I feel like everything that happened on our side of the ball had a lot to do with us,” Gamecocks middle linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “It was a dogfight. Those guys were good, but we’re just as good. On our side of the ball, it’s getting those guys to understand it’s a four-quarter game.”

Brunson, the Gamecocks’ best defender and unquestioned leader, was visibly shaken after the game by the way South Carolina wilted in a third quarter during which it was outscored 21-0. The Gamecocks had more total yards in the first half than the Bulldogs (191-183), but Georgia’s first three drives of the second half resulted in 236 yards and 21 points.

Sandwiched between those drives were two three-and-outs from the South Carolina offense.

“We just didn’t have our best day,” safety Steven Montac said. “They aren’t any better than us. They just executed.”

That’s what South Carolina’s players have to say, what they have to believe, but it’s not what happened on the field. Take Mecole Hardman, for example. Georgia’s sophomore wide receiver, a former five-star recruit, had six catches for 103 yards and one carry for 30 yards on plays that were no more schematically complex than, “Throw it over there to Hardman and watch him run past South Carolina defenders.”

Since Georgia coach Kirby Smart was hired, the Bulldogs have finished No. 6, No. 3 and No. 1 in 247Sports’ composite national recruiting rankings. Their projected class of 2019 is ranked No. 1 at the moment, too.

When left tackle Andrew Thomas left in the third quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury, he was replaced by Cade Mays. That’s five-star recruit Cade Mays, who last year spurned his home-state Tennessee Vols to sign with Georgia.

When starting quarterback Jake Fromm was pulled after three quarters, the Bulldogs brought in their backup quarterback. That’s Justin Fields, a five-star recruit who was one of the most coveted players in the nation a year ago.

Etc., etc., etc.

“Give our kids credit, they fought their butts off,” Muschamp said. “We just got whipped. We got moved off the line of scrimmage, and we didn’t tackle as well as we needed to.”

“Whipped” is the stinging part of that sentence. Here’s the real problem: This was supposed to be the year to catch the Bulldogs in the midst of retooling. Georgia isn’t as good as it was a year ago, but the next time the Gamecocks see the Bulldogs, they might be better.

That’s not something South Carolina’s players wanted to think about Saturday evening, and it’s not something they have to worry about the rest of the season. The challenge now will be to put this disappointment behind them and prepare for the next 10 games.

“We have it on our wristbands — Every Week’s A Season,” said junior wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who had a career-best two touchdown catches. “That’s the motto of our team win, lose or draw. We are going to come in Sunday, make the corrections and move on to Marshall.”