Columbia, S.C. – Billed as a prove-it game, Georgia can only hope this was instead a case of false advertising. If the nation’s No. 5 team proved anything Saturday night, it’s that it shouldn’t be ranked that high, or perhaps at all.
South Carolina was primed to make a point. It took Georgia, which had averaged 48 points in its first five games, 58 minutes just to score a point here. To say the Bulldogs looked a step slow from the get-go is to suggest that “Ishtar” slightly underperformed at the box office. In the first 10 minutes, Georgia managed to get outclassed across the board — on offense, on defense, even on special teams. Not coincidentally, South Carolina had mustered three touchdowns before the visitors managed their second first down.
In a way, this recalled the infamous first half against Alabama in September 2008, the night the Bulldogs wore their black jerseys and trailed 31-0 at the half. But Alabama hit Georgia with a series of body blows. South Carolina was firing haymakers to the jaw: A 42-yard completion that should have been a Bacarri Rambo interception on the game’s second snap; an interception off a tipped Aaron Murray pass on Georgia’s third snap; two Connor Shaw touchdown passes to unencumbered receivers, and finally an outrageous punt return by Ace Sanders.
All the improvements Georgia has made over the past 13 months — or seemed to have made — were called into question in this wretched first quarter. South Carolina was bigger, faster, stronger, tougher and yes, better-coached. The Gamecocks knew what they wanted to do and did it with gusto. Georgia had no good ideas. South Carolina showed it could run the ball, pass the ball, stop the run and rush the passer. (And, lest we forget, return punts.) The Bulldogs could do none of the above.
Example: On Georgia’s only real threat of the first three quarters, Mark Richt chose to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 2. Murray somehow completed a pass for one yard to Rantavious Wooten. “The ball probably should have gone to the [other] side,” said Mike Bobo, the offensive coordinator.
The talent Georgia had displayed against Missouri and Vanderbilt and Tennessee looked rather less impressive this night. Surely some of that had to do with playing on the road, but venue is no excuse for losing 35-7. South Carolina was ready, and that’s a function of coaching. Georgia wasn’t, and that’s a malfunction of same.
Even more distressing was that the big-name Bulldogs — Murray and Jarvis Jones and Rambo and the freshman backs — were rendered pedestrian by comparison. South Carolina’s offensive and defensive fronts exerted their will. The great Marcus Lattimore got all the tough yards. Shaw, who’s from Flowery Branch, made all the tough plays. The Bulldogs acted content to stand back and admire such excellence, and by appearing so passive in such a setting they left themselves open to all the old doubts.
Even in their division-winning season of 2011, the Bulldogs lost to the four best teams they played. This year they’d won five games without meeting anyone of real consequence, and this effort, if that’s the word for it, was so desultory as to make you wonder when, or if, Georgia will ever again beat anybody any good.
Surely they will. They’re too gifted not to break through against somebody. But a game like this made everyone who has attempted to paint these Bulldogs as smarter, tougher, better — and that’s my hand you see raised — feel a fool. When you’re beaten like this, there can be no disclaimers, no qualifiers: This was simply a horrid showing.
Said Richt: “I told the guys, ‘The bad news is that we took a whipping. The good news is that we all took it together … They whipped us pretty good.”
This was worse than the 42-10 loss to LSU in the SEC title game. Georgia wasn’t quite ready for such a game, and the Tigers were too good. But these Bulldogs were older and presumably wiser, and none of that wisdom was brought to bear here. And if Georgia, after all its staff changes and glitzy recruiting, remains incapable of competing on the big stage, whose fault is that?
Todd Grantham’s defense was superb much of last season but seems misdirected now. Bobo’s offense had run up boxcar numbers against lesser lights, but against South Carolina it had but 149 yards through three quarters. And Richt, who’s in charge of this whole operation, used to be able to take teams anywhere and beat anybody. Where did that mojo go?
No, the season isn’t over, and yes, it’s still possible for this team to win the SEC East and play for the conference title. But the season changed Saturday night. Georgia was exposed on national TV as undeserving of its hype, and it can take a program a long time to recover from such an indignity. The Bulldogs’ ceiling got lowered here. When they arrived, we wondered how good they really were. We have a clearer idea now.
By Mark Bradley