SEC: Gamecocks-Bulldogs 091209

Bulldogs dig deep to save their season

September, 13, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

Dale Zanine/US Presswire
Mark Richt and the Bulldogs had a long week but were able to finish with a victory over South Carolina.

ATHENS, Ga. –- As Georgia’s Mark Richt was dissecting his club’s thrill-a-minute 41-37 win over South Carolina late Saturday night, a cell phone rang during the middle of his press conference.

“Whoever’s phone that is, that’s a $500 fine,” barked Richt, wearing a sheepish smile.

It rang again, and he reached down in his pocket only to admit that it was actually his cell phone ringing. He even answered it and politely told the person on the other end that he was in the middle of a press conference.

There’s nothing like bringing a little levity to the situation after what had clearly been a trying week for the Bulldogs -- and a trying game.

Nobody inside the Georgia locker room wanted to think about what the rest of this month would have been like (or the rest of the season, for that matter) had the Bulldogs not survived Saturday night in Sanford Stadium and avoided an 0-2 start.

“There were a lot of teams that would have crumbled after what happened last week to us,” Georgia senior quarterback Joe Cox said. “We’ve got a group of guys that just weren’t going to let it happen. We’d worked too hard not to play well and not to make the plays we needed.

“We know people are going to mess up in games, but we’ve got to play harder than we did last week. We’ve got to play more together and we need to help each other out. The offense needs to help the defense out, and the defense needs to help the offense out. Today was a pretty good example of that.”

Junior linebacker Rennie Curran didn’t hold back in the defensive huddle in those last few plays.

The Gamecocks were inside the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line and threatening to end Georgia’s season really before it ever had a chance to get started.

“That’s exactly what we were thinking. I just said, ‘This is our season, right here,’ ” Curran recounted. “In the SEC, so many of the games are like this. You’ve got to fight to the end.”

It wasn’t pretty. The Bulldogs gave up 427 yards of total offense and turned it over three times, one of those a Cox interception that South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood returned 35 yards for a touchdown.

But on the ensuing extra-point attempt, Georgia caved in the right side of the South Carolina line, and DeAngelo Tyson blocked the kick.

“It’s all about your attitude,” Curran said. “We could have hung our heads low after that interception. Nobody had that attitude. Nobody pointed any fingers. We went out there and kept a good attitude and kept it positive. We blocked that extra point, which was the difference in the game.”

Richt was really worried about his team last week. He said they were down, even in the tank at one point, coming off the season-opening loss at Oklahoma State.

“I wasn’t feeling real good, either,” Richt said. “But I let the coaches know I believed in them and myself, and the coaching staff let the players know. We’ve done everything that you could possibly do to get prepared for a season the way a coach would ask a bunch of guys to, and you just want to get it going, get a little momentum. We got it, and I’m thankful and hope we can continue that momentum.”

Richt said it’s as hard as he’s seen his team play in a long time, especially considering that the Bulldogs had to overcome some critical mistakes.

“There was a special energy,” Richt said. “I don’t know why. Maybe there was a special sense of urgency of not going 0-2, knowing we’re at home, knowing it was the SEC.

“There were so many things riding on it, and for whatever reason, I think our boys had as much heart and fire, wire to wire, that I’ve ever seen.”

Posted by's Chris Low

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Linebacker Rennie Curran, No. 35, was in the right place and made the right decision at a key moment for Georgia.

ATHENS, Ga. –- Rennie Curran had about a second to make a decision.

Actually, maybe less than a second.

Georgia’s junior linebacker saw South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia scrambling toward him. The goal line was right behind Curran and the first-down marker right in front.

“I didn’t know whether to drop back into coverage or come up and try to make the play on him,” Curran said. “With only four or five yards to go, you have to make a quick decision as a linebacker. He took a step forward and lobbed the ball up.

“I just barely got my fingertips on it. It was being in the right place at the right time.”

The Bulldogs held on to win 41-37 Saturday night in a game that saw the Gamecocks roll up 427 yards of total offense and sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia play the way Steve Spurrier thought he would when the Head Ball Coach signed him out of Tampa, Fla., two years ago.

But whereas Spurrier has been imploring Garcia to stay in the pocket more and not be so quick to take off and run, this was an occasion when Garcia probably should have run.

Curran is glad he didn’t.

“Most likely he would have gotten (the first down),” said Curran, who tied his career high with 15 tackles. “It would have been close. I can tell you they would have been bringing the chains out.”

While the Bulldogs kept their season afloat, the Gamecocks missed a great chance to break through and win one of those close games against a nationally ranked team that’s so often avoided Spurrier at South Carolina. He’s now 5-13 against nationally ranked foes and 15-18 against SEC opponents.

“We had a great chance to win at the end and didn’t get it done,” Spurrier said.

Particularly frustrating for Spurrier were all the penalties. The Gamecocks had two touchdown passes called back because of penalties.

“If we score there at the end, all’s forgiven. But we didn’t,” Spurrier

Final: Georgia 41, South Carolina 37

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- Rennie Curran saved the game for Georgia on Saturday night and quite possibly much more.

In a wild shootout that featured a glut of penalties and even more special teams fireworks, Curran tipped Stephen Garcia's fourth-down pass down near the goal line, and Georgia escaped with a 41-37 victory in Sanford Stadium.

The Gamecocks had driven from their own 19 to the Bulldogs' 7 in the final minutes. Garcia was flushed out of the pocket and looked like he might could have run for the first down. But he tried to hit tight end Weslye Saunders on the move, and Curran was there to tip it away.

It was the kind of game nobody was expecting. Only once this decade had either team scored more than 21 points in the series.

