South Carolina and Georgia always seem to bring the best out in each other.
These two teams have played some classics over the years and this rivalry continues to grow each season. Saturday afternoon was no different as Georgia was able to outlast South Carolina and come away with a 41-30 victory over the Gamecocks, ending their three-game winning streak.
This game had a lot of momentum swings. Georgia was extremely sharp early and kept the South Carolina defense on its heels all afternoon long. The Gamecocks had limited opportunities early and fell behind quickly to the tune of 17 unanswered points to Georgia. Many times, this would have been a lost cause for South Carolina.
This current incarnation of the Gamecocks do not quit and should be a lesson for all Gamecock fans. Never give up hope. After Georgia was able to build that 17-3 lead, South Carolina came alive. Davis picked up a portion of his yardage on an 11-play, 84 yard drive that brought the score within seven points for the Gamecocks thanks to a 7-yard touchdown run by Brandon Wilds. The Gamecock defense held their own with a three-and-out to force a punt.
Cue the Georgia special teams mistake and a mishandled snap gave South Carolina the ball on the 18-yard line. Everyone knew the next play would be an attempt in the end zone because it's what Steve Spurrier does. He goes for the jugular and Connor Shaw hit a wide-open Nick Jones for the score to even the game at 17 a piece.
Georgia was able to score again but South Carolina answered right before halftime to tie it up at 24-24 a piece.
It appeared the classic was brewing.
South Carolina forced a three-and-out on the opening possession for Georgia and proceeded to drive down field but a Connor Shaw fumble killed the momentum for South Carolina. Georgia would add three points and eventually take control. However, USC did give it a run thanks to Mike Davis and his legs. A 75-yard run at the end of the third quarter put the Gamecocks in position to score and they did shortly thereafter into the third quarter. It's a four-point game at this point with 13:55 left in the fourth quarter after Elliott Fry missed an extra point after the Davis touchdown.
Georgia was able to do what they did all game long and drive down field on the following possession to add another touchdown and bring their lead to 41-30. South Carolina would try to follow suit with their own impressive drive looking to match the Bulldogs recent score. A few big plays had South Carolina near the goal-line at the one-yard line on Georgia's side of the field. A few failed attempts led to a fourth-down conversion for the Gamecocks. USC lines up in the shotgun, runs the option with Shaw pitching it to Davis who is stuff short of the goal-line.
Georgia would get the ball at USC's one-yard line with 8:28 on the clock. You would think the South Carolina defense would be able to stuff Georgia and get the ball back hoping to extend this game. You would think wrong. Georgia proceeded to eat the remainder of the game clock en route to a 41-30 victory over South Carolina.
It was a tough way to lose after thinking that an offense that put up 30 points and over 450 yards of offense would be more than enough to beat Georgia. However, the defense didn't hold their own and certainly gave Aaron Murray the signature win he's been looking for against Top 15 teams.
With all that said, let's get to some Second Thoughts on the South Carolina/Georgia game:
-- The performance of Mike Davis has left me impressed. I knew last year coming in a freshman that he would be good. He showed it at times during his freshman season. We saw a power running style with a burst of speed. You saw a running back that fell forward and could keep the pile moving. Well, Davis has done all of that and more so far this season. He's had two straight 100-yard games and two straight games with 75-yard runs. His run near the end of the third quarter brought the Gamecocks back to life and put them in position to score. His speed on the long run is the impressive part. Davis just outran the UGA defense and looks like his cruising down field with little effort. The best part of that run was afterwards when USC tried to substitute and Davis said no. He stayed on the field. He was ready and wanted it. That's what you need in a competitor.
I mean this run should tell you all there is about Davis as a tough, hard-nosed runner who competes on every play:
He certainly has the look of an All-SEC running back and if he keeps it up, he'll be making a name for himself around the nation. South Carolina has a good one in Mike Davis and he's certainly done his part in stepping in to replace Marcus Lattimore.
-- Connor Shaw impressed me on Saturday afternoon. He looked good in the early opening game drive but was limited after that for awhile thanks to Georgia's offense taking over. However, once Shaw settled, he became an extremely efficient quarterback. He ran the ball well and picked and choose when it was time to take off outside the pocket. He threw the ball really well and made a connection with Nick Jones for a couple of touchdown passes.
He's been knocked on for playing pretty bad on the road and that's generally been true. However, I think he may have exercised those demons in Athens on Saturday. Shaw kept Dylan Thompson on the sideline with his play, which is impressive, considering how Clemson was able to move the ball through the air on UGA the week before. A gunslinger like Thompson could have had his way with the young secondary but he wasn't needed. Shaw took control of the game and was extremely impressive for the majority of the game.
-- I really thought Nick Jones would have a big game. Only, I thought it would be against UNC with Ellington limited in that one. I guess I was one week off. Six catches for 97 yards with two touchdowns is a fantastic game from the Byrnes High School product. Jones has always been a solid route-runner and reliable receiver but has just never seen the opportunities come his way. On Saturday, Shaw located him early and it paid off. He made Brendan Langley pay for his inexperience by making several big catches that kept the ball moving for the Gamecocks. He's got a chance to continue his strong play as the wide receiver rotation seemingly changes every week. But if Jones can play like he did in the future, his numbers will only grow from here.
