Close but no cigar: Another epic fail in Columbia

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Todd Gurley had another stellar game, but it wasn't enough. (Sean Taylor / UGA)
Todd Gurley had another stellar game, but it wasn't enough. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Todd Gurley had another stellar game, but it wasn’t enough. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Much was made over the past couple of weeks about the Bulldogs not scoring more than 20 points at South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium in the past two decades.

So, as quarterback Hutson Mason said after the game, you’d think if Georgia scored 35 points in Columbia that it would be enough to win.

Except Georgia’s defense, hailed for shutting down Clemson in the second half of the season-opener, proved all that Jeremy-Pruitt-is-a-miracle-worker talk to be nothing more than a mirage by giving up 38 points.

As head coach Mark Richt said, for most of the evening the Dogs’ defense didn’t get it done, giving up 447 yards of total offense (298 in the first half) and 27 South Carolina first downs (13 rushing, 13 passing and one via a penalty). In the first half, the Gamecocks seemed to complete passes at will in the middle of the field in the wide open spaces that Georgia’s iffy zone defense left between the linebackers and the safeties. And in the second half, South Carolina hardly bothered to pass at all because it was having so much success running mostly to the left as its OL dominated the Dogs’ defensive front.

The loss wasn’t all the defense’s fault, though. The offense, while racking up 408 yards of its own (including 131 on 20 carries for the superb Todd Gurley), made mistakes all night, none more costly than the holding call that negated a 54-yard Gurley touchdown run in the first half. And when the defense finally did rise up and stop the Gamecocks, giving Georgia a golden opportunity to win the game, the offense couldn’t get the job done.

OK, so Georgia hardly looked like the College Football Playoff shoo-in that ESPN pundits declared them to be after the Clemson win, But another big factor was that the Gamecocks, to their credit, proved to be a much better team than they had looked in their loss to Texas A&M and shaky win over East Carolina.

Quarterback Dylan Thompson was particularly sharp in the first half at exploiting the huge gaps in Georgia’s pass “coverage,” backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds ran tough, even if they weren’t the equal of Georgia’s Gurley, and the South Carolina offensive line played a stellar game, whether it was protecting Thompson from the Dogs’ mostly anemic pass rush or opening up huge holes in the rushing game.

Still, despite all that, the game was Georgia’s for the taking near the end after the defense finally came up with a big play as Damian Swann intercepted a Thompson third-down pass and returned it to the Gamecock 8 yard line. A penalty halved that distance, setting the Dogs up with first-and-goal at 4.

Hutson Mason could only watch the Gamecocks run out the clock at the end. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Hutson Mason could only watch the Gamecocks run out the clock at the end. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

And here’s where Georgia’s coaches, offense and special teams proved not ready for prime time, as the Dogs came away from that with no points at all thanks to a poor series that included a boneheaded play call, a bad decision by Mason, a couple of good defensive stops by the Cocks and Marshall Morgan missing his second field goal attempt of the night after earlier setting an SEC record by making 20 in a row since last season.

On first down of that unfortunate series, instead of giving the ball to Gurley, who had already proved yet again to be the star of the evening with a series of amazing runs (including a 17-yarder where he reversed field on third-and16), Georgia elected to fake it and have Mason roll out, only to panic and throw the ball into the grass when pressured, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty and the loss of a down.

First-and-goal at the 4 and you don’t give the ball to your best player who’s also possibly the best player in the country? The appalling lack of logic in that move boggles the mind. Whether the blame lies with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Richt or Mason, it was the sort of epic fail makes everyone look bad.

In the end, it was a game of inches, with Morgan’s last field goal attempt missing just an inch or two to the right and then the Dogs defense coming within maybe half an inch (not even an entire link of the officials’ chain) of stopping Thompson on a fourth-down sneak and getting the ball back deep in South Carolina territory with 1:22 left on the clock and plenty of time to either win the game or tie it up and send it into overtime.

But that’s not really the story of this lightning-delayed game. Ultimately, Georgia lost again in Columbia because the Dogs were outplayed and outcoached for much of the first three quarters. And, in SEC play, particularly against Steve Spurrier in Columbia, that will almost always get you beat.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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