Georgia likes the view from 1st place in SEC East
ATHENS, Ga. (AP)
Georgia likes this view a whole lot better.
The Bulldogs were forced to rally the last two seasons, managing to win a pair of Southeastern Conference East titles despite losses to South Carolina. Now, it's Georgia seizing the early lead, knocking off the Gamecocks 41-30 in the league opener and moving up two spots to No. 9 in the Associated Press rankings Sunday.
South Carolina slipped seven places to No. 13 and will have to do what the Bulldogs did two years in a row - come from behind to reach the SEC title game in Atlanta.
''It feels great to be ahead in the SEC East,'' Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said after Saturday's game. ''That's a huge thing.''
The Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) snapped a three-year losing streak to the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1), thanks to a dynamic offensive performance and one key defensive play - a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter. This was essentially a must-win for Georgia, given it has a more difficult conference schedule the rest of the way, including a game in three weeks against No. 8 LSU.
Georgia is off this week. It will be an enjoyable break.
''It's been tough for three years hoping that (South Carolina) loses so that we can get to Atlanta,'' Murray said. ''We know it's a long season, though, and we just have to keep working.''
There's not a whole lot of work needed on the offensive side, not after the Bulldogs ripped off 536 yards and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes against Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina defense.
Murray, a fifth-year senior, had one of the best games of his career, completing 17 of 23 passes - even with several drops - for 309 yards and four touchdowns. More impressively, he showed some mobility on two of his scoring throws, a point of emphasis during his preseason work with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
An 8-yard TD to Todd Gurley late in the third quarter came after the running back ran the wrong route. Murray rolled out of the pocket, motioned Gurley to an open spot in the end zone and zipped him the scoring pass. But the biggest play came with 13 minutes remaining, after the Gamecocks had scored to close within 34-30.
On third-and-13, Bobo sent in a play the Bulldogs had not practiced all week. Murray slipped away from Clowney barreling into the backfield, rolled to the left, and lofted a pass to Justin Scott-Wesley, standing all along down the sideline, not a defender in sight. The speedy receiver hauled in the throw and was gone on an 85-yard touchdown that provided some breathing room in the wild, back-and-forth game.
''That's what we talked about - extending plays, when things break down in the pocket, just not crumble in the pocket and take a sack, be able to get out of the pocket, let my receivers work and get open,'' Murray said. ''We were able to have two huge plays there.''
Defensively, the Bulldogs gave up plenty of huge plays for the second week in a row. They certainly knew there would be some growing pains after losing seven players in the NFL draft, but Georgia has surrendered more points (68) and yards (921) than anyone would've expected at this early point.
That said, the situation sounds even more dire at South Carolina, where coach Steve Spurrier second-guessed the schemes of defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and vowed some changes before the Gamecocks' game next weekend against Vanderbilt. Things got so bad a couple of defensive assistants nearly came to blows on the sideline early in the second half before being separated.
''We're struggling on defense,'' said Spurrier, never one to mince words. ''It's sort of sad watching.''
The biggest priority for South Carolina is finding a way to get Clowney more involved. The Gamecocks surely knew opponents would come up with ways to stay away from such a dominating player, but they seem at a loss to figure out some counter moves. Georgia assigned extra blockers to Clowney when needed, but mostly just saw where he was lining up and ran the other way.
Clowney was clearly frustrated after being held to three tackles, including his first sack of the season.
''I told the coaches, man, you've to put me somewhere else,'' the defensive end said. ''In the middle if you want. I don't know. Somewhere so I can make some plays and help the team and put us in position to win the game. They really just ran the ball away from me and took me right out of the game.''
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