By Jonathan Branch
The fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs came to play a few minutes too late against No. 6 South Carolina Saturday night.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks capitalized, scoring three touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“Give [South Carolina] credit,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “They did a good job.”
The Bulldogs’ defense merely served as a speed bump for Shaw in the early moments of the primetime matchup. In the Gamecocks’ first two drives, Shaw was 5-of-7 for 100 yards passing and two touchdowns, and the dual-threat signal caller scrambled for two first downs and 17 yards.
“We definitely knew the ability he had to run,” said Georgia defensive end Abry Jones. “We had a game plan for it. We didn’t get it executed the way we wanted to, and he leaked out and got his yards.”
Shaw certainly got plenty of yards. The junior accounted for 240 of South Carolina’s 392 yards. Running back Marcus Lattimore did the rest, rushing 24 times for 109 yards.
The Bulldogs struggled to slow down the quarterback scrambles, something Georgia has worked on since the beginning of the season. Georgia allowed only 25 yards rushing to Missouri’s dual-threat quarterback James Franklin, but Grantham’s crew allowed Shaw to run for 78 yards Saturday.
“We didn’t do as good a job tonight [against a running quarterback] as we did in the first two games,” said Grantham. “We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Shaw was able to escape the pocket and the Georgia pass rush most of the night.
“We would go to pass rush and get up field, and he’d take off running,” said Jarvis Jones, who sacked Shaw in the second quarter to give him 5.5 sacks this season. “That’s all it was. I was getting upfield. He was reading me, and he’d go up underneath [the pass rush] and take off running.
“I blame myself for it. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I wasn’t doing it well. He was taking advantage of it.”
Shaw also took advantages of lapses in coverage. Georgia’s secondary only allowed Shaw six completions, but those passes covered 162 yards.
“We did nothing to make it tough on [Shaw] as far as decision making or having to drop back and throw,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt. “They threw when they wanted to throw.”
Cornerback Sanders Commings said the Bulldogs suffered from a lack of focus.
“When that happens, it is easy for a team to make a big play, and that’s what they did,” said Commings.
Richt added, “They got behind us a couple times, and we got hurt by it.”
Georgia’s defense awoke after the first quarter, holding the Gamecocks to just two touchdowns the rest of the way. Still, for Georgia, it was too little too late.
“They really didn’t anything else until the big pass in the third quarter and then a few plays in the foruth quarter,” said Jarvis Jones. “Being down 21-0 in the first quarter, that’s hard to come back against, especially against a team in the SEC.”
Bulldogs avoid first shutout in 17 years
Running back Ken Malcome scored the only points of the game Saturday for Georgia and, in doing so, prevented Georgia from being shutout for the first time in 17 years.
The last time Georgia was shutout was 1995 in a 31-0 defeat against Alabama.
“That was probably the only bright spot of the day,” said quarterback Aaron Murray.
South Carolina’s first half shutout against Georgia marked the first time since 2009 against LSU that the Bulldogs were shutout at halftime.
Had Georgia not scored, it would have been the first shutout in Mark Richt’s tenure at Georgia. Scoring the touchdown, however, didn’t change Richt’s evaluation of the evening.
“It feels a little better to put seven on the board,” said Richt. “It wasn’t like it made us feel like we had a good night or anything like that.”
USC defense lives up to hype against Georgia
South Carolina defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor received much of the hype and attention entering Saturday’s matchup against Georgia.
They lived up to expections.
Clowney and Taylor wreaked havoc on Georgia’s offensive line and never allowed Aaron Murray to get comfortable in the pocket. The two combined for seven tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, and Clowney sacked Murray for a six yard loss in the second quarter.
“They’ve got great speed,” said Richt. “They are very long human beings. They’re 6’8” and 6’6”. They’ve got long arms. I think a couple times were blocking them halfway decent, trying to run them by the quarterback, but they are just so long and athletic that Murray was getting grabbed right at the last moment as he was trying to move up in the pocket.”
Richt’s praise of South Carolina’s defense didn’t end at Clowney and Taylor.
“The guys inside are pretty strong, too,” said Richt. “They’re pretty stout. They spied against the run. They pushed the pocket up in the face of the quarterback, so when we do try to step up, there’s not a whole lot of room.”
Murray insisted the pressure from the South Carolina defensive front had little to do with his decision-making.
“I don’t really think I was rushing anything or in the pocket thinking ‘I’m about to get killed,’” Murray said. “That’s not my job. My job is to focus down field, trust my linemen and go from there.”
South Carolina’s Ace Sanders returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown against the Bulldogs in the first quarter. It was the first punt return for touchdown against Georgia since the 2011 SEC Championship game, when LSU’s Tyrann Matheiu returned a punt 62 yards for a score.…Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones notched a sack in the second quarter, giving the junior 5.5 sacks this season and 19 in his Georgia career…Tavarres King caught a pass in the second quarter. The senior has now caught a pass in 21 consecutive games….Quarterback Aaron Murray started his team-leading 33rd consecutive game. Murray was also a captain for Saturday’s game. Other Georgia captains for Saturday’s game were senior cornerback Sanders Commings, senior linebacker Christian Robinson and junior tackle Kenarious Gates.