COLUMBIA, S.C. – A dismal loss to South Carolina extended and exacerbated the Georgia football team’s multi-year trend of struggling — a lot — against top opponents.
Saturday night’s 35-7 loss — Georgia’s first game of the season against a ranked opponent and its first defeat of the season — dropped the Bulldogs’ record against Top 25 teams to 2-8 since the start of the 2010 season, including 0-4 against Top 10 teams.
And going back a bit further, the loss dropped the Bulldogs to 6-14 against Top 25 teams since the start of the 2008 season, including 1-9 against Top 10 opponents.
The impact of the loss on Georgia’s national reputation was quickly registered. Ranked No. 5 before the game, the Bulldogs tumbled Sunday to No. 14 in the Associated Press media poll and No. 12 in the USA Today coaches’ poll. South Carolina rose from No. 6 to No. 3 in both.
Asked late Saturday night how he responds to the perception that Georgia doesn’t rise to the occasion in high-profile games, UGA offensive lineman Chris Burnette said: “I can’t really dispute it because we haven’t.”
The Bulldogs’ only wins over ranked opponents in the past 2 1/2 seasons came last season against Auburn and Georgia Tech, Nos. 24 and 25, respectively, in the AP poll at the time of those games.
You have to go back to a 2009 victory over Tech, No. 7 at the time, to find Georgia’s most recent victory against a Top 10 opponent. Aside from that, the Bulldogs have lost to every such team they’ve faced in the past 4 ½ seasons: Alabama and Florida in 2008; Oklahoma State, LSU and Florida in 2009; Auburn in 2010; Boise State and LSU (SEC title game) in 2011; and South Carolina in 2012.
“We definitely want to make sure that in the future we can rise up to that occasion,” Burnette said. “We know what we’re capable of, but we’ve just got to go back and look at film and figure out what happened, what we did wrong.”
Saturday’s loss left Georgia (5-1, 3-1 SEC) a game behind South Carolina (6-0, 4-0) and Florida (5-0, 4-0) in the SEC East. Georgia doesn’t play this week, while South Carolina is at LSU and Florida at Vanderbilt.
Georgia won the East last season despite losing to South Carolina. To repeat that feat, the Bulldogs likely would need to win out — including Oct. 27 vs. Florida, currently No. 4 in the AP poll — and would need South Carolina to lose twice (say, at LSU and at Florida).
“I’m definitely not losing confidence in this team at all or in our coaching staff or anything like that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “That’s the worst thing you can do. Teams panic and they tend to fall apart. But Georgia is not going to fall apart.
“A year ago, we’re 0-2 and everybody wants to decide the sky has fallen and it’s over for Georgia. But what did we do? We stayed firm; we believed in each other; we kept banging away; we started to win; and before you know it, we won the Eastern Division. … It’s unfortunate [Saturday’s game] came out the way it did with so much at stake, but there’s still a lot at stake. The sun did come up, and we’re going to get back to work.”
Richt rejected the suggestion the Bulldogs were flat against the Gamecocks.
“I wouldn’t say it was a flat performance,” he said. “I would just say that South Carolina physically whipped us.”
He continued: “If we’d had more success early in the ballgame, it wouldn’t have seemed like a flat performance. Even the initial drive, if [Bacarri] Rambo hangs on to the pick and we turned it into points, all of a sudden things look a little bit different. So there’s a lot of things that could have happened along the way if we could have [pass-]protected better or run- blocked better and been more accurate or tackled better — all of those things. I’m still going to say South Carolina did a heck of a job, and we didn’t get it done.”
Georgia averaged 48.2 points in winning its first five games, but the Gamecocks jumped to a 21-0 lead in the first 10 minutes and held the Dogs scoreless until the final two minutes.
As South Carolina built the early lead, Georgia had breakdowns on offense (a tipped interception), defense (a missed interception, open receivers) and special teams (a 70-yard punt return for a Carolina touchdown). So it went, the Gamecocks’ domination starting on the line of scrimmage and permeating all phases of the game.
“It’s definitely humbling,” Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones said.
“They were shell-shocked,” South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore told reporters. “We hit them in the mouth, and they weren’t ready for it.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE OF GEORGIA-SOUTH CAROLINA GAME