Either way, Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran swatted down a fourth-down, fourth-quarter throw from South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, keeping the Gamecocks out of the end zone and sealing the Bulldogs’ 41-37 win.
The play summarized Georgia’s defense as a whole on Saturday — it didn’t play great, but made it happen when it counted.
“It was a crazy play in a tough situation,” said Curran, Georgia’s leading tackler with 15 Saturday. “But that was just one play that helped us win. We had guys all over the field making plays here and there, making turnovers. That was just part of my effort for this defense and this team.”
To say Georgia’s defense was a makeshift one against the Gamecocks would be a stretch. But starting defensive end Rod Battle went down in the second quarter (and will now be out for the season with a left ACL tear), linebackers Darius Dewberry and Nick Williams did not play, and Marcus Washington flip-flopped between defensive end and linebacker throughout the game.
Some added adversity for the Bulldog defense that started out the season stalling Oklahoma State’s powerful offense.
“As a team we put a premium on every single play, “ said corner Brandon Boykin, who had Georgia’s first interception of the season. “And I think we did a good job giving the defense good field position [on special teams]. Even when we didn’t the defense bowed up and made a couple of huge stops.”
Georgia’s defense surrendered 427 yards of total offense Saturday, to a Gamecock offense that put up just seven points in its opener against N.C. State.
But the Bulldogs did get consistent pressure on a quarterback for the first time in what feels like ages, hold the Gamecocks to just six of 17 on third-down conversions, and hunker down when the game was on the line.
It was good enough to win and avoid starting the season 0-2.
“This wasn’t just another game,” said Curran. “It was the SEC championship. We can’t expect to go to the [Georgia] Dome [for the SEC title game] unless we take care of the South Carolina Gamecocks and the next SEC game after that.”
“It was a dogfight, but it was something we needed to go through in terms of facing adversity and overcoming it.”
Coach Mark Richt said in his Sunday teleconference that “you can measure anything else you want, but the victory is the most meaningful.”
And while Georgia’s defense was far from sparkling on Saturday, it played with an enthusiasm and vigor that it’s looking to take into this week’s road contest with Arkansas and the rest of the season.
“It just goes to show that brothers are hard to beat,” said end Cornelius Washington, who had 1.5 sacks Saturday. “And as a team, as a defense, we consider ourselves brothers. And brothers are really hard to beat.”