Everybody knows that, for going on two seasons, lack of scoring punch has held Georgia back. The angst has focused on the passing game, but there’s more than one way to make big plays. For a long time, Georgia’s way has been to parade good tailbacks behind big lines that move defenders.
That was missing element in last weekend’s offensive awakening against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs found it at South Carolina on Saturday night.
A week after the Bulldogs couldn’t run on Mississippi State, they ran all over South Carolina for a 45-16 victory. New quarterback JT Daniels saved them in last weekend’s 31-24 victory. He didn’t need to do it this time because the Bulldogs bullied the home team for 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
James Cook went for a personal collegiate-high 104 yards and two touchdowns. Zamir White had 84 yards and two scores. All tailbacks who wanted yards got them because the blocks were brutal and the space plentiful.
“My ‘O-line’ gave me a lane to run,” Cook said. “They leaned on them and played with physicality.”
This was vintage “manball” for Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs. You could see it coming after Georgia gained only eight yards rushing against Mississippi State. That’s not supposed to happen. Their desire to change that, and South Carolina’s yielding defensive front, meant the ‘Cocks had no chance once Georgia got going.
It didn’t take long. Daniels paced Georgia’s touchdown drive on their first possession. On the first play of Georgia’s next series, White gained nine yards. He dragged several defenders for seven of them as his teammates pushed from behind.
That play put a charge in White’ teammates and sent USC a signal. The Bulldogs were going to try to bully them. Said Cook: “Just knowing the ‘O-line’ was blocking their tails off made me excited.”
It was Cook’s turn next. He accelerated through a big gap off right tackle for a 44-yard run down the sideline. The Bulldogs got into scoring range on George Pickens’ 17-yard catch. They finished the drive with Cook’s 5-yard TD run on a pitch to the left side.
No defender touched Cook until he was nearly in the end zone. His blockers cleared out the left side. The Bulldogs established they could shove South Carolina aside. They kept at it until they had a 28-10 lead at halftime and a 35-10 advantage barely three minutes after it.
Georgia’s offense rolled to more than 400 yards for the second week in a row. Daniels and his receivers did most of the good work against Mississippi State. He passed for 401 yards and four TDs. Against South Carolina, Daniels was 10-for-16 for with two scores and one (deflected) interception.
Now it was Georgia’ backs and big guys on the line putting up points. In one week, the Bulldogs went from eight yards rushing to 332.
“Let’s be honest,” Smart said. “A lot of it has to do with the other team and what they do. We didn’t call a bunch of different runs. We didn’t reinvent the wheel and run the ball. ... (The Gamecocks) are a beat-up football team and they are just not as stout as Mississippi State.”
We’re used to seeing Georgia gash opponents, no matter how stout, with chunks of yards on runs. The Bulldogs got back to doing what they want on the ground against South Carolina.
Georgia had three big runs on the drive after Cook’s touchdown. They all looked like his stroll. Kenny McIntosh had big lanes to run through on back-to-back carries, for 13 and 32 yards. On the next play White saw a similarly wide path and dashed 22 yards for a TD.
After three drives, the Bulldogs had 157 yards rushing on 14 carries (one sack excluded). At halftime they had 214 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Cook’s second TD run went for 29 yards. White’s second score, a 3-yard run in the third quarter, came after Kearis Jackson’s 52-yard punt return put Georgia 13 yards from the end zone.
The Bulldogs couldn’t bury Mississippi State despite their offensive revival. Their defense surprisingly surrendered 358 yards to a bad offense and twice gave back leads. South Carolina’s offense is better, if not good. Georgia made the Gamecocks look inept.
South Carolina essentially made just two plays in the first half. A trick-play pass from freshman quarterback Luke Doty to Nick Muse gained 35 yards and led to Kevin Harris’ TD run. Later in the half Harris broke three tackles to convert a third-and-9 that set up a 39-yard field goal.
That was pretty much it for the ‘Cocks before the game got out of hand. South Carolina interim coach Mike Bobo saw what was happening and had to take a chance. The Gamecocks trailed 28-10 and, after Doty’s 1-yard run, faced a fourth-and-1 at UGA’s 30-yard line with less than a minute until halftime.
After a timeout, the Gamecocks lined up to run a play. A false start penalty scuttled it. Then Parker White missed a 53-yard field-goal try. The Gamecocks got the ball after halftime. Their only hope was to score a quick touchdown, but they went three-and-out. Then came Jackson’s big punt return, Smith’s touchdown run and a 35-10 lead.
Georgia beat South Carolina for the fifth time in six meetings. The Gamecocks won 20-17 in two overtimes at Athens last year. This was more like the 41-17 beating the Bulldogs put on South Carolina in Columbia in 2018.
“It felt great,” Georgia safety Lewis Cine said. “It felt awesome. We got redemption.
The South Carolina game first exposed Georgia’s offensive limitations in 2019. Those problems mostly persisted until Daniels and a revived receiving corps breathed life into the Bulldogs. It was back to bully ball at South Carolina. That’s what the Bulldogs are supposed to do, no matter the quarterback.