Georgia’s pulse picked up some speed, but the result in the standings didn’t change.
South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham attempts to bring down Georgia's Branden Smith during Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs played well in stretches in Saturday’s 45-42 loss to South Carolina at Sanford Stadium. The running game showed some signs of life. The passing game found ways to hurt the Gamecocks. More of the fan base remains behind head coach Mark Richt than doesn’t.
But game-changing mistakes continue to hamper Georgia’s progress. Turnovers, a total surprise on a fake punt and an inability to protect quarterback Aaron Murray in critical situations sank the Bulldogs’ upset bid.
Georgia has started the season 0-2 against two higher-ranked opponents — Boise State (now No. 4) and South Carolina (No. 11). The road gets a little easier with the Big South Conference’s Coastal Carolina coming to Sanford Stadium next week. Georgia has an opportunity to correct its miscues, or at least learn how to minimize the damage. If the Bulldogs don’t find traction soon, the anti-Richt movement will.
Isaiah Crowell had his best game as a Bulldog with 118 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also showed some versatility out of the backfield by catching two passes for 40 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown.
Unlike last week when Georgia looked overmatched against Boise State, the Bulldogs’ running attack showed spark and that was mainly due to Crowell. He demonstrated an ability to dodge tacklers in the backfield, hit creases quickly and finish runs with authority.
But Crowell wasn’t perfect. He made one of the Bulldogs’ many game-changing mistakes with a third-quarter fumble that set up a touchdown.
Georgia expected Crowell to make the biggest impact of its freshman “Dream Team” and so far he has. The nerves he showed against Boise State seemed to disappear against South Carolina. He needs to continue his development and give the Bulldogs a credible running threat.
Otherwise, the offense will go nowhere.
Georgia’s blocking continues to disappoint. The Bulldogs’ offensive numbers looked good enough with 436 yards. But South Carolina’s defense punched holes in the line at important times throughout the game.
Murray was sacked twice and hit about a half-dozen more times after he released the ball. Some of Crowell’s best runs were the result of improvisation after a gap didn’t materialize properly.
The most glaring protection mistake came late in the game when Georgia started a drive for what could have been a game-winning touchdown. But South Carolina freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sprinted into the backfield almost as quickly as the shotgun snap. He separated Murray and the football. Fellow defensive end Melvin Ingram scooped it up and ran 5 yards for his second touchdown of the day and what turned out to be the Gamecocks’ game winner.
The sequence that might haunt the Bulldogs all season came late in the first half after Georgia had just taken a 13-7 lead on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Rantavious Wooten.
Richt tried to spring a surprise with a well-planned but poorly-executed onside kick attempt. But an offsides call nullified Bacarri Rambo’s recovery inside South Carolina territory.
Georgia’s defense seemed to have minimized the damage when South Carolina gained 3 yards on three plays and lined up to punt. After a Georgia timeout with 2:20 left in the half, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier went to his own trick sheet. South Carolina snapped to Ingram who ran 68 yards for a touchdown.
The most embarrassing moment was when Ingram juked around cornerback/punt returner Brandon Boykin at the Georgia 40-yard line and no other Bulldogs could catch the 276-pound defensive end, leading an infuriated Richt threw his playsheets about 20 yards onto the field.
• Roger Clarkson is a sports writer for the Banner-Herald. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org