Well, I was right about the seven-point margin of victory, even if I gave both teams too much credit for offensive firepower. The Red and Black’s 45th series victory over South Carolina and Mark Richt’s 75th career win came in a game that was too close for comfort, although victory by the visitors never seemed to be in doubt.
The Georgia receiving corps had its usual bout with the dropsies, the Bulldog offensive line acquitted itself less well in its first real test than any of us would have liked, and the speedy Gamecock defense allowed next to nothing around the edge.
Both teams went five for 13 on third- and fourth-down attempts, with the Palmetto State Poultry holding the advantage over the Classic City Canines in first downs (20-17), total yards (289-252), and yards per pass (6.8-5.8). While the South Carolina secondary took away the perimeter, the Georgia defensive backfield surrendered far too many receiving yards, particularly up the middle and at the seams, to the tune of 271 passing yards allowed.
Despite having his best receiver sidelined by injury and having distinguished himself previously chiefly through not being Tommy Beecher, Chris Smelley completed 23 of 39 attempts, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Moe Brown to cap off a 62-yard drive on which the South Carolina quarterback was three for four for 56 yards.
To top it all off, the ‘Dawgs were assessed 112 yards in penalties. In short, it was far from a flawless effort and many areas of concern were highlighted as the Bulldogs head into the meat of their schedule. You know what, though? I feel great.
Yes, there was a lot not to like about this afternoon’s outing in Columbia, and the ‘Dawgs had better be prepared to address some of the weaknesses which were exposed in Williams-Brice Stadium if they have serious designs on contending for an Eastern Division championship, much less any higher prize. However, let’s not overlook the positives:
Under greater pressure, Matthew Stafford looked less sharp, but, despite that (and the fact that some quite catchable balls went through the hands of his receivers), the Georgia quarterback still hooked up on 15 of his 25 tosses for 146 yards. Stafford has never thrown a touchdown pass against the Gamecocks, but, this year, for the first time, he didn’t throw a pick, either. Stafford also tacked on a 30-yard run for good measure.
As anticipated, South Carolina committed to stopping the run, yet Knowshon Rockwell Moreno still managed to rush for 79 bruising yards and the game-winning touchdown while the Georgia D limited the Gamecocks to 18 rushing yards.
The Bulldog defense also came up big when it mattered most. In the fourth quarter, as the visitors clung to a 14-7 lead, the home team mounted a nine-play drive on which a pass interference penalty gave the Gamecocks a first down at the Red and Black’s two yard line. Mike Davis was stuffed for no gain on the next play and, on Davis’s ensuing carry, Rennie Curran forced the fumble that Asher Allen recovered for a touchback.
On South Carolina’s next possession, a Smelley pass to Freddie Brown for eight yards set up second and short at the Georgia 32. The ‘Dawgs held and the ‘Cocks turned the ball over on downs. The Palmetto State Poultry’s final drive made it as far as the Bulldog 17 after a pair of pass interference penalties. Reshad Jones very nearly picked off Smelley’s first-down pass and he succeeded in intercepting the South Carolina quarterback’s second-down throw to close the deal.
What hitherto had been a high-flying Georgia offense went on the road and, facing a South Carolina defense that had given up 12.0 points per game in its first two contests, scored fourteen. A Gamecock O averaging 25.5 points per game was held to seven ticks on the scoreboard by a Georgia D that had given up double-digit point totals in each of its first two outings.
There are, of course, issues in need of addressing, as invariably there are. Lest anyone be overly concerned, though, let me put your mind at ease using a few data outlined in a couple of comments from this afternoon’s game day open comment thread. Consider these scores:
7-0. 21-20. 20-12. 13-10. 13-7. 17-15.
Those are the scores by which the Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks in 1966, 1968, 1976, 1980, 2002, and 2005, respectively. The ‘Dawgs won Southeastern Conference championships in each and every one of those campaigns.
For the game against Georgia Southern, I set a high standard for judging the contest a success, and, although the Red and Black satisfied my previously stated criteria, I still wasn’t altogether satisfied. Against South Carolina, I knew that a win was a win was a win.
The Gamecocks always play Georgia tough. The whole goal of the contest from the Bulldogs’ perspective is to go in, get the W, and get out with no major injuries. This the ‘Dawgs did. Don’t worry about whether it was pretty; it wasn’t, but, against those guys, it never is. Georgia’s record remains unblemished and the team’s goals remain fully intact. That’s all that matters. The Gator faithful know this and so should we.
The Bulldogs did what they had to do. They may not have done even one whit more, but they did enough. Find whatever fault you will with 14-7, but know that, if nothing else, it’s a darned sight better than 16-12.