ATHENS, Ga. — Early in the fourth quarter, Aaron Murray faced down his reputation of failing to win the big game.
With Georgia clinging to a four-point lead on third and 13, Murray eluded Jadeveon Clowney, threw on the run and connected with Justin Scott-Wesley at midfield. The play resulted in Murray’s fourth touchdown, helping the senior quarterback shed his albatross of his poor play against ranked opponents.
“Everybody said Aaron can’t win the big game,” Scott-Wesley said. “We knew coming in all we had to do was give him some time.
“I have full faith in Aaron.”
Murray threw for 309 yards and made clutch plays time and again as No. 11 Georgia stiff-armed No. 6 South Carolina, 41-30, in its Southeastern Conference opener at Sanford Stadium.
The Bulldogs bounced back from a 38-35 loss at No. 8 Clemson a week earlier with a relentless no-huddle offense that put up 536 total yards. Georgia snapped a three-game losing streak to South Carolina and now has a small cushion over the Gamecocks to win the SEC East.
“It’s a huge win,” Murray said. “I’m very, very happy right now the way we played as a team.
“It’s been tough for three years to be hoping that (South Carolina) loses so that we can get to Atlanta, so its a great feeling to be 1-0 in the (SEC East) right now. We know it’s a long season, though, and we just have to keep working.”
Much maligned for his 4-10 record versus top 25 opponents entering the contest, Murray completed 17 of 23 pass attempts – his receivers dropped four passes. More importantly, he didn’t throw an interception after doing so each of the past two seasons against the Gamecocks.
“Aaron played a pretty good game today,” said Clowney, the All-American defensive end who stated during the SEC Media Days in July that Murray was scared of him. Clowney finished with one sack, another tackle for loss and three total tackles.
“He threw it quick and ran it away from me the whole game. Their game plan worked out for them today.”
Led by Clowney, South Carolina’s defense had no answer for Georgia’s running game. Todd Gurley rushed for 132 yards and one touchdown as the Bulldogs rolled up 227 yards on the ground. Augusta freshman tailback Brendan Douglas recorded 31 yards on five carries – all in the fourth quarter – as Georgia ran out the clock.
After suffering a 35-7 blowout loss a year ago to South Carolina, Georgia looked like it was going to return the favor. Murray fired a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Arthur Lynch before hitting tailback Keith Marshall on a 6-yard pass play to lift the Bulldogs to a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter.
South Carolina, which posted 452 yards of offense, bounced back with a Brandon Wilds 7-yard touchdown run. Then, the Gamecocks capitalized after Georgia punter Collin Barber dropped the snap and recovered it on the 18. Connor Shaw tossed the first of two touchdown passes to Nick Jones to tie the game.
The teams went into halftime knotted at 24.
South Carolina blew an opportunity to take the lead in the third quarter when Shaw lost a fumble on the Georgia 25 – the lone turnover of the game. Georgia converted the mistake into a 27-24 advantage after Patrick Beless drilled a 37-yard field goal. Gurley followed with an 8-yard touchdown reception from Murray at the end of the quarter.
Mike Davis, who gained 149 yards on 15 carries, scored on a 3-yard run to start the fourth quarter to pull the Gamecocks within four. Then, South Carolina had its chance to stop the Bulldogs, with Georgia facing third and 13 from its 15. Murray scrambled left, dashed around Clowney and found Scott-Wesley wide open at the 45. The sophomore receiver blazed down the left sideline past the Gamecock secondary for an 85-yard touchdown, staking Georgia to a 41-30 lead with 13 minutes remaining.
“I guess it was blown coverage,” Scott-Wesley said. “(Murray) kept it alive. I did my job getting outside along the sideline. He threw the ball and I just turned on the jets.”
South Carolina threatened again when Shaw directed a 72-yard drive deep in Georgia territory. But on fourth and goal from the 1, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson stuffed Davis on an option pitch from Shaw at the 1.
“That’s all we needed, one stop,” Murray said.