COLUMBIA, S.C. – I commented to a fellow scribe in the press box late in the third quarter here Saturday, after Georgia pushed its lead over South Carolina to an insurmountable 41-10, that I can’t recall when the Bulldogs came to Williams-Brice Stadium and blew out the host Gamecocks.
And, yes indeed, the 41 points Georgia put on the board marked the most points the Bulldogs have ever scored in Columbia in a series that dates back to 1894. And the 24-point final margin – a 41-17 victory due to South Carolina scoring its only points in the second half on a harmless 44-yard pass with 9:59 left in the game – was the biggest margin of victory for Georgia here since 1971, when two sophomores named Andy Johnson and Jimmy Poulos were sparking the Bulldogs.
Although Kirby Smart said the third-ranked Bulldogs still made many mistakes they must clean up, he clearly liked the physicality his football team displayed and the way Georgia flat wore down the tiring Gamecocks in the final two quarters when they outscored the roosters 21-7 after holding a 20-10 halftime lead.
After opening the season with two straight games of 40-plus points for the first time since 2012, I’m thinking these Bulldogs are going to be a pretty potent force on offense here in 2018. Look at the final statistics on this game. Georgia pounded the ball at the Carolina defensive front for 271 yards on the ground and balanced that well through the air as sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm completed 15-of-18 passing attempts for 194 yards including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman. That enabled the Bulldogs to finish with 202 passing yards as freshman quarterback Justin Fields entered the game in the final quarter and completed his only pass for eight yards while directing an attack that kept running the ball effectively while at the same time ticking the minutes off the scoreboard clock.
And let’s face it, folks, as much as the South Carolina defense slowed the Bulldogs down at times in the first half, after Georgia had jumped to a rapid-fire 14-0 lead in the first three minutes and 10 seconds of the game, it was more of the Bulldogs stopping themselves with four nagging penalties for 47 yards.
But after the Gamecocks had rallied within 17-10 with just under six minutes left in the second quarter, when the old reliable Rodrigo Blankenship struck his second field goal, from 44 yards out on the final play of the half, to send the Dawgs up 20-10 at the intermission break you just got the feeling Georgia was on its way to 2-0 on the young season and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
And just as “Hot Rod’s” field goal at the end of the first half in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 ignited the Bulldogs to a tremendous comeback victory over Oklahoma, his first-half ending boot here Saturday also propelled Georgia to a dominating second half against the Gamecocks. Georgia quickly set the tone after receiving the third quarter kickoff by marching 75 yards on just six plays to the end zone. It was the 34-yard hookup from Fromm to Hardman that boosted the visitors’ lead to 27-10 and, the Dogs never looked back. They pushed their lead to 41-10 in a 21-point third quarter blitz on a 5-yard run by Elijah Holyfield and a 15-yard scoring dash by Brian Herrien.
Georgia’s first score in the opening half came via a 1-yard interception run by linebacker Juwan Taylor after cornerback Deandre Baker picked off a deflected Jake Bentley pass and rambled some 55 yards to the Carolina 1 yard line before losing the ball prior to crossing the goal line and Taylor scooped it up and lumbered across for the touchdown. D’Andre Swift pushed the lead to 14-0 with a 17-yard scoring run with still 11:50 showing in the first quarter. But the Bulldogs couldn’t cash another touchdown the rest of the half, Blankenship’s field goals of 45 and 44 yards enabling Georgia to notch its 20-10 halftime advantage.
One thing the South Carolina defense couldn’t do the entire game was cover Hardman, the Bulldogs’ speedy wide receiver. Continuing his big play ability he flashed in the college playoffs, the junior had six catches for 103 yards and the scoring reception from Fromm. And it was Hardman’s 42-yard catch in the third quarter that set up Holyfield’s touchdown run.
What about the running game, you say? As mentioned the Bulldogs pounded out the 271 yards on the ground and they did it by committee. Holyfield led with 76 yards, Swift had 64, Herrien ran for 45 and even the freshman, James Cook, who was suspended for the first half after his targeting infraction in the opener with Austin Peay, came on in the final period and ran for 38 yards. Oh yeah, I must mention that Hardman, in addition to his big pass-catching day, also reeled off a 30-yard run after taking a lateral from Fromm.
And along with the offensive exploits, I’m thinking this team can play pretty good defense, also. There’s no Roquan Smith around this season but these Dawgs are pitching a team effort … one that shut out Austin Peay and then limited a supposedly explosive Carolina offense to just two touchdowns, with one of those coming on Bentley’s 44-yard strike to Bryan Edwards in the final period when this football game was long over.
Georgia shut down the Gamecocks’ running attack to the tune of 54 rushing yards. Sure, with Bentley throwing the ball 47 times, South Carolina ended up with 282 through the air but the late touchdown pass was the Gamecocks’ lone gain over 20 yards the entire four quarters.
I would say safety Richard LeCounte, linebacker Monty Rice and corner Baker had pretty fair games on that side of the ball … LeCounte totaling 10 tackles, Rice having eight stops and Baker showing six tackles as well as his early pick and 55 yard gallop down the left sidelines. And D’Andre Walker with two tackles-for-loss and one sack along with Natrez Patrick, J.R. Reed, William Poole and Tyler Clark – all with one tackle-for-loss – made life a bit miserable for the Gamecock offense as well. Reed also thwarted another Gamecock scoring bid by intercepting Bentley in the end zone.
Was this a statement game? After all, the Gamecocks entered this contest with a No. 24 national ranking and were pumped to grab an early lead in SEC east, only to be taken apart by the Bulldogs who have now won four straight games against these guys. But I would think this season is way too young to call it a statement game, as gratifying as this win was.
I just think this Georgia team is going to be making many more statements as they begin moving into the meat of their SEC schedule.