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September 7, 2013
ATHENS - The South Carolina offense rang up 454 total yards on Saturday at Sanford Stadium, and at times looked as sharp and crisp as they ever have in Steve Spurrier's nine seasons as head coach.
Most fall Saturdays in the SEC, that number represents enough production to prevail in a conference where outcomes are typically determined by fast, quick and strong defenses.
However, in front of a boisterous sell-out crowd of 92,746 fans at Sanford Stadium, an out-of-sync and wobbly USC defense let the Gamecocks down far too many times in a frustrating 41-30 loss to Georgia in the conference opener for both teams.
Impressive showings by quarterback Connor Shaw (16-for-25, 228 yards), running back Mike Davis (149 yards rushing) and wide receiver Nick Jones (six catches for 97 yards, two touchdowns) were nullified by a porous Gamecock defense that yielded a staggering 536 total yards and seldom slowed down the prolific Bulldogs offense guided by quarterback Aaron Murray.
The exclamation point came in the final 8-1/2 minutes of the game when the Georgia offense, backed up to its own 1-yard line, drained the clock with a lengthy drive deep into USC territory, destroying any comeback hopes by the Gamecocks.
For the second straight game, the USC defense didn't register a turnover. Georgia was 6-of-14 on third downs, including 4-of-8 in the second half, and 2-of-3 on fourth downs.
"It was pretty obvious Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today," Steve Spurrier said afterwards. "They kicked our tails up and down the field. We couldn't stop them and they made a bunch of third down conversions."
The loss snapped USC's three-game winning streak over Georgia, and dropped the Gamecocks to 0-1 in the SEC. They host Vanderbilt next Saturday at 7 p.m.
Steve Spurrier is now 15-6 all-time against Georgia, 5-5 when opposed by Mark Richt.
The winning team reached 40 points for the third straight meeting between USC and Georgia at Sanford Stadium.
Besides reached the century mark for the second straight week, giving him 264 rushing yards on 28 carries heading into what now becomes a pivotal SEC contest against the Commodores at Williams-Brice Stadium, Davis had four receptions for 49 yards, giving him 198 all-purpose yards.
"Mike Davis had about as good of a game as any running back I have ever seen," Spurrier said. "He played his heart out, as did Connor Shaw. He also had an excellent game. We didn't score every possession and we got beat. Sometimes you have to score every possession, but we weren't able to do that."
For the second straight week, Davis and Shaw logged the same number of rushing attempts as each had 16 on Saturday
In a wide-open affair in which the Gamecocks and Bulldogs combined for 1,090 total yards, USC was balanced offensively, rushing for 226 yards and passing for 228 yards.
USC is now 35-5 under Spurrier when rushing for 150 or more yards.
Murray was 17-of-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns, an average of 18.2 yards per reception. Todd Gurley ran for 132 yards on 17 carries, with 90 yards coming in the first half.
Georgia totaled 227 yards on the ground, one more than USC and had six drives of 65 yards or more, three straight drives of 81 yards or more in the final 21 minutes of the game, a sign that UGA simply wore down the Gamecocks, running 76 plays.
"We haven't had a turnover on defense in two games," Spurrier noted. We are struggling a little bit on defense. They ran it right down our throat. Vince Dooley probably has a smile on his face with the way they played tonight. I thought we could slow them down, but when we did, we gave up a big play.
"We just couldn't get them off the field, it was as simple as that."
The top five tacklers for USC were freshmen or sophomores led by middle linebacker Kaiwan Lewis with 12 stops, while Todd Gurley had 11 tackles, pushing his total to 20 in two games.
Outside linebackers Skai Moore and Marcquis Roberts collected six tackles apiece.
Criticized for his ordinary performance in USC's opener, Jadeveon Clowney collected three tackles, one sack (his first of the season) and two tackles for loss in the setback.
"Aaron (Murray) played a pretty good game today," Clowney said. "He threw it quick and they ran it away from me the whole game. Their game plan worked out for them today."
With the score tied at 24-24, Shaw scrambled for enough yardage to register a first down on USC's first possession of the second half, but he lost his grip on the football at the UGA 25 and the Bulldogs recovered for the first turnover of the game by either team.
"Who knows what would have happened if he had held onto the ball," Spurrier said. "Maybe we could have scored."
UGA immediately turned a short pass into a long gain by Keith Marshall into USC territory, and soon drove into the red zone thanks in part to a Gamecock penalty. But a blitz by Marcquis Roberts off the edge dropped Murray on third down and the Bulldogs settled for a 37-yard field goal by Patrick Beless with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
Georgia grabbed a 34-24 lead when Murray found Gurley in the end zone for a 8-yard touchdown play with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Clowney missed several plays on the drive after he limped off the field with a foot injury. Murray had J.T. Surratt and Clowney bearing on him when he connected with Gurley.
