As the cellphone lights flashed on and four fingers were raised to ceremoniously begin the final period of play, the sense of unease amongst the Sanford Stadium crowd was greater than it had been in quite some time.
Georgia was winning, as was per usual, but only by an 11-point margin over South Carolina. It marked the first time that the Bulldogs had a lead lesser than 26 points since it held a one-point advantage in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame on Sept. 9.
To add to the unrest, South Carolina had possession and an opportunity to make it a one-score contest. But as the Bulldogs huddled, one thing was made clear.
“We don’t watch the scoreboard and that’s what they keep telling us,” Georgia running back Nick Chubb said. “We had to just keep playing, and that’s what we did to get the win.”
Georgia’s defense knew that it would be playing for the duration -- something it hadn’t been tasked with in recent weeks -- and it immediately put rest to the Gamecocks’ drive.
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley found his go-to target Hayden Hurst on a screen play, but Aaron Davis and Reggie Carter were there to meet him and halt momentum.
On the following Gamecock drive, Hurst had done as he did most of the night, make a big play to give South Carolina a glimmer of hope. The senior tight end hauled in a 23-yard reception and he had his team driving.
But on a fourth-down play, Bentley threw a pass to OrTre Smith, but not before DeAndre Baker was there to break it up and give the Bulldogs an opportunity to use the clock once more.
“The defense’s resiliency showed,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “Again, they just keep fighting. They shouldn’t point fingers or get mad at each other, and they didn’t do that.”
Georgia’s defense made the plays in the closing moments, but the Bulldogs also did what they do best down the stretch in their 24-10 victory over the Gamecocks.
Georgia ran the ball, which in turn bled the clock.
Aside from two passes to open the drive, Georgia chipped away at the time remaining with eight consecutive run plays. The Bulldogs continued to wear South Carolina’s front seven down, and while Georgia didn’t finish the drive in the end zone, it ran 7:35 off of the clock.
Rodrigo Blankenship converted a 20-yard field goal and Georgia grew its lead to 14 with 6:36 left.
“That’s what we do, we run that ball to keep that clock rolling,” said Georgia running back Sony Michel, who had four rushes on the drive. “It keeps the defense off of the field. Even if you don’t score a touchdown, you just have to stick together.”
Added Smart: “If that ends up in a touchdown, it’s probably one of the best drives of the year.”
Georgia’s defense ended the game in a memorable way; answering the challenge issued by its head coach at the beginning of the week -- winning the turnover battle.
South Carolina was in search of something to salvage, and Bentley looked for Bryan Edwards down the right sideline. As the ball was released, Malkom Parrish stepped in front of the pass and gave his team the 2-to-1 turnover advantage with an interception.
Seconds later, he was donning the gold turnover spikes and was hoisted toward the sideline by his teammates.
“It’s always big to have an interception, but to have one at the end is amazing,” said Reed, who experienced similar treatment after a fumble recovery against Florida. “We put those (spike) pads on Malkom’s shoulders and there’s a great feeling with that.”