The Bulldogs, after losing last week at Oklahoma State, were in must-win mode. Starting out 0-2 with the schedule they have coming up would have been a disastrous way to start the season.

Now they have new life going to Arkansas next weekend.

One crazy game

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- For a game that was supposed to be your basic 17-13 defensive scrum, this one has just about had it all.

There's been one swing after another, usually triggered by a play in special teams. Case in point: Eric Norwood intercepts a Joe Cox pass and returns it 35 yards for a touchdown.

But instead of tying the game, the Gamecocks get their extra-point attempt blocked. And this is after Spencer Lanning had just tied a South Carolina school record with his fifth field goal.

Stay tuned. It's Georgia 38, South Carolina 37.

We all saw this coming, didn't we?

Lanning ties South Carolina record

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- South Carolina place-kicker Spencer Lanning has come back with a vengeance.

After missing a 27-yarder in the opener, Lanning just booted his fifth field goal of the game to pull South Carolina within 38-31 early in the fourth quarter and tie the school record for most field goals in a game.

Lanning, who also handles the Gamecocks' punting, had never made a field goal in a college game prior to Saturday night.

Gamecocks roll the dice ... again

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

Facing fourth and inches on its side of the 50, South Carolina went for it just before the end of the third quarter and called freshman Jarvis Giles' number.

The Gamecocks ran a toss sweep and got the first down easily. They also went for it on fourth-and-1 on their previous possession from the Georgia 21, leading to a Spencer Lanning field goal.

Green awakens for Georgia Bulldogs

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- You knew A.J. Green was going to break out sooner or later. He's been a much bigger factor in this game for Georgia after not being heard from a whole lot in the opener.

His 34-yard catch and run was vintage Green, setting up a short Joe Cox touchdown pass to put the Bulldogs up 38-23 in the third quarter. It's obvious in seeing Green live that he's both bigger and stronger this season.

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. – So much for the defensive struggle, huh? Georgia leads South Carolina 31-23 at the half. Coming into the game, only once this decade had either team scored more than 21 points for the entire game in this series. Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: South Carolina had taken a 17-7 lead in the first quarter, only to have Georgia’s Brandon Boykin return the ensuing kickoff 48 yards. The Bulldogs used the short field to drive for a touchdown and pull within 17-14.

Player of the half: Boykin has been a one-man show for the Bulldogs. He scored their first touchdown on a school-record 100-yard kickoff return, set up their second touchdown with a 48-yard return and also had a leaping interception in the second quarter.

Best call: Getting the ball to A.J. Green. Georgia’s sensational sophomore receiver had been too quiet. But with only seconds remaining in the first half, senior quarterback Joe Cox lofted a pass toward the back of the end zone that Green went skyward and snared for a 9-yard touchdown, stretching the Bulldogs’ lead to 31-23 at the break.

Gamecocks playing keepaway

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. – Here’s a stat you don’t see every day: South Carolina has run 49 offensive plays to Georgia’s 19. The Gamecocks just pulled within 24-23 late in the second quarter on a Spencer Lanning field goal.

Pepper out for the Gamecocks

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- South Carolina senior defensive tackle Nathan Pepper has a right ankle sprain and won't return to the game, it was just announced in the press box.

The Gamecocks have been playing Cliff Matthews inside a lot and walking Eric Norwood up at end.

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia wasn’t hesitant about putting the ball back in freshman Branden Smith’s hands.

His fumbled kickoff led to a South Carolina field goal in the first quarter, but he got a second chance and delivered on a 61-yard touchdown run to put the Bulldogs ahead 21-17.

Smith has the kind of speed that he should get several more chances this season on offense. He’s a blur once he gets a step on you.

Where did all these points come from?

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. – This isn’t what anybody expected.

It’s 17-14, South Carolina, and we've only played one quarter (an hour-long quarter, at that). In the past when these two teams have met, they could have played 10 quarters and not scored this many points.

Special teams have played a huge role, though. Georgia’s second touchdown was set up by another long kickoff return from Brandon Boykin, who had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier in the quarter.

The Gamecocks went ahead 17-7 when Georgia freshman Branden Smith tried to bring a kickoff out of the end zone and coughed it up inside his own 10.

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- Already, South Carolina has made some crippling mistakes on offense, the most recent one costing the Gamecocks a touchdown.

Stephen Garcia’s 43-yard touchdown pass to Tori Gurley, which would have made it a 14-7 game, was nullified by an ineligible man down the field penalty.

The Gamecocks were fortunate penalties didn’t ruin their first touchdown drive.

Safety Chris Culliver recovered an A.J. Green fumble at the Georgia 23. But on the first play, the Gamecocks were hit with a delay of game penalty. And then with a first-and-goal at the 2, they were penalized for illegal formation.

Gurley's touchdown catch bailed them out.

Kicking game rears its head early

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- There it was, the kind of special teams blunder South Carolina couldn’t afford and the kind Georgia needed to jump-start itself after a dismal start to the game.

Brandon Boykin just took a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown, the longest in school history, to tie the game at 7-7.

A really nice effort by Boykin, but some equally poor tackling by the Gamecocks.

Keeping an eye on Georgia's Cox

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia senior quarterback Joe Cox has been taking all the first-team snaps in pregame warmups.

He seems to be throwing the ball fine, although the real test will come in the game. Cox said his shoulder problems have typically flared up off the field. He didn't throw the ball with a lot pop in the opener against Oklahoma State.

The South Carolina defensive coaches fully expect to see both Cox and sophomore Logan Gray at quarterback Saturday night, and the general feeling among the Gamecocks is that Gray presents more problems for them with his ability to run.