But Davis promptly sped down the left sideline for his second 75-yard run in as many games, setting up his powerful three-yard TD run with 13:55 left that only sliced UGA's lead to 34-30 because of a missed extra point.
Davis, as strong and powerfully built as any running back in the SEC, carried three UGA would-be tacklers into the end zone for his second TD of the season.
However, the USC defense, battered and bruised all day by the Bulldogs offense, yielded an 85-yard touchdown pass on third-and-13 from the UGA 15 with 13 minutes left, restoring the two-score deficit (41-30).
When USC got the ball back, they drove to within inches of the goal line until Davis was stuffed by multiple UGA tacklers on an option pitch out of the shotgun.
Shaq Roland made his presence felt on the drive with a pair of receptions, one of them a sensational leaping grab to the SC 43.
Georgia dug itself out of a huge hole with a swing pass on play-action, completely fooling the USC defense. Quickly, the Bulldogs roared down the field and totally drained the clock, putting the final nail in USC's coffin.
"This one stinks a little bit," Shaw said. "It's frustrating. I thought our offense did a good job of bouncing back from their big plays. We had a turnover and they didn't have any turnovers. It's frustrating, but the past two years we've beat them and they've gone on to play in Atlanta. So that's the mindset we have to
have going forward."
A wild, wacky and wide-open first half produced 48 points, 468 combined yards and an abundance of big plays by both teams. Fittingly, the opening 30 minutes finished tied, 24-24.
USC took the opening kickoff and converted a pair of third downs (14-yard pass to Jones; 21-yard run by Davis) during an impressive 11-play, 57-yard drive that bore fruit in the form of a 36-yard field goal by freshman Elliott Fry.
Georgia responded with a six-yard, 65-yard scoring drive that ended on an easy three-yard touchdown throw from Murray to a wide-open tight end Arthur Lynch in the middle of the end zone.
Moments later, Richt dug dip into his bag of tricks by unexpectedly calling for an onsides kick. The Bulldogs recovered at its 46 and drove as far as the USC five-yard line before Patrick Beless booted a 22-yard field goal with 2:51 left in the first quarter to give Georgia a 10-3 lead.
Georgia, again clicking on all cylinders offensively, drove 69 yards in seven for another touchdown on its third possession, grabbing a 17-3 lead.
Needing something positive to happen, USC converted a key third-down on its ensuing possession from the SC 45 when Shaw fired a missile to Ellington on a well-executed slant for a confidence-building first down to the UGA.
Davis handled most of the heavy lifting with five rushes for 36 yards, including a clutch three-yard carry on fourth-and-2 from the UGA 14 that set the stage for Brandon Wilds' fourth career rushing touchdown, a seven-yard scamper with 7:07 left in the second quarter.
When the Gamecock defense forced a three-and-out, USC got the break it wanted when UGA punter Collin Barber dropped the snap and fell on the fumble at the UGA 18.
Spurrier wasted no time calling for the corner route, and Shaw connected with Jones in the right side of the end zone to even the score, 17-17.
Georgia's third TD drive - an 11-play, 70-yard march - left 1:38 on the clock for the Gamecocks and Shaw responded by leading a frantic 71-yard scoring to knot the score at 24-24 with nine seconds left in the opening half.
Shaw, throwing the ball as confidently as he had all day, lofted a 30-yard scoring strike to Jones in the left corner of the end zone for the tying touchdown.
The teams soon strolled to their respective locker room knowing the final 30 minutes would decide matters.
1Q - USC, Fry 36-yard field goal, 9:28 (3-0)
1Q - UGA, Lynch 3 yard pass from Murray, 7:28 (3-7)
1Q - UGA, Beless 22-yard field goal, 2:51 (3-10)
2Q - UGA, Marshall 6-yard pass from Murray, 12:22 (3-17)
2Q - USC, Wilds 7-yard run, 7:07 (10-17)
2Q - USC, Jones 18-yard pass from Shaw, 5:07 (17-17)
2Q - UGA, Gurley, 2-yard run, 1:42 (24-17)
2Q - USC, Jones 30-yard pass from Shaw, 00:13 (24-24)
3Q - UGA, Beless 37-yard field goal, 8:03 (27-24)
3Q - UGA, Gurley 8-yard pass from Murray, 00:18 (34-34)
4Q - USC, Davis 3-yard run, 13:55 (Xpt missed)(40-34)
4Q - UGA, Scott-Wesley 85-yard pass from Murray, 13:00 (41-30).
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