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Bulldogs defeat Gamecocks in Columbia, 41-17

Georgia-South Carolina
Photo: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs traveled to Williams-Brice Stadium for their Southeastern Conference opener and a 41-17 rout of the 24th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in front of a CBS nationally televised audience on Saturday.

With an efficient 15-for-18 clip, 194 yards and a touchdown, sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm guided Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) to its highest point production in Columbia, dating back to 1894. Five more Bulldogs joined Fromm with trips to the end zone: senior linebacker Juwan Taylor, running backs D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien and wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who also led the receiving group with six completions for 103 yards – both career bests.

On the defensive side, redshirt junior J.R. Reed and senior Deandre Baker registered an interception apiece, with sophomores Richard LeCounte and Monty Rice pacing the defense with career-highs of 10 and eight tackles, respectively.

“When we execute, we are hard to stop,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “That is important for us to be able to execute and do the things we need to do to have success. I do think our team played physical, played hard, and overcame a tough environment, but we didn’t play our best game. We have to improve.

The Georgia defense produced the first Bulldog points. A deflected pass from Jake Bentley intended for running back Rico Dowdle found Baker, who returned it for 55 yards but fumbled inches before the end zone. Taylor trailed it and completed the touchdown, and Blankenship’s extra point secured the 7-0 margin.

Following a South Carolina three-and-out, a 30-yard Fromm-Hardman completion and a 15-yard Gamecock penalty positioned Georgia in the Red Zone. The next play, Swift sealed the two-touchdown lead with an untouched 17-yard rush.

South Carolina added a touchdown of their own on the next drive, using Deebo Samuel’s arm to find Bryan Edwards in the end zone. The Gamecocks then re-gained offensive possession with an intercepted pass from Rashad Fenton, but Georgia forced the South Carolina offense off the field after three plays and a failed fourth-down attempt, setting up a 45-yard field goal from Blankenship.

After both teams exchanged possessions, South Carolina started on its own 20-yard line and marched to Georgia’s 6-yard line at the 7:36 mark in the second quarter. The Bulldog defense proceeded to hold the Gamecocks to a field goal, featuring a sack for a loss of three yards from senior linebacker D’Andre Walker.

Under the two-minute marker, the Bulldogs halted the Gamecock offense and returned the ball to Fromm. With 43 seconds left in the half at the 33 yard-line, the quarterback from Warner Robins, Georgia completed passes to junior tight end Isaac Nauta and senior wide receiver Riley Ridley. Fromm ran for another seven yards before Blankenship boomed a second 45-yard field goal for the 20-10 lead at the half.

Back from the locker room, the Bulldogs directed a 6-play, 75-yard possession, capped by a 34-yard pass from Fromm to Hardman for the 27-10 advantage with a Blankenship extra point.

Sixty seconds later, the Georgia offense was on the field again, beginning a five-play, 70-yard production, highlighted again by Fromm and Hardman, who connected for 42 yards before a 5-yard touchdown from Holyfield.

A South Carolina three-and-out set up a Georgia drive flooded with runs from three different Bulldog backs: Swift, Holyfield and Herrien, who used a 15-yard touchdown to help Georgia to a 41-10 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

With the Gamecocks on the Georgia 5-yard line at the 13:25 mark in the fourth quarter, Reed caught a Bentley pass in the end zone for the second Bulldog interception of the game. South Carolina tacked on a touchdown with 9:59 remaining in the game, but Georgia maintained possession for the 41-17 final.

Next, the Bulldogs return to Athens, Georgia for a meeting with Middle Tennessee, slated for 7:15 p.m. on ESPN2.

POST-GAME NOTES

*Points To Ponder: Georgia carried a 20-10 advantage to halftime and posted a 41-17 win, marking the most points it has ever scored in Columbia in the series that dates back to 1894. The 24-point margin of victory was the most in Columbia since 1971. Georgia improved to 2-0 (1-0 SEC) on the year and has won four in a row over USC. Georgia has opened the season with two straight games of 40+ points for the first time since 2012.

