“They were depleted and had some guys out that probably hurt their depth,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of South Carolina. “But with that said, our guys came out from the beginning and played physical and knocked people off the ball. I thought our O-line and our backs’ second effort was the difference in the game.”
The Bulldogs’ win avenged a shocking upset of then-No. 3 Georgia by South Carolina’s last year in Athens. Georgia committed four turnovers and missed two field-goal attempts on the way to a 20-17 loss in double-overtime in that game.
This one never was a contest as the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and five of their first seven in the game. South Carolina mounted a brief comeback, scoring 10 consecutive points on back-to-back possessions early in the second quarter to get within 21-10. But Georgia scored 24 consecutive points from there to the first play of the fourth quarter, and the rout was on.
“It felt great, it felt awesome, we got redemption,” said sophomore safety Lewis Cine, who led Georgia with 12 solo tackles.
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels hit freshman wideout Arian Smith with a 31-yard TD pass -- which was Smith’s first career reception -- on the first play of the fourth quarter. That ended Daniels’ night 10-of-16 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore from Irvine, Calif., did throw his first interception with the Bulldogs at the end of the first half. But the great passing acumen that resulted in 401 yards and four touchdowns in Daniels’ season debut last week simply was not needed on this night.
With the win, No. 9 Georgia improves to 6-2, with winless Vanderbilt coming to Sanford Stadium on Saturday. South Carolina, which fired Will Muschamp on Nov. 15, falls to 2-7.
With best buddies Mike Bobo and Smart patrolling the opposing sidelines, it was game that certainly made legendary Georgia coaching legend Vince Dooley proud. Four running backs got into the act with 77 or more yards, including freshman Daijun Edwards, who closed out the game with 77 yards on 14 carries.
“He doesn’t want or need my pity,” Smart said of Bobo, his roommate when they played for the Bulldogs. “He’s a football coach. He takes his team and motivates his team and gets them ready to go out and play. ... He doesn’t need my pity, and I’m not giving him any. My job is to go out and win the football game.”
The victory was Smart’s 50th as Georgia’s coach.
Georgia’s run game staked it to a 28-10 lead in the first half as the Bulldogs executed scoring drives of 65, 82, 78 and 65 yards. But the Bulldogs’ defense looked somewhat vulnerable to end the half. Smart went to the locker room frustrated as his defense allowed South Carolina to score on back-to-back drives and nearly gave up another one late in the second quarter.
A third-and-short stop by Georgia and fourth-down motion penalty by the Gamecocks left them with a 53-yard field-goal try they could not convert.
Taking over at their own 35 with only 25 seconds remaining, Georgia tried to add to its lead. But a fluky bounce of the ball off Kearis Jackson’s hands landed in the arms of South Carolina’s Jammie Robinson for Daniels’ first interception as a Bulldog.
But the Bulldogs’ defense vanquished any hope the Gamecocks had in the second half. South Carolina’s first two drives of the third quarter netted minus-7 yards, and Georgia converted its first two possessions into scores to grow its lead by 10.
Daniels, in his second start as Georgia’s quarterback, immediately led the Bulldogs on a 65-yard scoring drive to open the game. He hit tight end Tre McKitty for a 40-yard gain on a post route, then would connect with McKitty again for a 6-yard touchdown a 7-0 Georgia lead just 2:50 into the contest.
Georgia got a 44-yard drive from Cook on its next possession and would score seven plays later on a Cook run around left end. That made the score 14-0 with 5:52 still remaining in the opening quarter.
Their next time with the ball, the Bulldogs went all runs. The last two on the five-play, 78-yard went for 32 yards to Kenny McIntosh and 22 yards to the end zone for White, and Georgia was ahead 21-0 with 2:23 still left in the first quarter.
Georgia’s fourth touchdown of the first half came on a six-run, one-pass drive that ended with Cook’s second score, this one on a 29-yard run off a draw. Cook also had a 14-yard reception on third-and-5 to the South Carolina 31.
The Bulldogs climbed on their bus for the three-hour ride back to Athens feeling good about themselves.
“Everybody had a good game,” Cook said. “We did it as a group. We’ve just got to finish strong and take it practice-by-practice to just keep getting better.”