The last time the No. 3 Bulldogs looked this bad in this stadium, they went on to win the Southeastern Conference title. Saturday, Georgia overcame an injury to starting tailback Danny Ware and its own bumbling to defeat South Carolina 20-16 in front of 84,300 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“Every time we come here, it’s really no fun at all,” said Coach Mark Richt, who improved to 13-1 on an opponent’s field. “I’m not looking forward to coming here in two years.”
Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) spotted South Carolina 16 points and didn’t take its first lead until David Greene hit Reggie Brown with a 22-yard touchdown pass with 9:56 left in the game to give the Bulldogs their final margin of victory.
“I feel like this was a starting point for us to make a run at the championship,” said safety Thomas Davis, who led Georgia’s defense with nine tackles. “It showed the younger guys what it’s about.”
The Gamecocks (1-1, 1-1) threatened immediately after Brown’s touchdown, moving the ball to Georgia’s 17-yard line, but Greg Blue forced a Dondrial Pinkins’ fumble with a vicious hit. Arnold Harrison recovered it on the Bulldogs’ 13-yard line with 6:39 left.
“He did a little hurdle, and I was right there,” Blue said. “That was Georgia defense in the fourth quarter. I hope that makes up for last week.”
Georgia gave the ball right back, though, as Tyson Browning fumbled on the second play of Georgia’s ensuing drive. Linebacker Ricardo Hurley recovered at the Georgia 11-yard line. Four plays later, South Carolina faced a fourth-and-one at the 7-yard line.
Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder told his defense the Gamecocks would run either a quarterback draw or quarterback bootleg, linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler said. It was a bootleg, and Wheeler, DeMario Minter and Jarvis Jackson stopped Pinkins short of a first down.
That still didn’t seal the victory thanks to a three-and-out performance from the offense. The game wasn’t decided until Tim Jennings tipped a Pinkins pass and Paul Oliver intercepted it at Georgia's 41-yard line.
“I was curious to see how this team would react to something like this and I found out,” Richt said. “You need to know what’s in their hearts. I’m really pleased with the outcome.”
Offensively, though, the news isn’t as encouraging. South Carolina had three offensive series before Georgia ran its second offensive play, and the Bulldogs were shut out until Andy Bailey hit a 26-yard field goal to cut South Carolina’s lead 16-3 with 6:47 left in the first half.
After another Bailey field goal, Georgia scored its first offensive touchdown since the 2000 game in Columbia. It was a 12-yard run by Browning, who was filling in for an injured Danny Ware. That score pulled Georgia to within three at 16-13 with 6:20 left in the third quarter. Michael Cooper ended up as Georgia’s leading rusher with 61 yards. Browning had 54.
On the Bulldogs’ last trip to Columbia, they won 13-7 despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. That was in 2002 and Georgia finished that year 13-1 and conference champions.
“There’s something about this place,” said Greene, who struggled but found his rhythm late and finished 19-of-38 for 213 yard, two touchdowns and one interception. “Offensively, we haven’t played well here. We can’t come here and just play a great game offensively.”
The Bulldogs finished with 20 first downs and 367 yards of total offense on 75 plays. Brown was the leading receiver with five catches for 68 yards.
South Carolina outgained the Bulldogs per play but only got 52 plays thanks to a staunch and opportunistic Georgia defense. Troy Williamson led the Gamecocks’ offense, gaining 131 yards on just three catches. He had the Gamecocks’ only touchdown, a 65-yard catch with 54 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Georgia is used to winning,” South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. “They made plays when they had to.”