COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is the consensus pick to finish second to Georgia in the SEC this season and it just lost at home by 24 points to the Bulldogs. The scary part for the rest of the division is Georgia doesn’t think it played very well against the Gamecocks.
“We know what we’re capable of doing and I don’t think we’re at our best yet,” said junior slot receiver Mecole Hardman. “We’ve still got some improving to do. That’s going to come with the film and that’s going to happen.”
That has to be an unsettling for the Missouri Tigers. They’re the next conference opponent for the Bulldogs and they were picked last in the East at SEC Media Days. Georgia will get Middle Tennessee State at home next Saturday to work out the kinks.
The reality is, the Bulldogs did struggle with the Gamecocks for a half. It was a one-score game until Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a 44-yard field at the halftime horn. But then the third quarter happened, and any notion that South Carolina could hang was dashed with the Bulldogs’ 21-0 run in 12 minutes.
Overshadowed during that run was a pair of three-and-outs forced by the Georgia defense that allowed the onslaught to continue. It was a thorough thrashing.
After the first touchdown of the second half, CBS cameras caught quarterback Jake Fromm excitedly yelling and high-fiving every one of offensive mates on the sideline. His message?
“I was excited,” Fromm would say later. “I was saying, ‘Foot on the gas, we’re not letting off, we’re going to keep shoving the ball down their throats and keep going.'”
And so they did. The Bulldogs’ message was delivered.
“They still might be No. 2, but we’re No. 1. That was the message,” outside linebacker D’Andre Walker said of South Carolina.
It was a good day. Here’s how it graded out:
The 41 points was the most ever scored by Georgia against South Carolina in Columbia. That series dates to 1894. The 24-point margin was the greatest since 1971. The Bulldogs totaled 473 yards on 271 rushing and 202 passing.
The Bulldogs were actually slow getting started, running only 31 offensive plays for 183 yards in the first half and twice having to settle for field goals. But they decided at halftime to re-devote themselves to the run game and that resulted in 111 rushing yards in the third quarter and 226 yards overall.
Three Georgia drives ended in punts and Fromm threw one of worst interceptions of his career on the Bulldogs’ last possession of the first quarter when he heaved up a long pass that was picked off by South Carolina’s Rashad Fenton. The Bulldogs fumbled one other time but were able to retain possession.
By the end of the year, South Carolina may prove to be one of the best passing teams in the SEC, and it certainly looked like it in the early going. Quarterback Jake Bentley already had attempted 31 passes by halftime, at which time receiver Bryan Edwards already had 5 catches. The Bulldogs weren’t able to get enough pressure on Bentley, who was sacked just once in the game and hurried just two times.
Part of the reason the Gamecocks were so one-dimensional was Georgia made them that way. South Carolina got nearly 200 yards rushing out of Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner in its opener, but those two backs combined for just 29 yards Saturday. The Gamecocks had 54 yards rushing in the game and averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
The Bulldogs and All-SEC cornerback Deandre Baker held heralded all-purpose receiver Deebo Samuel to only 32 yards. The only slip-up after halftime adjustments were made was a 44-yard TD pass from Bentley to Edwards with 9:59 left in the game. Freshman corner Tyson Campbell was defending.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has been the picture of perfection so far. The junior added two more long field goals to his ledger this season with 44- and 45-yard kicks in the first half. He also was 7-for-7 on touchbacks on his kickoffs, making him 14-of-14 on the season.
Freshman Jake Camarda averaged 41.3 yards on three punts and that’s after being asked to punt once from South Carolina’s 37-yard line. He executed a perfect sky punt and the Gamecocks were forced to fair catch from the 8.
As a result of their work, South Carolina’s vaunted returns game was left with zero return yards on the day.
Kirby Smart downplayed any adjustments the Bulldogs made at halftime because he said they simply dedicated themselves to running the ball more and being more physical. But that in itself was an adjustment and the execution therein was perfect.
The Bulldogs lost their best offensive lineman on their first offensive play of the third quarter when Andrew Thomas went out with an ankle sprain. True freshman Cade Mays simply switched out of his No. 42 jersey and stepped in and Georgia didn’t miss a beat in scoring 21 unanswered points.
Penalties were low again this week with 4 for 47 yards, and that included two interference calls.
“It was just one quote from the tight end saying he’d make sure they dominated us, or something like that. You’d see it as you were walking by and think, ‘Yeah, OK.’ It makes you go a lot harder in practice.”
With the game in hand early in the fourth quarter, Georgia’s offensive starters came out and quarterback Justin Fields, receiver Demetris Robertson and running back James Cook went in. Two were the No. 1 player at their position coming out of high school and another was third. That’s the absurd level of depth the Bulldogs have on offense this season.
In their dominance over another Top 25 team, the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC) served notice that they are, indeed, not going anywhere and are going to be in the national mix again this season.
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