What did Gamecocks say about playing No. 1 Georgia close?

South Carolina's head coach Shane Beamer shouts instructions during the second half in an NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Athens. Georgia won 24-14. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

South Carolina's head coach Shane Beamer shouts instructions during the second half in an NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Athens. Georgia won 24-14. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

ATHENS – South Carolina gave No. 1 Georgia a pretty good scare at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. The Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1) led 14-3 at halftime and remained in position to retake the lead until the Bulldogs finally surged ahead 24-14 with 9:10 to play.

South Carolina’s third-year coach Shane Beamer was pleased with his team’s overall performance and said he was not at all surprised it went “toe-to-toe” with the Bulldogs. The Gamecocks returned to Columbia, S.C., where they will play host to Mississippi State on Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network). Georgia (3-0, 1-0) gets UAB (1-2) in Athens (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Following are some of Beamer’s comments from his postgame press conference in the visitors’ locker room at Sanford:

On keeping it close against Georgia …

“Congrats to Kirby (Smart) and Georgia. They showed what a championship team does. That’s why they’ve won back-to-back championships, coming back in the second half and playing like they did. Proud as heck of our players. They fought their butts off.”

On jumping out to 14-3 first-half lead …

“It wasn’t a shock to anyone. I know the story was, ‘oh my God, how is South Carolina in this thing?’ We expected this. Anybody who’s surprised by that hasn’t watched us the last couple of years. I’m really proud of our team. We did what we’re supposed to do in the first half. In the second half, give Georgia credit. We had four keys to this game and one of them was ‘make them earn it.’ We didn’t do a good enough job of making them earn it. I have a long list of self-inflicted things from the second half. … Didn’t play clean football and that’s frustrating.”

On what he learned about his team …

“Proud of the fight. One of the sayings in our program is ‘stay in the fight’ and our guys stayed in the freakin’ fight today and gave us a chance to win all the way through the fourth quarter. I’m more convinced than ever what kind of team we can be. We just went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country, the back-to-back defending national champions. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win it in the fourth quarter. We said all week, ‘let’s just get this thing to the fourth quarter,’ and we did. We just weren’t able to get it done. But there’s no question we’re a better football team than we were two weeks ago in Charlotte, and we will continue to get better as the year goes on.”

On Georgia’s offensive comeback in second half …

“We just needed to be able to get off the field on third downs and stop the run a little better. Overall, we got some stops and held them to 24 points, so no major complaints there.”

On offensive breakdowns in second half …

“The disappointing this was the penalties (11-73), especially presnap. That was disappointing. Receicers and offensive linemen just had too many penalties in the second half, without a doubt. But I was proud of our offensive line. For Tree (Babalade) to be able to come in today as a freshman left tackle against these guys and give us a chance was good. … I thought they did OK. Got to be better. Everybody struggles to run against these guys.”

On injury to Antwane “Juice” Wells …

“We’re going to let him see a specialist on Tuesday this week and should have a better idea then. I don’t think it’s necessarily season-ending. We think it’s something he’ll be able to play with. We’ll know more on Tuesday.”

On quarterback Spencer Rattler’s play …

“Yeah, he’s a dude. I wouldn’t trade him for any quarterback in the country, and I absolutely would not. He gives you a chance to win every game. I know statistically the second half wasn’t great. But I remember looking at the stats at halftime and seeing he had two incompletions and some of the runs he had – he gives you a chance. We’ve got to continue to help him and not have the penalties we had, but he’s a special player, great leader, great poise throughout the day, just a great quarterback.

On Georgia’s second-half surge …

“We knew they were going to respond and come back in the second half. Nobody came in the locker room having a celebration because we were leading 14 to 3. We expected to be in that position and we didn’t come in there and talk about it. We approached it like it was 0-0. We were controlling the game in the first half, but we knew they were going to respond and answer. It’s disappointing that we gave up an explosive pass on their first series to get them down there. We had some personnel issues there.”

On problems running the football …

“I mean, nobody runs the ball against them, first of all. I’m not going to get on a rant like I did two years ago about what they’re doing up front, but we need to be able to pop some runs in there somewhere and sustain. But this is a really good run defense, a really good defense, period. But we’ve got to continue to get our running game going.”

On prospects for the season going forward …

“Yeah, we’ve got a group of fighters. You saw that today. I know everybody thought this thing was going to be lopsided and out of hand by halftime. We didn’t. We know we’ve got a good football team. We’ve been here before, unfortunately, at 1-2. There’s no moral victories. Nobody’s sitting here patting themselves on the back because we played Georgia to a 10-point game. There’s a lot of disappointment because we gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game and we didn’t get it done. But there’s also a lot of confidence knowing we’ll continue to get better. We feel good about this football team and these remaining nine games.”