Based on the way they’ve played all season, the Georgia Bulldogs were due for a stinker. Unfortunately for them, it might be a while before they can wash off the smell of this one.
Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt in the second overtime, and that proved to be the difference in a 20-17 loss to South Carolina on Saturday afternoon. His kick was wide left.
The miss came after Georgia failed to gain a yard on a run and two pass attempts. The Bulldogs threw an interception on their first overtime possession, and Gamecocks kicker Parker White missed what would have been a 33-yard game-winning kick.
It was the first missed field-goal attempt of the season for Blankenship, a senior. He had one blocked earlier in the game.
“Oh, man, the guy has made so many big field goals for us,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s got to go back to work, but we’ll continue to show confidence in Hot Rod. He’s a worker. We believe in him. He’s meant so much to us, he’s given us so much. But it’s tough.”
The loss snapped Georgia’s 15-game winning streak against SEC Eastern Division goes, a 13-game home winning streak and four-game winning streak against the Gamecocks.
“It was turnovers, without a doubt,” Smart said. “We turned the ball over four times and got none. When you get the ball from the other team four times, and one of them is a score -- when a team scores on defense, it’s like a 90 percent chance they’re going to win -- and we still almost overcame that. But you can’t turn the ball over four times and win.”
It was a tough outing for Georgia’s Jake Fromm, who hasn’t had many in his UGA career. The junior quarterback from Warner Robins threw three interceptions for the first time in his career. South Carolina’s backup safety Israel Mukuamu recorded all three picks.
Fromm was 28-of-51 passing for 295 yards. He almost atoned for his bad day in regulation by leading the Bulldogs on a drive for the ages -- 96 yards in 13 plays to tie the score at 17-17 with 1:48 to play. The possession was particularly dramatic at the end, as a defensive holding call gave Georgia a first down on fourth-and-6 at the Gamecocks 11. Fromm hooked up with Demetris Robertson on the back line of the east end zone to bring the Bulldogs within one with 1:48 to play. Blankenship's extra point tied the score.
Georgia had a shot to win the game in regulation, reaching the South Carolina 38 with 13 seconds to play. But the Bulldogs elected to run another play and were flagged for illegal shift on an incomplete pass to Tyler Simmons. Left with three seconds on the clock, Smart decided that a Hail Mary pass was a better option than letting Blankenship try a field goal from what would have been from more than 60 yards out.
“That was a great college game, and you hate for anyone to lose in that situation, especially the way it happened,” said South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, a UGA football letterman. “Rodrigo Blankenship is an unbelievable representative of the University of Georgia, and my heart goes out to him.”
Georgia was trailing 17-10 early in the third quarter when South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski had to leave the game with a leg injury. The injury occurred on what was determined to be a late hit by Adam Anderson. Replays show Anderson might have been tripped before falling into Hilinski’s legs.
Hilinski was replaced by Dakereon Joyner, a redshirt freshman from North Charleston, S.C. While the Gamecocks’ offense didn't move as well, it moved good enough to keep the chains and clock moving.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs couldn’t get out of their own way. They had quickly and impressively driven to South Carolina’s 30 when the third quarter ended. When the fourth quarter started, Fromm fumbled the exchange from under center and the Gamecocks recovered to end the threat.
“For us it was just not showing up,” said Fromm, who falls to 29-6 as Georgia’s quarterback. “That's part of the focus process. I thought we had a good week of practice. We just didn’t show up today, and you better playing in the SEC.”
Fromm’s first interception of the season was a really bad one. The Bulldogs were trying to rush down the field for a late score in a tight first half. On first down at the Georgia 41, Fromm couldn’t find an open receiver and threw for George Pickens down the Bulldogs’ sideline at the last second. But the ball was short, and Mukuamu broke on it quickly. He picked it off in stride and was never threatened on the way to a 53-yard touchdown return with exactly 1:00 remaining in the second quarter. So instead of staking itself to a lead, Georgia found itself trailing 17-10.
The Bulldogs mounted a drive in the final 60 seconds and reached the Gamecocks’ 36-yard line. But after the Gamecocks used their final two timeouts to interrupt kicker Blankenship’s routine, his 53-yard attempt was blocked by South Carolina’s D.J. Wonnum, a senior safety from Stone Mountain. It was his first miss of the season, and he made a 50-yarder earlier in the game.
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