Bulldogs beat Gamecocks 40-13 in SEC opener
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Bulldogs beat Gamecocks 40-13 in SEC opener

UGA Football
Photo: Mackenzie Miles/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — Led by another stifling performance from its defense, the No. 2-ranked Georgia football team opened up Southeastern Conference play in emphatic fashion on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs got multiple explosive plays from their offense — junior quarterback JT Daniels threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns — and a dominant showing from the defense in a 40-13 win over South Carolina.

Along with intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble and a safety, the Bulldog defense held the Gamecocks to just 96 yards on the ground. Getting persistent pressure up the middle and often from the edge too, the Georgia defense spent much of the game in the South Carolina backfield. The defense piled up 3 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and many more hurries, pressures and quick throws. Junior linebacker Nolan Smith had a busy night with a team-high 8 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and he forced the fumble.

With Daniels back in the starting lineup after missing last Saturday’s win over UAB, the Bulldogs ran onto Dooley Field and started very fast. Daniels hit freshman tight end Brock Bowers for 21 yards on the first play from scrimmage. A few plays later, senior running back James Cook ran the ball in for a 23-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.

One big play on the ensuing drive, a 61-yard completion, allowed South Carolina to get into field-goal range and cut Georgia’s lead to 7-3, on a 37-yarder. Those were the first points that Georgia’s defense had allowed in the first half this season.

Less than two minutes on the clock later, Daniels was lofting a pass down the right side to a wide-open sophomore receiver Jermaine Burton, who caught the ball inside the 5-yard line and strolled into the end zone for a 14-3 lead with 7:00 left in the first quarter.

The Gamecocks got back into scoring position with an interception — Georgia did have xxx turnovers Saturday. South Carolina started its drive at the UGA 12 and only managed 3 yards against the Bulldog defense, settling for a 27-yard field goal to make it 14-6 with 1:34 left in the opening quarter. That was as close as the Gamecocks got the rest of the way.

Converting a couple of third-and-longs with completions midway through the second quarter, Georgia drove down to the 38-yard line. Daniels then dropped back, paused a moment, and hit Mitchell in the end zone for a 38-yard TD. It was the first touchdown catch of the freshman’s career.

A 42-yard punt by senior Jake Camarda was downed at the 1-yard line in the final minute of the first half. On the next play, Georgia senior nose tackle Jordan Davis and Smith sacked quarterback Luke Doty for a safety with 24 seconds left, giving the Bulldogs a 23-6 lead.

A quick drive after the kickoff got the Bulldogs into field-goal position and junior Jack Podlesny booted a 36-yarder as the half expired to put Georgia up 26-6.

Georgia got the second half rolling with an interception by senior defensive back Derion Kendrick, who returned it 9 yards to the Carolina 29. Soon after, junior running back Zamir White ran for a 15-yard touchdown and a 33-6 lead. Following a strip-sack by Smith and a recovery by junior linebacker Quay Walker, Georgia added to its lead when Daniels hit Cook for a 4-yard TD and a 40-6 lead with 7:37 left in the third.

With 10:55 to play in the game, Georgia’s defense, playing a lot of backups, surrendered its first touchdown of the season, on a 36-yard completion. South Carolina drive deep into Georgia territory in the closing minutes but once again the Bulldog defense held firm, preserving the 40-13 win with a stop on fourth-and-goal from the 9.

Before the game, the UGA Athletic Association honored five pioneers — Richard Appleby, Horace King, Larry West, Clarence Pope and Chuck Kinnebrew — who 50 years ago became the Bulldogs’ first African-American scholarship football players, enrolling in 1971. There is now a permanent monument in Reed Plaza that commemorates the trailblazers and their Bulldog careers.

The Bulldogs hit the road for their first true road game of the season next Saturday, playing at Vanderbilt. Kickoff is at 12 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network. Georgia opened its season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., beating Clemson 10-3 on the neutral field.

POST-GAME NOTES

Quick Summary On The Victory: Second-ranked Georgia carried a 26-6 lead into the half and won 40-13 over USC to improve to 3-0 overall, 1-0 in the SEC.  The Bulldogs scored five points in the final 26 seconds of the first half, and then the defense forced a pair of turnovers on USC’s first two possession of the second half that led to 14 points. Georgia’s opponents have scored only 23 points in three games, which matches the total through three in 2019. 

More Havoc By The Defense: South Carolina was limited to 13 points, tallying 310 yards on 63 plays. The final stop came on 4th-and-goal from the nine. Georgia finished with one INT, three sacks, and six TFL. With 10:55 left in the contest, USC got a 36-yard TD pass from Luke Doty to Josh Vann which marked the first TD allowed by the Bulldog defense this season. In the first half, USC was held to six points on 131 yards (8-rush, 123-pass) on 28 plays.

Tonight’s leading tackler was junior Nolan Smith with a career-high 8 stops, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble that was recovered by Quay Walker. Senior Columbia, S.C., native Channing Tindall was next in tackles by matching his career-high with seven stops.  Senior Adam Anderson had one sack to give him a team-high three for the year. Smith and Jordan Davis (2 stops, 0.5 sack) were in on a safety, the first since the final play of the 2020 season (Azeez Ojulari versus Cincinnati in the 24-21 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory).

With a safety tonight, the Bulldogs have 21 scores (17 TDs, 4 Safeties) by either the defense or special teams in the Kirby Smart era. The Bulldogs improved to 18-1 under Smart when they have a non-offensive score. In the first half following a turnover where USC took over at the Georgia 12, the defense held the Gamecocks to three yards and a 26-yard field goal.               

