If you had deliberately set out to script a completely nightmarish first quarter for Georgia against South Carolina, where just about everything went wrong for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs, you couldn’t have come up with anything more demoralizing for the Bulldog Nation than what transpired Saturday night in Columbia.
It was a complete failure on the part of Georgia’s defense, offense and special teams right from the get-go, with the first quarter being the worst a Richt team has looked since the infamous “Blackout” loss to Alabama in 2008.
On the first series of the game, Todd Grantham’s defense loaded the box to try and slow Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore, who had feasted on the Dawgs the past two years, daring Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw to use his arm and go deep to beat them. Which he proceeded to do on the second offensive play of the game, hitting Damiere Byrd on a 42-yard pass on which Bacarri Rambo went for and missed the interception.
Shortly after that Shaw found Bruce Ellington wide open in the Georgia end zone and the Cocks were up 7-0.
Georgia got a great kickoff return from Malcolm Mitchell, helped by a flag against South Carolina, but hopes that the Dogs could keep up with the Gamecocks fizzled on Georgia’s third offensive play as an Aaron Murray pass was deflected (which would turn out to be a frequent occurrence on this night) and intercepted. That turnover led to the Gamecocks scoring a second touchdown — on another play on which Georgia’s suspect pass coverage again left a receiver uncovered.
Then it was time for the Bulldogs’ special team collapse of the night, with a punt returned all the way by the Gamecocks’ Ace Sanders for a touchdown.
So, with less than 10 minutes having elapsed in the first quarter, South Carolina was already up 21-0.
The second quarter saw Georgia briefly threaten to get back into the contest when the Dawgs put together their one sustained drive of the half, finally lining up first and goal inside the Carolina 10 thanks to a great catch by Mitchell.
First down saw Todd Gurley bull his way to the Carolina 2.
Then Mike Bobo decided he wanted to try and score in the most conservative (and predictable) way possible and called another Gurley run into the line that gained a mere yard.
On third down, Murray tried to force a dangerous pass that fell incomplete. Rather than take 3 points, Georgia rightly decided to go for it on fourth down, but for some reason Murray threw a pass in front of the goal line rather than to one of his receivers in the end zone and ended up short — and with no points to show for an 80-yard, 15-play effort.
The game was essentially over at that point, although the second half saw the Gamecocks add a couple more touchdowns and give up one in garbage time as a determined Boo Malcome ran hard against Carolina’s second-string defense to avert a shutout.
The main storyline of the evening was this: The Gamecocks’ defensive line dominated the Dogs’ offensive front all night, shutting down the “Gurshall” running attack and constantly harassing Murray, who had one of his shakiest performances in quite some time.
And while Grantham’s defense eventually slowed down the Carolina juggernaut a bit, there was no denying that early on they looked absolutely clueless as Shaw directed the Gamecocks’ offense just about perfectly.
So, once again, a Richt team that had soared into the Top 5 by beating lesser nonconference and midlevel SEC opponents came a cropper when it faced a good team.
It was a performance so flat and lifeless that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit termed it “shocking.”
Actually, not so shocking for anyone who’s watched Richt teams in recent years repeatedly show up looking unprepared and unmotivated whenever they face a Top 10 opponent.
As the Georgia head coach himself put it after the game, it was bad enough that the Dogs lost, but “the way we lost hurts and is embarrassing as well.”
The emphasis there should be on embarrassing.
Feel free to share your own views on Georgia’s complete failure in Columbia.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg