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October 6, 2012

One down, two to go

Pick any adjective.

Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable.

Whatever the choice, it will still fall short of adequately describing what happened.

South Carolina began arguably the most important three-game stretch in school history - all against opponents ranked in the Top 10 - with a thunderous 35-7 victory over SEC rival Georgia on Saturday in front of a record crowd of 85,199 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina hosted Georgia on Saturday and Gamecock Central was there in force to bring you the very best coverage.
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Steve Spurrier has achieved too many firsts in his eight-year coaching tenure to mention, but the Gamecocks won for the third straight time over Georgia for the first time in school history, as well as the fourth time in the last six meetings.

The 28-point margin of victory posted by USC was the largest for the Gamecocks in the series, surpassing the previous high of 17 points in 1903. Hence, it was the biggest victory for USC over Georgia in 109 years.

"Obviously, this was a special one, no question about it," Spurrier said. "After beating them three years in a row, they can't say they own us anymore, that's for sure. Our offense played beautifully, but so did our defense and special teams. It was a special day for us. This might be the best one since I've been here."

After USC stunned the Bulldogs with a three-touchdown onslaught within 7:10 of the first quarter, the Gamecocks' sensational defense took over, keeping Georgia off the scoreboard until 1:55 remained in the fourth quarter.

"We definitely sent a message to the rest of the country," Marcus Lattimore said. "We come to the ballpark every game expecting to win."

USC stayed unbeaten and improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1988, and 4-0 in the SEC. Now the Gamecocks face a crucial two-game road swing to Baton Rouge and Gainesville to face LSU and Florida, respectively, in two of the loudest, most intimidating venues in the SEC.

One down, two to go.

The Gators beat LSU 14-6 on Saturday in Gainesville to also improve to 4-0 in the SEC East race. USC and Florida are tied atop the division standings.

USC squares off with struggling LSU at 8 p.m. in a week on ESPN.

The stunning victory stamps the Gamecocks as more than SEC championship contenders, but national championship hopefuls as well. USC should rise to at least No. 4 in the latest AP and USA Today/Coaches' polls when they are released around noon on Sunday.

"We'll see where this leads us. One thing we will have to guard against is everybody telling us how great we are right now," Spurrier cautioned. "With so much on the line and being at home, it was a game our guys were really ready for. Our goal is to see if we can match that emotional level and getting ready as we get through the rest of the season."

Through three quarters, USC outgained Georgia 327-149 in claiming a 28-0 lead and kept the hyped freshman running-back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall grounded, with 51 total yards on 21 carries.

Moments after a 62-yard pass to D.L. Moore, Lattimore scored on a short TD run midway through the third quarter to give USC a 28-0 lead and all but seal the deal on a victory that was just as impressive as the upset of No. 1 Alabama in 2010.

At this rate, USC will ask ESPN's "College GameDay" to set up shop in Columbia every week.

When Lattimore scored, sold out Williams-Brice Stadium rocked to "Sandstorm" as delirious USC fans celebrated one of the most convincing and dominating performances by a Gamecock team in recent memory.

"We had a lot of emotion coming into this game," USC quarterback Connor Shaw said. "We had a great week of preparation. The intensity was up in our practice. We came out of the gate rolling. We were all hyped up for this game."

USC didn't commit a turnover against a Georgia defense that had averaged two takeaways in its first five games, and dominated time of possession (33:13 vs. 26:47), especially in the second half (17:49) to deny the Bulldogs any opportunity for a comeback.

The advantage grew to 35 points when Shaw ran 7 yards for a touchdown with 6:17 left in the fourth quarter. Only a Georgia touchdown with less than two minutes averted the team's first shutout since 1995.

The Gamecocks smashed Georgia on both lines of scrimmage. The efficient offense rushed for 230 yards on 51 carries (the fourth-highest single-game total in the Spurrier era), including 109 yards on 24 carries by Lattimore (his third 100-yard rushing game of the season and 11th of his career), and completely overwhelmed the Georgia offensive line.

"We took a whipping," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We got beat by a very good team that was primed and ready to go. Their fans were outstanding. They grabbed the momentum early and hung onto it."

Forced to abandon the run early in the second half, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed just 11-of-31 passes for 109 yards and one interception. He was sacked twice and pressured twice.

If Murray, a redshirt junior, leaves for the NFL after this season, he will finish his career 0-3 against USC.

USC has 25 sacks on the season on its march to a school record.

Coming into the game, eight of the previous 11 meetings between USC and Georgia had been decided by seven points or less. Not this night.

