ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia likes this view a whole lot better.
The Bulldogs were forced to rally the past two seasons, managing to win a pair of Southeastern Conference East titles despite losses to South Carolina. Now, it’s Georgia seizing the early lead, knocking off the Gamecocks 41-30 in the league opener.
South Carolina will have to do what the Bulldogs did two years in a row – come from behind to reach the SEC title game in Atlanta.
“It feels great to be ahead in the SEC East,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said after Saturday’s game. “That’s a huge thing.”
The Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) snapped a three-year losing streak to the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1), thanks to a dynamic offensive performance and one key defensive play – a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter. This was essentially a must-win for Georgia, given it has a more difficult conference schedule the rest of the way, including a game in three weeks against No. 8 Louisiana State University.
Georgia is off this week. It will be an enjoyable break.
“It’s been tough for three years hoping that (South Carolina) loses so that we can get to Atlanta,” Murray said. “We know it’s a long season, though, and we just have to keep working.”
There’s not a whole lot of work needed on the offensive side, not after the Bulldogs ripped off 536 yards and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes against Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina defense.
Murray, a fifth-year senior, had one of the best games of his career, completing 17 of 23 passes – even with several drops – for 309 yards and four touchdowns. He showed some mobility on two of his scoring throws, a point of emphasis during his preseason work with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Defensively, the Bulldogs still gave up plenty of huge plays.
They certainly knew there would be some growing pains after losing seven players in the NFL Draft, but Georgia has surrendered more points (68) and yards (921) than anyone would’ve expected at this early point.
That said, the situation sounds even more dire at South Carolina, where coach Steve Spurrier second-guessed the schemes of defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and vowed some changes before the Gamecocks’ game against Vanderbilt.
“We’re struggling on defense,” said Spurrier “It’s sort of sad watching.”
The biggest priority for South Carolina is finding a way to get Clowney more involved.
He was clearly frustrated after being held to three tackles, including his first sack of the season.
“I told the coaches, man, you’ve to put me somewhere else,” the defensive end said. “In the middle if you want. I don’t know. Somewhere so I can make some plays and help the team and put us in position to win the game. They really just ran the ball away from me and took me right out of the game.”