Gamecocks Top Bulldogs, 45-42, In SEC Thriller
Sept. 10, 2011
ATHENS, Ga. -- Twelfth-ranked South Carolina gained an early advantage in the race to repeat as Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions with a thrilling 45-42 victory over Georgia on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
The high-scoring contest went back and forth for most of the night with seven lead changes, but the Gamecocks took the lead for good in the fourth quarter behind sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore.
For the second straight year, Lattimore came up big against the Bulldogs, rushing for 176 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. His 3-yard touchdown run with 3:28 remaining gave the Gamecocks a 38-35 lead they did not relinquish. Lattimore, who surpassed 100 yards rushing for the sixth time as a Gamecock, has rushed for 358 yards in two career games against Georgia. As a team, South Carolina racked up 253 yards on the ground.
"We weren't going to forget about (Lattimore)," said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who moved past Jim Carlen for sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list at South Carolina with 46. "He gives us our best chance to win. At the beginning, there wasn't much room to run there because Georgia's line was able to stuff us. It opened up some in the second half and he was able to move the ball. He's a great back and we had to keep going to him. He gives us hope to make any kind of run."
The Gamecocks improve to 2-0 on the season and 1-0 in the SEC as they won back-to-back games over Georgia for the first time since the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The 87 combined points is the most ever scored between the two schools in the series, and South Carolina's 45 points are the most it has ever scored against Georgia.
With the loss, Georgia (0-2, 0-1) starts a season with two losses for the first time since 1996.
South Carolina built a 10-point lead after Lattimore's late touchdown when freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sacked Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray for a 10-yard loss, knocking the ball loose at the Georgia 5. Defensive end Melvin Ingram picked up the fumble and ran it into the end zone to give the Gamecocks a 45-35 advantage.
The Bulldogs made things interesting with a quick score, as Murray connected with Tavarres King for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 left to trim Carolina's lead to 45-42, but Ingram recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win. The onside recovery was Ingram's third big play of the contest as he also had a 68-yard touchdown run on a fake punt to go along with his fumble recovery for a touchdown.
"This was a good win for us," Spurrier said. "Give Georgia credit, they outplayed us but we were fortunate to win. That's how football is sometimes. We had some big plays and had a few defensive scores, which helped us out a lot. I think Melvin Ingram deserves a lot of credit for making some huge plays. He's a heck of an athlete."
South Carolina got off to a slow start for a second straight week with its offense stalling on its first two possessions of the game. The Bulldogs took advantage and put the first points on the board on their second possession. Blair Walsh capped a six-play, 50-yard drive by drilling a 37-yard field goal to give Georgia a 3-0 lead at the 5:59 mark of the first quarter.
Walsh's second field goal of the day, a 39-yarder, pushed Georgia's lead to 6-0 with 3:09 left in the first.
With their offense struggling, the Gamecocks used a career-long 59-yard punt by Joey Scribner-Howard with less than 11 minutes left in the second quarter to pin Georgia at its own 12 to reverse the field position.
The Gamecock defense kept the Bulldogs pinned deep with the help of Clowney's first career sack to force a Georgia punt that gave South Carolina great field position at its own 47.
After driving to the Georgia 34, Stephen Garcia scrambled out of the pocket and fired the ball to Alshon Jeffery in the corner of the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown to give the Gamecocks a 7-6 lead after Jay Wooten's extra point. Jeffery finished the game with five receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown, while Garcia completed 11-of-25 passes for 142 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Georgia answered on the next possession with a big play of its own. On third and 5 from the South Carolina 26, Murray took his time in the pocket and found a wide-open Rantavious Wooten for a 26-yard scoring strike, as the Bulldogs regained a 13-7 lead.
But the Gamecocks quieted the crowd on the ensuing possession with some trickery on fourth down, lining up for a punt on their own 32-yard-line. The snap went directly to Ingram, who then rumbled down the sideline for a 68-yard score, as the Gamecocks went into halftime with a 14-13 lead. The special teams touchdown was South Carolina's second in as many weeks.
"We had it in the playbook all year," Ingram said. "We called it a couple times earlier in the game but it wasn't on so we didn't run it. This is another stepping stone. We're trying to get better every week."
The Bulldogs regained the lead in the third quarter behind freshman running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell hauled in a 23-yard pass to move Georgia deep into Carolina territory and later caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Murray to help the Bulldogs take a 20-14 lead.
However, Georgia's momentum didn't last long, as South Carolina used a pair of huge defensive plays to build an eight-point lead. On the Bulldogs' next possession, Crowell fumbled at the South Carolina 39, and Stephon Gilmore scooped it up and weaved his way 56 yards to the Georgia 5. Two plays later, Garcia ran it in from 8 yards out, as the Gamecocks took a 21-20 lead.
The defense continued to come up big for the Gamecocks. On the ensuing possession, Antonio Allen stepped in front of a Murray pass and raced 25 yards for a score to give South Carolina a 28-20 lead. Allen has scored a defensive touchdown in his last three regular season games.
The Bulldogs answered with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Michael Bennett and tied the game at 28 with a two-point conversion from Murray to King, but the Gamecocks regained the lead with a career-long 49-yard field goal by Wooten with 8:31 left.
Crowell then pushed Georgia back in front with a 15-yard touchdown run on the next possession, but Lattimore's 3-yard touchdown run at the 3:28 mark gave South Carolina the lead for good.
"It was a big drive late in the game and we took back momentum," Jeffery said. "We never came from behind before, so that was good. To win games you have to finish in all three phases -- defense, offense and special teams."
Murray completed 19-of-29 passes for 248 yards and four scores to lead the way for Georgia, while Crowell rushed 16 times for 118 yards and a touchdown.
South Carolina returns to action next Saturday in its home opener against Navy. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium.