This is the Southeastern Conference and even a team ranked at the top of the College Football Playoff poll, as the Georgia Bulldogs are, isn’t going to run up and down the field every single week and blow teams away.
But, bottom line, continuing to win is the priority for every undefeated team and that’s what the now 9-0 Bulldogs did against the upset-minded South Carolina Gamecocks Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
And the 24-10 decision by Kirby Smart’s Georgia team over Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks – what with Kentucky’s 37-34 loss to Ole Miss later Saturday evening – has delivered the University of Georgia its first SEC East Division crown since the 2012 season. The Bulldogs, now at 6-0 in the conference with Auburn on the horizon, will represent the East in the SEC Championship Game Dec. 2 in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
This was a football game where the Bulldogs whipped the Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 SEC) badly in the statistics battle, piling up 438 total yards to South Carolina’s 270, but couldn’t cash but three touchdowns and a Rod Blankenship 20-yard field goal against the stubborn Gamecock defensive unit.
But with the Bulldog defense shutting down the Carolina run game to the tune of 43 net yards and forcing Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley to throw the ball 36 times (he completed 21 for 227 yards and SC’s lone touchdown), the Gamecocks could manage just the one touchdown and a Parker White 25-yard field goal. And 10 points by an opposing offense is hardly ever going to be enough to beat this Georgia team.
And too, the Bulldog secondary picked off two of Bentley’s passes, the first interception coming from J.R. Reed with four seconds left in the first half and snapping Bentley’s string of having thrown 152 consecutive passes without an interception. Malkom Parrish got the second pick of Bentley at the Gamecock 45 in the waning seconds, enabling the Bulldogs to effectively run out the clock.
Ironically, there were three touchdown drives in this game that covered 75 yards in 10 plays. The Bulldogs had two of them. First, however, Georgia went 69 yards on 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead late in the opening quarter. Sony Michel got the touchdown on an 8-yard run with 2:21 left when he found congestion in the middle of the line, bounced outside and sped into the right end zone corner.
The Gamecocks came right back to tie it at 7-7 with their 75-yard, 10-play drive, Bentley passing 12 yards to Bryan Edwards for the score. It was first ruled Edwards didn’t catch the ball in bounds but after the replay, the call was reversed, saying the Carolina receiver did get his feet in bounds. This would happen again shortly on the other end of the field, this time with the officials first ruling Javon Wims didn’t snag Jake Fromm’s 10-yard pass before his feet landed out of the left side of the end zone. But after the play was reviewed, it was clear Wims did in fact catch the ball before touching the chalk with his feet and Georgia thus went up 14-7 with 9:27 left in the second quarter. This was the Bulldogs’ first 10-play, 75-yard excursion and that tally would remain the halftime score.
Georgia then would essentially put this game away when it took the second half kickoff and again wheeled – you got it – 75 in 10 snaps to go up 21-7 The touchdown came when Fromm threw a perfect 20-yard strike to Mecole Hardman in the left end zone corner. Hardman, he of the dropped passes early in the year, went up and snared the ball despite tight coverage by the SC defensive back. Hardman’s score came with 9:28 left in the third.
Neither team would find the end zone again as Carolina trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-10 with a Parker White 25-yard field goal and Rodrigo Blankenship came back to match that kick with his 20-yard field goal with 6:36 left in the game.
As mentioned, the Bulldogs put up enough offense – 242 yards rushing and 196 passing by Fromm – to win this game much more comfortably. But several block-in-the-back infractions, a defensive holding call on a Carolina fake punt attempt and a late hit personal foul penalty cut deep into Georgia’s consistency goals.
Chubb, pulling away from first hits by the Gamecock defenders, ripped for 102 yards on 20 carries. Michel followed with 81 yards in 16 trips. Fromm completed 16 of his 22 attempts for 196 yards and the two touchdowns … a sort of in-your-face answer to South Carolina defensive back Chris Lammons, who said early in the week “Georgia can’t throw the ball.” The 6-5 Wims, who has made sensational touchdown grabs the last two games, led the receiving corps with five catches for 46 yards. Terry Godwin and Hardman had three receptions each, Godwin for 53 yards and Hardman for 41 yards, including his also spectacular touchdown catch. Tight end Isaac Nauta had one reception for 17 yards.
No surprise that junior linebacker Roquan Smith again fronted the UGA defense with 9 total tackles including 1.5 sacks, and as noted by Smart, senior linebacker Reggie Carter responded with his best performance of the season with seven tackles, including a half sack and one tackle-for-loss. Then came Aaron Davis with five total tackles and, of course, Reed and Parrish registered interceptions.
Would Georgia’s performance against South Carolina be enough to beat the Auburn Tigers – a 42-27 winner at Texas A&M Saturday – next weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium? Probably not, but you have to remember even the Bulldogs’ 1980 12-0, national champions had to come from behind something like seven of 11 times to stay undefeated that season. This 2017 Georgia edition has trailed only once this season, at Notre Dame, so I would think you can look for the Bulldogs to come out and take the fight to the Tigers on the plains this coming Saturday.
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