Overall, USC outgained UGA 392-224 in total offense. A week ago, Georgia shredded the Tennessee defense for 560 yards. In fact, the Bulldogs had scored 40 or more points in each of their first five games and led the SEC in several offensive categories.

"We made a conscious effort to not let them get to the outside," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "If you go back and watch them in every ballgame they've played, they make their plays by getting on the perimeter. We tried to keep them to the inside."

The strategy worked as the aggressive USC defense showed why it stood second in the SEC in scoring defense and rushing defense coming into the game.

"Their defense the entire night just took care of business," Richt said. "We have to give them credit. They've got great speed on defense. They are very long human beings and very athletic. (Their defensive ends) are 6-8, 6-6 and have long arms."

The Gamecocks, which earned bowl eligibility for the ninth straight season, extended their overall winning streak to a school-record 10 games, and their SEC East winning streak to 12 games. The Gamecocks have not lost to a divisional opponent since October 2010.

Shaw improved to 13-1 as the starting quarterback. He came into the game ranked 10th in the country in passing efficiency. In his last three games, Shaw has completed 41-of-49 passes after hitting on 6-of-10 passes for 162 yards on Saturday.

Shaw averaged 27 yards per completion, a big reason USC averaged 6.4 yards per play.

Jadeveon Clowney, who finished with four tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss, said Georgia gave away when it was going to snap the ball with a silent snap count, allowing him and the rest of the defense to anticipate when the ball would be snapped.

The result: Domination.

"I'm glad I'm not playing against our defensive line," Shaw said. "They played an excellent game."

The USC offense delivered a message early with a quick five-play, 76-yard drive for a touchdown on its opening drive.

On the second snap, Damiere Byrd snatched the ball away from a UGA defensive back for a crowd-pleasing 42-yard completion. Moments later, Shaw scrambled 10 yards for a first down at the UGA 20-yard-line.

The run set up one of the best play-calls of the season as Shaw took the snap, moved to the right and then quickly threw to the left to an open Bruce Ellington in the end zone for a touchdown, and a quick 7-0 lead with 12:28 left in the first quarter.

"We found a groove," Shaw said. "It's important to in a game like this to come out early and find your comfort level. We just rolled with it."

Georgia returned the ensuing kickoff beyond midfield, but the USC defense denied the Bulldogs when defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles deflected a pass by Murray and DeVonte Holloman laid out for his second interception of the season at the USC 31.

The turnover, UGA's third in three quarters against USC, led to an impressive 11-play, 69-yard drive by the Gamecocks that ended with a pretty 14-yard touchdown pass from Shaw to sophomore tight end Buster Anderson to give USC a 14-0 lead with 6:29 left in the first quarter.

Lattimore carried five times for 22 yards and caught two passes for 24 yards on the scoring drive.

But the Gamecocks were far from done in the first quarter.

Ace Sanders caught a punt and, just like he did against Missouri three weeks ago, zig-zagged his way down the field for a long return. This time, though, he found the end zone for his second career punt return for a touchdown.

Incredibly, USC led 21-0 with 5:18 left in the first quarter.

The first-half stats were as lopsided as the score as USC outgained Georgia 177-39 and recorded 10 first downs. Shaw and Lattimore rushed for 45 and 32 yards, respectively.

Shaw was 5-of-7 passing for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter.

After forcing consecutive punts by the Gamecocks, Georgia drove into USC territory in the middle stages of the second quarter. Murray connected on a couple of big third-down throws, including a 27-yard pass to Malcolm Mitchell on third-and-10 from the USC 31.

But it all went for naught.

Trailing by 21, UGA gambled on fourth-and-goal with 4:15 left, but a short pass fell a yard short of the end zone and USC took over at the 1-yard line.

Georgia came up empty after a 15-play, 80-yard drive to within a few feet of the USC end zone.

"I think we did a good job tonight," Clowney said. "Our goal was to come out here and put pressure on him (Murray) and cause conflict with the offensive line. We came out and did our job."

The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out, but a much-needed 45-yard punt by Tyler Hull pulled the Gamecocks out of danger and the USC defense prevented the UGA offense from picking up a first down.

After an explosive first quarter, the USC offense hit a lull in the second, gaining just 34 yards on 12 plays. But the defense stepped up and kept Georgia off the scoreboard.

Gurley and Marshall, labeled "Gurshall" by Georgia fans and media, combined for 26 yards on 15 carries in the first half, an average of 1.73 yards per carry.

Welcome to the SEC, guys.

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