The No. 11 Bulldogs were upset 16-12 by South Carolina and Steve Spurrier on Saturday evening in a sold out Sanford Stadium. Along the way, all the optimism built by last week’s thumping of the Big 12’s Oklahoma State was squandered, and Georgia fell to 0-1 in the SEC, 1-1 overall.
It was a sweet moment for Spurrier, meaning of course it was an especially bitter pill for Bulldog fans to swallow. Spurrier, who was 11-1 against Georgia while coaching Florida, beat the Bulldogs for the first time since taking the South Carolina job three seasons ago.
However, that didn’t make the win any sweeter, he said.
“We don’t hate them like the Gators do,” he said. “The defense played like we thought they could last week. This wasn’t a shock. It really wasn’t.”
It was the first time any Gamecocks team had beaten the Bulldogs since 2001.
“It’s very disappointing to lose the first game in the SEC,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. “Usually the team that loses this game goes on to have a bad season, but we’re going to step up and play hard every week.”
Georgia never led and at times looked lost in all three phases of the game. The Bulldogs play Western Carolina at home this week and then head into what was considered the meat of their conference schedule.
“In the locker room after the game, trying to be as honest as I could with them, I told them I didn’t think we had a problem with people not playing hard enough,” Coach Mark Richt said. “I think that it was a game of missed opportunities, pretty obvious there.”
Mike Bobo’s first game as play caller against an SEC opponent resulted in Georgia’s first touchdown-less game since 2001 (that loss to the Gamecocks), 341 yards and three third down conversions in 18 tries.
“Red zone plan by me and third down plan I just didn’t think was very good,” Bobo said.
Richt let his first-year offensive coordinator off the hook after the game and said he was never tempted to take over or even suggest plays to Bobo.
“I know what it feels like. You don’t need everybody jumping in there telling you what to do,” he said. “You need to be able to concentrate and think your way through it. The play caller’s responsibility is to put people in position to make plays, and I think Mike did a good enough job of that.”
Sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford was under pressure at times and missed several open receivers when he had time to throw. He had 19 completions on a career-high 44 attempts for 213 yards and one interception. He also was victimized by several dropped passes.
“It was obvious he had some opportunities and was not really crisp,” Richt said. “He made some great plays, but he missed some that were there when he was protected. That’s the whole thing, you have to be more consistent with your accuracy.”
Bobo suggested Stafford may have been trying to throw the ball too hard at times.
“I just didn’t make plays,” Stafford said. “It comes down to putting the ball where it needs to be, and I didn’t do it.”
The offensive highlight was a 104-yard rushing effort by redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno, who became the first Bulldog since Kregg Lumpkin in last year’s Auburn game to break the 100-yard mark and had a 50-yard run, the longest in more than a year at Georgia. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry.
A defense that was always one step ahead of Oklahoma State found itself consistently playing catch-up against the Evil Genius. Add a bushel of missed tackles to the mix, and it led to 314 Gamecock yards. Cory Boyd led South Carolina with 76 yards on 14 carries and the game’s only touchdown. Kenny McKinley caught seven passes for 102 yards, and South Carolina held the ball for 17:14 of the second half.
The Gamecocks’ defense looked like the ball hawks. It was led by GMC transfer Jasper Brinkley, who had 5.5 tackles and the game-sealing interception on a long ball thrown by Stafford to Sean Bailey and tipped into Brinkley’s hands.
The special teams contributed with a missed 48-yard field goal by Brandon Coutu and an illegal shift penalty that negated a fumbled punt by South Carolina. The Bulldogs would have taken possession of the ball on the Gamecocks’ 18-yard line if not for the penalty.
Georgia was out of sorts from the start. South Carolina gave the Bulldogs 61 yards in penalties in the first half, including three third down conversions, but the Bulldogs could manage only 118 yards on their own (63 rushing, 55 passing).
“They seemed to have a little more energy in the first half than we did,” Richt said. “This game certainly doesn’t knock us out of the league race by any means, but we’re definitely behind the eight ball.”
Georgia rallied to pull within one score on a 34-yard field goal by Coutu with 4:42 remaining. (Richt said the Bulldogs would have gone for it on that fourth-down play if it hadn’t faced such a long distance to convert, 15 yards.) The Bulldogs got the ball back with 1:20 left but never got closer to the South Carolina end zone than the Gamecocks’ 46-yard line.
“I asked every player and every coach to make sure you look within when you think about what should have been better,” Richt said.