Sunday, October 7, 2012
Gamecocks winning where it counts
By Chris Low
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Connor Shaw could see it in the Georgia players’ eyes on South Carolina’s first touchdown drive.
A few minutes later, it was even more obvious to Marcus Lattimore after the Gamecocks drove it right down the Bulldogs’ throats for their second touchdown in as many possessions.
“They were shell-shocked. We hit them in the mouth, and they weren’t ready for it,” Lattimore said.
Nope, not even close.
But in Georgia’s defense, it’s debatable whether anybody in college football would have been ready for what the Gamecocks unleashed Saturday night on the No. 5 Bulldogs in a 35-7 bludgeoning at Williams-Brice Stadium that sent a clear message about the shifting balance of power in the SEC.
“We definitely sent a message out to the whole country. This is not the old South Carolina. We can play with y’all. We can play with anybody,” said Lattimore, who rushed for 109 yards, his third consecutive 100-yard rushing performance against Georgia.
A year ago, South Carolina scored three non-offensive touchdowns in a wild 45-42 victory over Georgia. Even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after that one that the Gamecocks were fortunate to win.
But there was nothing fluky about Saturday’s game.
The Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0) dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides, a telltale sign of how far this program has come under Spurrier.
Marquee skill players have come and gone through the years at South Carolina, but the Gamecocks haven’t always been able to measure up in the trenches, particularly against the elite teams.
Those days are over.
Not only did South Carolina grind out 230 rushing yards, but the Gamecocks held Georgia to 224 total yards -- the Bulldogs’ lowest output since a 2006 loss to Florida.
South Carolina's defensive line harrassed Georgia QB Aaron Murray into an 11-of-31, one-pick night.
“Like I told the guys, we took a whipping,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But the good news was that we all took it together.”
In other words, the Bulldogs didn’t have any answers on either side of the ball.
“Our offensive line was great,” said Shaw, who threw touchdown passes of 20 and 14 yards on the Gamecocks’ first two drives. “They just keep getting better. They came out and set the tone tonight.”
While South Carolina’s offensive line took its game to another level, Georgia’s offensive line never knew what hit it. The Gamecocks came into the game thinking they could exploit the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
They did more than exploit it. They rendered it helpless, and even when Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray wasn’t being hounded by Jadeveon Clowney or Devin Taylor, he didn’t have much success finding open receivers.
This is a Georgia offense that had scored 40 or more points in each of its first five games and was flirting with 500 yards per game in total offense.
On Saturday, much to the delight of a deafening and record crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium, it was 21-0 in favor of South Carolina, and Georgia had run all of six offensive plays.
“It wasn’t only the front four, but our linebackers played really well … and the perimeter,” said South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, whose defense has yet to give up more than 17 points this season.
“We were in position to make some plays. It’s a blessing to be able to rush four guys and drop seven when it’s time to play football.”
Indeed it is, especially when you have freakish athletes like Clowney coming off the edge and hurdling would-be blockers. He’s not the only one, either.
South Carolina is equally stout on the interior with defensive tackles Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau, while the third end in the rotation, Chaz Sutton, is starting to play some of his best football.
“You can’t block our defensive line,” Shaw said. “I know. We have to go against them every day.”
After watching Georgia’s freshman running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall torch Tennessee for three touchdown runs of 51 yards or longer last week, Ward said the Gamecocks were determined not to let the Bulldogs get outside.
As it was, Gurley and Marshall couldn’t find running room anywhere. They were held to 76 rushing yards on 25 carries, and their longest run was a 15-yarder by Gurley.
It only gets tougher from here for South Carolina, which will almost certainly move to No. 3 in the polls with both LSU and Florida State going down on Saturday.
The Gamecocks have to travel to LSU next week and then Florida on Oct. 20 in what could potentially be a huge Eastern Division showdown.
It’s the kind of position this program simply hasn’t been in over the years.
But, then, it’s a program that has the kind of muscle, physicality and explosiveness in the line of scrimmage that it’s never had.
And that’s where you win championships in this league.