-- Overall, the offense really did an outstanding job against UGA. Davis ran well, Shaw played well and the offensive line even did their job. They opened holes for Davis and Shaw running the football. They provided excellent pass protection for Shaw and gave him enough time to make his decisions whether it was running or throwing. They even had a redshirt freshman in Clayton Stadnik starting for the first time and getting his first playing time of his career on the road in a hostile environment. Granted, Waldrop was starting his first game last week but his size and reps with the first team got him prepared for that moment. No one expected that from Stadnik this early in his career. The Gamecocks got a solid performance from him and the rest of the offensive line and it was a pleasant surprise for sure.
-- However, the defense needs some work. Georgia manhandled the Gamecocks defense in all aspects of the game. South Carolina seemingly played off the line of scrimmage in the secondary and gave Murray all the time he needed to make a lot of quick pass plays and move the ball downfield. When they weren't picked up yards through the air, Todd Gurley was making them pay on the ground. The big, bruising back who some think is the best in college football was able to have his way against South Carolina and pick up large chunks of yardage with every carry. They were unable to bring him down and he kept chewing up the yards and the time on the clock. In a game that was back and forth with offensive firepower, letting UGA have all the time they wanted on offense wasn't an ideal situation for the Gamecocks defense.
The youth of the linebacker group showed on Saturday. Murray took advantage here in the passing game and there seemed to be missed assignments all over. The youth is certainly talented but something has to be done and it has to be done quick.
-- After being called out all week long, you would have thought Jadeveon Clowney would have been more dominant in this game. He wanted payback and wanted to stay undefeated against UGA. Well, he added one sack and got some pressure on Murray a few times but just seemed to be a non-factor in this one. Granted, it could be because UGA took cues from UNC and ran some quick plays at time and kept things away from Clowney a good bit of the time as well. However, you just would have thought that he would have been a much larger impact player on this game against Georgia.
And no, I don't think anything is wrong with him, his conditioning or his effort level. Clowney will shine this season and will do it often. It just must be hard trying to live up to the expectations that's been created for him.
-- I understand why Shon Carson got an opportunity to return kicks on Saturday. However, I don't understand why he got six kick returns. He looked completely lost on kick returns with no vision whatsoever. After a few returns, I fully expected Bruce Ellington to be returning kicks for the Gamecocks. However, it never happened. Carson's decisions hurt USC in field position and if he can't make the cut and try to pick up more yardage, why continue to use him?
-Fourth and one. You're on the half yard line. And you run the option out of the shotgun. I don't get it. Sure, the option play worked for Davis a few times with him gaining 20+ yards earlier in the game but you've got two big time backs in Davis and Brandon Wilds. Line up under center, run the I-formation and give yourself a better chance to score. Georgia snuffed out of the fourth down attempt and South Carolina pretty much ended all hopes there by not scoring on fourth down. Spurrier should know better since we've failed in that situation before. Like our friends The Rubber Chickens pointed out, maybe he was uncomfortable with a new center and worried about the exchange between Shaw and Stadnik in that situation. I certainly understand but I take my chances with Shaw falling forward or giving it to Davis/Wilds with a lead blocker than backing myself up three yards and trying to score from there out of the shotgun.
-- The scramble between the coaches was definitely a weird thing to see. Obviously Deke Adams and Kirk Botkin were not on the same page at that time but South Carolina did force a three-and-out on that possession so not sure why they blew up like they did. I get the passion and intensity that both coaches have. I hope it translates over to the players especially since the defense finally held Georgia after struggling for most of the first half. However, if you want your team to be under control in tense situations, the coaching staff needs to do the same as well. I'm sure it's an isolated incident and we won't see if happen again.
-- Give Mark Richt credit in this one. He got his team ready to play and this was a game that Georgia wanted extremely bad. The onside kick after their first score of the game was a brilliant call and helped Georgia keep USC's defense on the field and give Georgia momentum early in the game. Georgia hates Steve Spurrier and they love it when they can stick it to the Head Ball Coach. Richt and his Bulldogs played a good game and took advantage of a struggling USC defense to take control of the game in the second half.
The season isn't over. There are still 10 games to play. There are still seven games left in SEC play. However, they have put themselves in a corner. Starting behind the eight-ball will be tough for the Gamecocks especially Florida doesn't look like world-beaters and UGA may not have much of a tougher SEC schedule than the Gamecocks. USC needs to focus on getting better, getting that defense in order and keeping that offense healthy. This can be a dangerous South Carolina offense. Shaw has the potential with Mike Davis behind him. The receivers are starting to step up and show their worth between Shaq Roland and Nick Jones. The schedule sets up nicely for USC to run the table in conference. But so can Georgia. South Carolina should become big LSU fans, who play Georgia and Florida later this year. South Carolina will also hope for a little help from another SEC team in taking down Georgia. That's only if Carolina runs the table in the SEC.
A tough task but certainly not out of the question. This is time for South Carolina to come out and answer with a dominating win this weekend against Vanderbilt. The Commodores think they are on South Carolina's level and expect to win. Their quarterback is playing well and Jordan Matthews is the best receiver in the league. The potential to put up points on this defense is there for Vanderbilt. South Carolina just can't go through the motions here. They need Clowney to make his stamp on this season. They need stronger play from the secondary. They need the linebackers to grow up. They need a lot of things to happen but this weekend could be a good start in the friendly homefield known as Williams-Brice.
So don't get down on the loss to Georgia. All goals are still on the table. South Carolina just needs to focus on themselves and let everything else fall in line. Gamecock Nation just needs to show up, support and continue to be the strong 12th man for this team going forward.
It's still a great time to be a Gamecock. Don't forget that.