Football can be such a simple thing, especially when it works on the raw, primal level of good nature programming.
You’re better. You know it. You get the choice pieces of the kill. The smaller and the weaker scramble down there at the gross end of the zebra.
That was Georgia’s task Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium, to turn an SEC opener against a border-state rival into a lesson in athletic Darwinism. To believe everything being said about this dawn of a new Bulldog Dynasty is to believe that Georgia wins a game like this as a matter of clinical, observable science.
Finding their strut in the second half Saturday, priding themselves afterwards on dominating both the weather and the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs brought down South Carolina 41-17. It was the kind of show of strength that buttressed every thought that the SEC East is property of Georgia, even though we’re only in the ridiculous heat of early September.
Winners write the history, and so Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm gets to put this game into perspective: “We wanted to come out and make a statement that we are who we say we are.”
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If the Dogs are indeed the deepest they’ve ever been, if their egos still do easily fit into helmets and pads, if Kirby Smart truly has weaponized the potential that’s always been there in Athens, then expressing dominance should be simply a matter of how much they want to do it on any given game like this.
With barely more than three minutes gone in Saturday’s game between ranked foes, the Bulldogs already were up on South Carolina 14-0. They already had scored one touchdown on offense and one on defense. The special teams obviously were underachieving.
A key part of making this whole dominance thing work is maintaining it. Keep it up until all fight is gone. Don’t let the other guy a breath of hope.
The Bulldogs struggled a bit with this concept in the first half. It’s not always easy learning to be king.
For instance, as cornerback Deandre Baker was running up the sideline with his first-minute-of-the-game interception, maybe he shouldn’t have been thinking, “I wonder how soon I can get rid of this football and look really good doing it? I’m going to redefine the modern highlight!”
And then Baker drops the ball before actually crossing the goal line. Fortunately, linebacker Juwon Taylor picked it up, getting credit for the touchdown along the way for doing nothing more than sweeping up behind the circus.
In the first half, South Carolina cut the Bulldogs lead to 14-7 on a clever little gimmick play. That was receiver Deebo Samuel taking the handoff and throwing it to a lonely Bryan Edwards for a 13-yard TD.
South Carolina hope floated even more when the Bulldogs came out after the ensuing kickoff and immediately took a couple of penalties before Jake Fromm threw deep, into the arms of Rashad Fenton, who plays for the other team. The challenger grew temporarily bold.
For the first half the Gamecocks ran 15 more offensive plays than Georgia, outgained Georgia by a few yards and possessed the ball slightly longer. And still trailed by 10.
The Bulldogs, who had an inspired little drive for a field goal in the final 43 seconds of the first half, began working on the step-on-their-necks part of the game plan when they took the kickoff to begin the second half.
It helped that they were possessed of the confidence that the mid-90s heat - reaching triple digits at field level - was their friend.
“We thought if we ran the ball early and pounded away it would take it’s toll in the second half and I think that showed through,” Smart said. His team rushed for 271 yards Saturday, with three different backs scoring touchdowns. And the names Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were never fondly mentioned once.
“We talked to them about trust your training,” Smart said. “Trust the fact that you work out all summer in the heat, trust the fact that we practice in the heat every day, trust the fact that we make it very demanding in practice so the game is easier.”
“Bring it on. The heat’s better for us,” Fromm said.
It also served Georgia quite well when its superior players began making a number of superior plays. It became increasingly obvious that Georgia was the only team on the field capable of stopping Georgia this day as it put together consecutive six-play, 75-yard touchdown drives to begin the second half.
The Bulldogs thought it a good idea to get receiver Mecole Hardman the ball with room to run, and he ran until he ran out of grass for a 34-yard catch and sprint. Georgia 27, South Carolina 10.
On Georgia’s next possession, Hardman broke wide open for a 42-yard gain, leaving it to Evander Holyfield’s kid, Elijah, to carry the ball the final five yards for a touchdown. Just like Seamus McDonagh would not beat his dad, South Carolina would not upset him. Georgia 34, South Carolina 10.
“We’re hard-nosed and physical,” Holyfield said, speaking about the identity of these Bulldogs, which nicely mirrors that of his old man.
By the close of the 21-point third quarter for the Bulldogs, Georgia fans began taking over in the lower sections of Williams-Brice Stadium as the South Carolina people evacuated to somewhere cooler and more hospitable. All the red celebrating on the road was rather mindful of a certain breakthrough game for Georgia last year against another ranked team in South Bend, Ind.
This hostile taking over of foreign fields is becoming something of a habit. Of his fans, Smart said, “They’re supporting a good cause.”
South Carolina had arrived at Saturday thinking multiple good thoughts. The Gamecocks rose into the rankings this week (No. 24) for the first time since 2014. There was reason to lean on the old theme of South Carolina playing Georgia tight because that’s the way it always has played Georgia.
Not anymore. Saturday made it four straight for the Bulldogs, none of the victories being by less than two touchdowns. Between his stays at Florida and South Carolina, Will Muschamp is now 1-6 against the program he used to play for.
“We got whooped on the line of scrimmage,” Muschamp said, providing the very essence of football dominance, from the receiving side.
The Bulldogs are still working on the dominance thing, obviously. They can get better at it. But they certainly seemed to settle quite nicely into the role as the sun dipped low and the shadows grew long in South Carolina.