For the first five games of No. 1 Georgia’s SEC schedule, the Bulldogs had rolled to easy wins, defeating teams by an average of 35 points. Their closest SEC win was by 25 points.
Next-day report cards were often littered with “A” grades. Head coach Kirby Smart never said the Bulldogs were playing perfectly, but they often appeared close to it. That wasn’t the case in Georgia’s 24-10 win over South Carolina on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia started the game with a failed onside kick, which South Carolina recovered at midfield. The Bulldogs received five penalties — all in the game’s first three quarters — for 55 yards, and they occasionally struggled on third down defense.
“You're not always going to get that perfect performance everybody's looking for,” running back Sony Michel said. “At the end of the day we played physical football. We played fast football. That's what Georgia's about.”
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On Georgia’s first offensive possession, tight end Charlie Woerner was called for a personal foul on a block that injured South Carolina defensive back D.J. Smith, who later returned to the game.
Four plays later, wide receiver Terry Godwin caught a pass and ran inside South Carolina’s 5-yard line. The ball was stripped from his grasp as Godwin was tackled, which was Georgia’s first fumble since the Vanderbilt game. South Carolina recovered. Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out, but during the punt, freshman Ameer Speed was flagged for a block in the back.
Defensively, Georgia struggled to get off the field on third down at times. On South Carolina’s only touchdown drive, Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley completed passes of 16 and 20 yards on third down. Later, in the second quarter, Bentley found tight end Hayden Hurst running wide open on third-and-15. The pass was completed for 35 yards.
“They converted some third downs we shouldn't have given up,” Smart said. “We played sloppy on defense on third down, which you can't do against a good team. Everyone one of those third downs they convert are three or four or five or six more carries for (Georgia’s running backs). We got some things we got to clean up in regards to that.”
South Carolina converted three of its first five third downs, but finished the game 4-for-12.
After Georgia opened the third quarter with a touchdown, South Carolina attempted a fake punt pass on fourth-and-six on its own side of the field. The pass fell incomplete, but Jarvis Wilson was called for holding on the intended receiver, giving South Carolina a first down. A few minutes later the Gamecocks converted a field goal.
“We played OK,” safety J.R. Reed said. “They had some explosive plays we got to stop.”
Later, in an 11-point game near the end of the third quarter, Reed was flagged for a late hit. He said he didn’t hear the whistle. South Carolina picked up 15 free yards, but was forced to punt four plays later.
Though the Bulldogs didn’t play their best, they still intercepted Bentley twice and held the Gamecocks to 270 total yards, including just 43 yards rushing. Georgia executed enough to win, and within an hour of the game ending, Kentucky’s loss to Ole Miss gave the Bulldogs an SEC East Championship.
“It was a very workmanlike win,” Smart said. “I'm proud of the way we played.”