The Bulldogs jumped ahead 14-0 in the first quarter for its big lead of the half and then exploded for 21 points in the third quarter to build a 41-10 lead. Georgia is now 18-2 under Kirby Smart when leading at the half. Georgia took the second half kickoff 75 yards on six plays, capped by a 34-yard TD pass from Jake Frommto Mecole Hardmanfor a 27-10 edge. On Georgia’s next possession of the second half, they put together another six-play, 75-yard TD drive, capped by an Elijah Holyfieldfive-yard plunge and a 34-10 lead. Fromm finished 15-for-18 for 194 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in three quarters while Hardman established a career-high for receiving yards with 103 on six catches. Hardman was the first Bulldog receiver to have a 100-yard game since Isaiah McKenzie (103 yards on 4 rec.) vs. TCU in the 2016 Liberty Bowl win. On the 3rdpossession of the second half, Georgia extended its lead to 41-10 with a nine play, 86-yard in 4:37, capped by a 15-yard TD by Brian Herrien, the first of the year and fifth of career. Holyfield finished as the leading rusher with 76 yards on nine carries (both career highs) with one TD.

*To The House: Senior DB Deandre Baker collected his first interception of the year and the sixth of his career in the first quarter and returned it 55 yards to the USC 1 before dropping it before crossing the goal line. Senior ILB Juwan Taylor scooped up the fumble and scored, which is still officially called an interception return for a touchdown, to put Georgia up 7-0. This was the fourth defensive score during the Kirby Smart era. Taylor’s touchdown marked Georgia’s first interception returned for a touchdown since Maurice Smith took one 35 yards versus Auburn in 2016. This was the Bulldogs’ first interception returned for a touchdown on the road since Dominick Sanders returned a pick 88 yards at Vanderbilt in 2015.

*Defense Sets The Tone: The Bulldogs held the Gamecocks to a total of 79 yards, including just seven on the ground and seven points in the opening quarter. USC’s first touchdown came after the Gamecocks went 75 yards on 11 plays. In the second quarter, the Gamecocks totaled 111 yards to give them 191 on 46 plays in the first two periods but trailed 20-10. On USC’s second scoring drive, the Gamecocks went 14 plays for 71 yards and kicked a field goal. Richard LeCounte and Monty Rice led the team with a career-high in tackles with 10 and 8 respectively.The Bulldog defense stuffed a USC scoring threat early in the 4thquarter when J.R. Reedintercepted a pass in the end zone. It was his 3rdcareer interception and first this year. USC added a score midway through the 4thquarter on a 44-yard TD pass to cut it to 41-17. USC wound up with 336 yards of total offense on 68 plays but just 17 points.

*Swift Makes It Two In A Row: Georgia only ran 31 plays in the first half and tallied 183 yards. After the defense scored the first touchdown, Georgia scored its first offensive score at the 11:50 mark in the first quarter to go up 14-0. Junior WR Mecole Hardman took a handoff 30 yards to jumpstart the Bulldogs and they finished with a 17-yard touchdown run by sophomore TB D’Andre Swift. The drive was four plays for 76 yards in 1:15. This was Swift’s second touchdown of the year after scoring a 15 yarder versus Austin Peay and gives him five in his career.

*Blankenship Booming Kicks: Junior PK Rodrigo Blankenship gave the Bulldogs a 17-7 lead late in the opening period on a 45-yard field goal and then made a 44-yarder as the first half expired for a 20-10 edge. He is now 3-for-3 on the year and 12-for-18 in his career from 40+. He logged six more touchbacks on kickoffs today after going 8-for-8 on touchbacks during the season opener last Saturday.

*Points off Turnovers: Georgia is +1 in Turnover Margin, scoring 14 points off three turnovers on the year. Opponents have forced two turnovers and turned them into no points. In the opening period, Deandre Baker took an interception 55 yards to the USC 1 and Juwan Taylor picked up the loose ball for the touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Rashad Fenton picked off Jake Fromm and returned it 16 yards to the UGA 34. The Gamecocks went for it on 4th-and-9 and did not convert. In the 4thquarter, J.R. Reednotched an INT in the end zone for a Red Zone stop.

