ATHENS, