The Georgia Bulldogs defeated South Carolina in Athens this evening by a score of 41-30. The Gamecocks played well at times in a game that was closer than the score indicates, but Georgia made the key plays down the stretch to earn a well-deserved victory.
This was a close game in which the statistical battle was neck-and-neck until Georgia's final drive. How did the Dawgs win? They made a handful of pivotal plays that turned the game in their favor. In a close game between good teams, this is what creates separation. The following plays were particularly key:
--Georgia only got three points out of it, but its successful onside kick early in the game was huge. With Georgia going up-tempo throughout the game, its success in putting our defense right back out on the field was huge for the Dawgs and set the tone for the first half until the Gamecocks showed some serious offensive life late in the half.
--Connor Shaw's lost fumble on what would have been a fourth-down conversion on Carolina's first possession of the second half was a killer. If we could have taken a lead on that drive, the game might very well have ended differently. Shaw played well in this game outside of some struggles early on, but this is a play he'd like to have back.
--Aaron Murray's long TD pass early in the fourth quarter to Justin Scott-Wesley on a third-and-long was another killer. Our defensive front played well on the first two downs to force a favorable situation and then got pressure on Murray on third down, but a major secondary breakdown allowed Georgia's to score a TD.
--Our failed fourth-and-goal conversion in the fourth quarter cost us a chance to make things interesting late.
A few other thoughts:
--Unsurprisingly, Blackledge and Nessler weren't as awful as the idiotic Jesse Palmer about obsessing over Clowney, but they still gave the UGA offensive line too much credit for how things went down. Clowney made some plays and dictated the UGA defensive approach, but the Dawgs executed what they did well, and our back seven, as expected coming into the season, made a ton of the mistakes. Georgia converted several third-and-long plays that really hurt us. T.J. Gurley's blown coverage on the Scott-Wesley TD reminded me a lot of the kinds of coverage breakdowns that hurt us in losses in 2010. Thankfully, based on what we saw around the SEC today, we probably won't see a passing attack like UGA's from another division contender this year.
--The offense played well after a couple of early snafus. Shaw threw for over 200 yards and ran for another 70+, and he could have easily thrown for more if not for some drops and misplays by receivers. He wasn't perfect, but it was good road performance, and it's hard to put the loss on him. Mike Davis, despite his failure to score on the late fourth-and-goal, was outstanding. All of the attention tonight was on Todd Gurley, not without good reason. However, Davis arguably had the better game with his 149-yard performance, 9+ ypc, and nearly 50 yards receiving. Our offensive line played well; Clayton Stadnick even had his moments despite the frequent poor snaps. A.J. Cann really stands out to me as a potential first-team SEC performer. Nick Jones showed out among the receivers, and Shaq Roland came in and made some big plays late. In short, the offense did enough to win outside of the Shaw fumble and failed fourth-and-goal conversion. The blame for this one mostly falls on the defense.
This is obviously a tough loss, but there is a silver lining. Particularly considering how Florida played today, we're likely going to be favored in all remaining conference games in a schedule that's easier than UGA's, and if we can take care of business and win out, certainly not out of the realm of possibilities if our defense improves over the course of the season, we can catch Georgia in the standings. We'll have to hope for Georgia losses, which aren't assured, again particularly considering how Florida looked today, but there's still a reasonable chance they'll lose at least two remaining conference games. We need to take care of business from here on out and see what happens.