Offensive Leaders Tonight: Georgia QB JT Daniels finished 23-for-31 for 303 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT. Freshman wideout AD Mitchell set career-highs with four catches for 77 yards and 1 TD while freshman TE Brock Bowers had five for 53 yards. On the third scoring drive of the night, Mitchell caught three passes for 63 yards including a 38-yarder for the TD, his first.

Senior James Cook had a 23-yard rushing TD and a four-yard TD catch tonight. He was the last Bulldog to have a rushing and receiving TD in the same game, doing it versus Missouri in 2020. Daniels connected with Jermaine Burton for a 43-yard TD strike to cap the second scoring drive. It was the second TD for Burton this year and fifth of his career. It marked Daniels first TD pass this year. Also, Daniels directed a 90-yard TD drive on 11 plays in 4:36, all season-highs. This one culminated with a 38-yard strike to Mitchell. 

Points Off Turnovers: Georgia scored 14 points off one INT (Derion Kendrick, 1st at UGA, 4th of his career) and one forced fumble (Nolan Smith on a sack) while the Gamecocks got 13 points off three Bulldog miscues (Stetson Bennett INT, JT Daniels INT, Kendall Milton fumble).

Special Teams Summary: Senior punter Jake Camarda finished with three punts for a 51.7 average with one touchback and one downed at the 1-yard line (that eventually resulted in a safety).  Also, he had five kickoffs with four touchbacks and one returned for 12 yards. Junior Jack Podlesny was 5-for-5 on PATs plus made a 36-yarder field goal to end the first half. He is 2-for-4 on FG attempts this season. 

For Starters & Game Captains: Georgia had one first-time starter tonight in freshman WR AD Mitchell. The captains were senior Jordan Davis (N), junior Kearis Jackson (WR) and senior Channing Tindall (ILB). USC won the toss and elected to defer the football until the second half.                                                                               

Series History & Up Next: With the 40-13 win, Georgia now has a 53-19-2 edge in the series history including 20-10 since USC joined the SEC. The Bulldogs are 5-1 against USC under Kirby Smart. Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC) returns to action Saturday in Nashville against Vanderbilt (1-1). Kickoff will be at Noon ET (SECN).

POST-GAME QUOTES

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement …
“I would open with what a tremendous night. The weather held off for the honoring of the first five black football players to play at the University of Georgia. They came over and spoke to our team on Thursday, I thought they did a tremendous job. What a tremendous honor to have them and host them. Courtney (Gay) did an unbelievable job hosting them and she has done an incredible job with our diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, I’m really proud of what they were able to do and what we got as part of our stadium for a long time. I would also like to thank David Pollack, he got honored for the College Football Hall of Fame, what a tremendous honor for him. Then our fanbase, our fanbase came out loud and proud, they didn’t take a week off. I think our student section has become very impactful for pre-game warmups all the way through the game. Thought the guys played really hard. So many guys played a big role in this game, seemed like the wealth was spread around defensively and offensively. I thought JT (Daniels) played with a high level of confidence, believed in what our guys could do, and got the ball to our playmakers – did a great job doing that. Pod (Podlesny), he’s a great kicker, it was great to get him back on track there late in the second half, and just proud of the hard work our guys have put in. We just have to get better and we’re not where we need to be. We didn’t play as well defensively tonight as we have in the past and we’ll continue to improve.”

On the end of the first half …
“Situational football is critical, and we’ve run through those exact same situations every Thursday. I was really proud of the execution. Number one, they stopped us, which can’t happen. We can’t not have an opportunity, and he took the timeout, which told me that he was going to try to use the clock and let it run out. Ameer Speed and Jake Camarda started that whole thing with downing the ball inside the one which is just elite. We practice that really hard all camp, so Ameer made a huge play, Jake made a huge play, and then the defense made a huge play. Then we were able to save our timeouts, and it was really big to get those pass plays to set up the field goal. I just thought that was a really good sequence to steal five points.”

On the passing game compared to the run game …
“It’s not that they’re taking what they give us, I just think we’re better right now at timing, throwing the ball, spacing and routes. I actually thought we ran the ball better tonight. We rushed for 184, it didn’t seem like a struggle running as much as it did. Statistically, I was proud at our ability to run the ball. I thought our backs made some people miss. So I’m not down on the run game tonight, we improved there. I do think the timing and passing game makes our guys being pretty good passers, but if you’re going to be an elite team you’ve got to be pretty good at both. There’s a few teams, LSU didn’t have to run it two years ago. I felt like they threw it a lot, they didn’t have to run it. We’ve got to continue to improve and keep guys healthy.”

#18 | JT Daniels | Jr. | QB

On getting Kearis Jackson back and throwing to many different receivers …
“It was great to have Kearis back. We have missed him, and I have missed him. To me, a one-on-one matchup where we can take a chance at a deep ball is taking what they are giving us. If they are going to give us a one-on-one without a safety in the way to make it a two-on-one, that is giving us something. One-on-ones are not 50/50s with AD (Adonai Mitchell) and Jermaine (Burton). I think they are 80/20s. The biggest thing that they understand with me is that I told them that I will throw it to them four times in a row. I will throw them a jump ball four times in a row, just do not let it get picked. I trust them. I trust that they are not going to let the other team come down with it. When they get one-on-one, to me, you are giving me a chance, and I like that chance with the guys that we have.”

#4 | Nolan Smith | Jr. | OLB

On his big plays that affect the game’s momentum …
“I mean 100 percent momentum. Momentum swings, it is a big momentum game. Football is all about momentum swings. When the momentum gets to swinging and we are at home in-between the hedges, it just feels like no one can stop you. Like I said before, you have to be part of that 11 on the field hearing that crowd roaring and yelling. You just have to believe in the call and the confidence of the whole team, the whole 11. Moving as one band, one sound…it is just a beautiful thing.”

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