The message was clear: I’ve still got faith in you. Richt reinforced that point on Georgia’s last drive of the game. The Bulldogs faced a third-and-22 from their own 8-yard line, and Richt called a long pass pattern instead of a safe running play. Shockley and senior receiver Bryan McClendon came through with a 27-yard completion that helped the Bulldogs run out the clock.
“If we had punted it, they would have basically been in field goal range,” Richt said. “We just had to get it out of there. That was a huge play at that point in the game.”
It was McClendon’s third catch of the game and maybe the biggest of his career.
“I really credit the coaches and the offensive line did a great job,” he said. “All I had to do was catch it and stay inbounds. I pulled my weight today, especially on that play.”
EARNING HIS PAYCHECK: Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez wasn’t fooled when he watched tape of South Carolina’s win over Central Florida last week. The Gamecocks didn’t use the spread formation, one of Steve Spurrier’s favorites, a single snap during that game.
Still, Martinez was convinced the former Florida coach would go back to his roots, and the Bulldogs studied plenty of Gator tape and practiced against the spread extensively this week. It paid off as Spurrier went to the spread formation for most of the second half, including on the Gamecocks’ decisive two-point conversion attempt.
“That was just trying to play the chess game,” Martinez said. “It’s a good thing we practiced it.”
HEAVY PRESSURE: Georgia’s sacks are back and just in time. The Bulldogs, who didn’t have a single sack in the first game of the year, took down South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell four times Saturday. Two of the biggest of those went to Middle Georgia products.
Hawkinsville’s Charles Johnson had two of those, including the biggest of the game, bringing down Mitchell for a 9-yard loss to set up a fourth-and-19 on the Gamecocks’ final play.
“There was no doubt we had to get pressure because we knew Blake Mitchell was a really good quarterback,” Martinez said.
NEW LOOK: The Bulldogs finally broke out the wishbone formation, and it was a disaster. Georgia ran out of the traditional option alignment on the first two plays of the game. The first was a busted play that resulted in a 4-yard loss. The second time gained 3 yards back, but the alignment never made another appearance.
THE PLAY: Richt broke out his favorite play in the first quarter, calling for a play-action pass to Sean Bailey on fourth-and-one from South Carolina’s 39-yard line. Quarterback D.J. Shockley executed the fake well enough to get the ball off to Bailey, who was double covered in the end zone but managed to get his hands on the ball before dropping it.
HURRICANE RELIEF: Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive and UGA president Michael Adams, who also serves as president of the SEC, spoke at Sanford Stadium prior to the game and discussed the conference’s efforts to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The conference pledged to give $1 million of its money, and every member school was expected to take up money at at least one game. Georgia took up money at Saturday’s game. In all, the league expects to raise between $2 million and $3 million.
DECLINED?: Both coaching staffs made questionable decisions to decline penalties in the first half. South Carolina went first by declining an illegal procedure penalty against Georgia that would have given them a third-and-17 with 4:49 left in the first quarter. Instead, they took the result of the play, which meant fourth-and-10 and a punt.
Georgia scored its first touchdown after receiving that punt.
The Bulldogs returned the favor with 13 minutes left in the second quarter when they declined an illegal procedure penalty against the South Carolina offense. The penalty would have given the Gamecocks a first-and-15 at their own 5-yard line. Instead, they had a second-and-seven from their 13 and picked up a first down on the next play.
BOOMERS: The Bulldogs abandoned their tradition of high kickoffs designed to land inside the 5-yard line. Against the Gamecocks, Brandon Coutu booted the first kick of the game through the back of the end zone, giving South Carolina the ball on the 20-yard line but negating the chance of a long return.
On the next kick, Coutu kicked the ball 2 yards deep and Daccus Turman brought it out, only to be stopped at the 10-yard line.
LIMPING LINEBACKER: Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe suffered a sprained left ankle and didn’t return to the game.