*Captains: Today’s captains were seniors Jonathan Ledbetter and Lamont Gaillard plus junior J.R. Reed.

*Up Next: Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) returns to Sanford Stadium next Sat., Sept. 15 against Middle Tennessee State with kickoff at 7:15 (ESPN2​).

POST-GAME QUOTES

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement…
Tough, hard-fought game. I’ve got a lot of respect for the coaches and the players on the other side. They play the game the right way, and I’m really proud of our team. I’m proud of our fans. I thought our fans showed up today – had a lot of them there in the stands. They continue to support us on the road, which I think is tremendous. They’re supporting a good cause, because our players played really hard and physical in a tough place to play. The environment is always tough and challenging here. We thought that if we were able to run the ball early it would find a way to take its toll in the second half, (and) I think that showed through. Got a lot of places we can improve on.
Disappointed in some spurts of decent defense, but I’m also proud of some third down plays that they we were able to make that I thought was the difference in the second half.”

On Georgia’s offensive run in the second half…
It was doing what we did – cumulative effect. At the end of the day, they just wore down. You guys always want to make it about adjustments, which I understand, but we stopped them. Two three-and-outs I think maybe, and I think that was the back-breaker for the defense. To have to go out there and lean up against those big guys for two long drives, just took it out of them. You could just see the air coming out of them a little bit as they wore down physically. The big stop of the game to me was either the first or second drive in the second half. We had third-and-2 or third-and-3 and stopped them. They had to punt it right back to us. The defense was right back out there That takes its toll. I think our conditioning showed through. A lot of credit goes to coach (Scott) Sinclair and the strength staff. They
worked those kids hard all summer, so they could prepare for second halves like that.

On his team’s preparation for the heat…
We preached it all week. We didn’t say it publicly, but we certainly felt like the hotter it was, the better off we’d be. We don’t worry about what other people say. We worry about what we do. We practice at 3:30 every day, 4 o’ clock. It’s hot. We don’t run from it. We workout in the summer. It’s hot. The hotter it is, the deeper we are, the more guys we play, it takes its toll.

On his team’s identity after today’s win…
I think today I would say physicality. One of the most important things (is) being physical. I think the line of scrimmage doesn’t flinch – being able to run the ball and stop the run.

QB Jake Fromm

On Mecole Hardman’s performance today…
Every time we go to the sideline, Mecole is asking for the ball. He is a really good player and a guy that is just really special when the ball in is his hands. As long as we find a way to get him the ball, we will be alright.

On how he felt after opening up the third quarter with a touchdown…
I was excited. I was feeling the gas; we aren’t letting off. We were going to keep shoving the ball down their throats.

On how he felt playing on the big stage…
It’s awesome; it’s fun. You love coming into a crazy environment and coming out and playing your best football.

DL Jonathan Ledbetter

On if he was surprised by the lopsided victory…
I’m never surprised in the way we perform. We work hard; that’s just what it comes down to. We will celebrate for 24 hours on Sunday, and then we are going right back in. It doesn’t matter who’s next or where we are going; we are going to play our brand of football. It’s really special when you see it all come together.

On how easy the game was…
I’m not going to lie to you man, it was a dog fight. They made some good plays; they obviously scored a couple of touchdowns. You just have to go out there and play a four-quarter game. It’s always a four-quarter game in the SEC. I told them we got to give them 60 minutes of hell, 10 minutes at a time.

RB D’Andre Swift

On their second-half performance…
I believe we are a second-half team, and I think we proved that tonight.

On what he thought about this being a statement game for them…
It was a lot of hype this weekend about them upsetting us. We just practiced hard during the week, and I think that showed today. We were the better team today, and I think it just shows what kind of preparation we had.

On the depth of the Georgia team…
Our depth is everything. We have so many people that can take it to the house at any moment. So I think our depth is very big for our team.

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