It was apparently the great Vince Lombardi that remarked that “football (was) a game of inches”, and, for most of the game, South Carolina and Georgia were giving up gobs of it, 36 inches at a time. How fitting in a game that featured a combined 30,780 of them (855 yards) that a pivotal play would come down to less than one.
Dylan Thompson looked sharp and confident early, needing just 4:27 before finding Shaq Roland with a 10-yard pass to make it 7-0. Thompson went 4-4 for 64 yards on the opening drive, and it looked as if he’d have an easy time of it throughout.
Then we saw the Gamecocks’ defense in action for the first time. Actually, not for long, because the Bulldogs needed just two plays–a 36-yard pass to Isaiah McKenzie and a 33-yarder to Sony Michel. Two plays, less than 30 seconds, tie game.
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And it looked like it would be a long afternoon right after that. Brandon Wilds showed poor awareness on a designed pitch play and never grabbed hold of the ball, coughed it up and had it recovered by Georgia at the 28. Fortunately, a holding that erased a nice Todd Gurley run set the Bulldogs back as they were ultimately forced to turn to Marshall Morgan to hit a 36-yarder to make it 10-7 Dawgs. It was Morgan’s SEC-record 19th consecutive made field goal in a row. More on that later.
Thompson and the Gamecocks responded with another solid scoring drive, though, to make it 14-10.
The second quarter saw the Gamecocks go three and out after receiving a punt to start the frame. On Georgia’s next possession with 3rd and 5 at the 46, Todd Gurley caught a pass for no gain, and that’s where the controversy peaked.
It was Jordan Diggs, though, who took exception and was nailed with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to reset downs. I don’t know how they missed the clear headbutt on Gurley. In any event, the Carolina defense bent, but didn’t break, and Morgan made it 20 in a row with a 26-yarder. 14-13.
No problem for Dylan Thompson. We saw glimpses of the player that we thought he’d be all year. Example: the next scoring drive, where he went 6 of 8 for 72 yards to put the Gamecocks up 21-13. He was confident in the pocket, making the throws he needed to, and getting good protection from his offensive line.
Remember that twenty-in-a-row field goal streak by Morgan? Gone on the next UGA drive. Hutson Mason would lead his team to the 27, but (again) the “D” made stops when it needed to (Georgia also shot itself in the foot with a false start). Morgan’s 44-yarder? No good. Still 21-13 as the home team dodges a bullet. That became 24-13 as Elliot Fry stepped in and hit a 32-yard FG as the half expired.
Half number two didn’t start well for Carolina, and it was all thanks to Mr. Gurley. Gurley, clearly one of the top backs in the country, had four carries for 48 yards on the opening drive as the Bulldogs ran it down the defense’s throat, and the defense did little to stop it. 24-20.
Sep 13, 2014; Columbia, SC, USA; Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) closes in on South Carolina Gamecocks running back Brandon Wilds (22) in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports Time for a response, and that’s when Brandon Wilds stepped up. With Mike Davis on the bench, Wilds had five carries for 33 yards, nearly getting it into the end zone, but was stopped just short. No problem: Thompson called his own number. 31-20. (Props to Wilds, because he showed his own capability to make plays with Davis on the sideline, and to the offensive line opening up holes for him.)
But we were just getting started.
Georgia opened the 4th quarter driving and scoring on a short touchdown pass to Jay Rome and converting for two to make to 31-28. Earlier in the drive, Mason Zandi was hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty, clearly angering Steve Spurrier on the sideline. It also included this from Gurley (have to give him some respect).
The solution? Put Wilds back to work. And he went to work: with Davis again on the bench and the ball on the Georgia 42, Wilds had a 15-yard run, followed by a 24-yard run into the end zone. 38-28.
Ballgame? Not hardly. On 3rd and 11 at their own 24, Georgia converted–a 22-yard pass to Chris Conley, and later, Quayvon Hicks, yes, the fullback, scorched the Gamecocks run defense and headed to the end zone. 38-35 with 7:10 left, and it would be a terrible time for a turnover.
That’s what happened with 5:24 left. Thompson’s errant pass found a player with a while jersey, compounded by a (marginal) illegal block by Shaq Roland to set the Bulldogs up at the 4. Then, I guess the Bulldogs self destructed, because Mason inexplicably grounded the ball to avoid a sack. They’d get to the 11 to bring out Morgan, who had missed one earlier. He missed again. Williams-Brice went into a frenzy. (Credit J.T. Surratt for knocking the ball down at the line to keep the Dawgs out of the end zone.)
You know the rest: the Gamecocks marched to midfield, had 4th and inches at the 50, and literally picked it up by the thinnest of margins.
Ballgame. Gamecocks 38, Bulldogs 35. Not a pretty win, but a win nonetheless. And in the SEC East, that’s all that matters.