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September 7, 2013
ATHENS - Backed into a corner after last week's season-opening loss at Clemson, Mark Richt's 11th-ranked Bulldogs reacted just as he'd hoped against No. 6 South Carolina. They scratched, clawed, and powered their way to the upside of a 41-30 tilt in Sanford Stadium.
"That was a fantastic game," said Georgia's head coach after the game. "So proud of everybody. What a war. Just to think that we've got a bunch more like that coming up, I can't imagine.
"Guys stepped up. Guys played hard, and I'm just proud of them."
Richt called the loss to the Tigers in Clemson last week "heartbreaking," and said it felt like his team didn't have much time to turn around and prepare for the Gamecocks' visit to Athens. But the 12th-year Bulldog coach was ecstatic with how his team met the challenge.
"No one flinched; everybody worked hard," Richt said. "These guys showed me something. We're beginning to define what type of team we are - what type of defense, what type of offense. It was a good sign today to be able to play that kind of game and come out on top like that."
Bolstered by physical play from the big uglies up front and the two-headed rushing monster of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the Bulldogs pounded out a 17-3 start and kept the Gamecocks from ever regaining the lead. The hot start prepped them for a big day, Richt said.
"It just seems like if we get a little something going early, we're going to have success that day, and if we struggle early, it begins to tighten down on you," Richt said. "You're trying to find a perfect call, and you're trying to make a perfect play, and every play becomes bigger and bigger because you haven't got a first down for a while. But once you kind of break the ice a little bit, everybody relaxes and begins to play ball. Early success helped."
Part of that success came from Richt's decision to call for an onside kick in the first quarter after the Bulldogs took a 7-3 lead. The move caught South Carolina's special teams unit off-balance, and Georgia kick-off specialist Collin Barber hit a perfect 11-yard dribbler that the Bulldogs recovered. The recovery led to a field goal that expanded the lead to 10-3. Richt said the decision to go onside came from reviewing film of South Carolina's kickoff alignment almost a week before the game.
"Sunday, coach Olivadatti saw it and showed it to me," Richt said. "He just felt like [South Carolina was] too wide on the front line. They're too far apart from each other...and we were able to get blockers on their two guys and a kicker and another guy to go get the ball. It was executed beautifully. Any time you can steal a possession from another team, it's huge. Great momentum play for us."
South Carolina climbed back within striking distance on several occasions, but it was Georgia that executed time and time again when it counted.
One of those instances came with Georgia ahead 41-30 in the fourth quarter, when South Carolina threatened to make it a one-score game on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Georgia defenders Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson stuffed Gamecock running back Mike Davis for a 1-yard loss, nailing shut South Carolina's coffin for good. Georgia would finish the game with a 13-play, 81-yard drive that ate away the remaining 8:28 on the clock.
"The goal line stand was huge," Richt said. "And then to finish the game like we did offensively, I don't even know how much clock we chewed up. Being able to end the game and not let them touch it again, that was huge. By far my favorite part of the game was to be able to keep moving the ball. Gurley ran it well. All of those guys blocked well."
Richt credited his offensive line with making marked improvement from their performance last week against Clemson, when the Tigers were able to fluster Aaron Murray and disrupt Georgia's offensive rhythm. He noted that the line gave his tailbacks opportunities to gash South Carolina's defense.
"There might have been one or two times when a back couldn't get started," Richt said. "I think just about every time they had a chance to get some positive yards. They protected (Aaron Murray) pretty well for the most part. There was two sacks, but that's going to happen when you're throwing a few times."
The Bulldogs managed to limit Jadeveon Clowney to just three tackles and one sack without dramatically altering their offensive game plan to account for the All-American's presence. Richt said he often called for tight ends and running backs to chip Clowney, and that a guard had missed an assignment on the play when Clowney powered his way inside for a snack.
"He's a great player," Richt said. "We had a good plan, and we executed well. I still think he's one of the best players on the planet."
But Richt knows there's a long season ahead, and his Georgia team has several more trials ahead if they're to make it to Atlanta for the third straight season. Still, he was happy to get the win heading into a bye week.
"It was game two," Richt said. "It's not fun to be 0-2 or 0-1 in the league and hoping someone gets beat. It was good medicine to get a victory. I'm sure it gave our guys some confidence as a team."
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