COLUMBIA, S.C. — Georgia’s trip to South Carolina turned into a night to forget and do it quickly.
South Carolina beat the Bulldogs physically, mentally and on the scoreboard 35-7 on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia barely managed to leave Columbia with its dignity intact after scoring a cosmetic touchdown with 1:55 left to prevent its first shutout since 1995.
South Carolina out-played Georgia at every waypoint. The Gamecocks took advantage of an offensive turnover, misplayed pass coverage from the’ defense and a special teams breakdown that served up a punt return for a touchdown to build a 21-0 first-quarter lead. Even after the score stabilized, Georgia could do nothing to change the flow of play and had to suffer through its most humiliating defeat in front of a national TV audience since the “Blackout” debacle against Alabama in 2008.
Georgia’s offense lacked punch. Its defense stopped the bleeding for a time, but that wasn’t until the damage had already been done and it didn’t persist to the end of the game. Georgia finished the night with its first defeat of the season and lost control of its championship destiny within its own division.
After Saturday’s collapse, Georgia (5-1, 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference) has a bye week to stew over its failings against South Carolina and hope for favorable results in other games to get back into SEC title contention.
Georgia’s bright moments were few and they didn’t last on Saturday. About the only thing that went well was South Carolina didn’t hang half-a-hundred on the Bulldogs, which looked likely after a 21-point first quarter.
Georgia’s defense plugged enough holes in the second quarter to keep the score within reach, but just barely. After South Carolina took a 21-0 lead, Georgia’s defense forced four straight punts and allowed just 75 yards and two first downs on four drives.
How much of that was good defense and how much was South Carolina lifting its foot off the gas to protect its lead is open for debate. But South Carolina didn’t bury the Bulldogs in the first half when they had the chance.
Of course that run of good defensive play eventually ended. A 62-yard pass from Connor Shaw to D.L. Moore set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Marcus Lattimore late in the third quarter. For good measure, South Carolina embarked on a 14-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that ate up 9:28 of the fourth quarter. Shaw’s 7-yard touchdown run gave the Gamecocks a 35-0 lead with 6:17 left and put the game on ice.
Georgia’s league-leading rushing offense failed miserably against South Carolina.
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall averaged a combined 192.8 yards a game and scored 14 touchdowns before the game. On Saturday they combined for 76 yards and didn’t score.
Georgia’s forgotten man in the backfield, Ken Malcome, led the team with 45 yards and scored a late touchdown that voided South Carolina’s bid for a shutout. But that came long after the game had been decided.
Although the numbers are attached to the running backs, the offensive line bears plenty of responsibility. The gaps were fleeting. Almost as soon as Marshall and Gurley took handoffs, South Carolina defenders stormed into the backfield to stop plays before they started. The inability to run had a trickle-down effect as it forced long-yardage, low-percentage pass plays on a night when the line couldn’t protect the quarterback either.
South Carolina whipped Georgia up front, so the poor rushing and passing numbers were predictable.
Georgia had chances to cut into the lead or at least change the momentum. But those opportunities also went for naught against South Carolina’s defense.
After South Carolina had grabbed a 21-0 lead, Georgia’s defense forced four punts in the second and third quarters. Georgia’s offense responded with three punts and a turnover on downs at the Gamecocks’ 1-yard line. Georgia went on a 15-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter that might have given the Bulldogs something more than a hope and a prayer when it went to halftime. But on fourth-and-goal from the South Carolina 2-yard line, Murray’s pass to Rantavious Wooten gained just one yard and South Carolina got the ball.
Even the flip in field position went nowhere. Georgia’s defense forced three plays and a punt to give the offense possession at the Gamecocks’ 48-yard line, its best starting point of the night. But three Georgia plays netted minus-1 yard and the Bulldogs gave back the ball.
Georgia gets a bye week to lick its wounds and think about what went so horribly wrong against South Carolina. Georgia should have a chance to take out some frustration on last-place Kentucky.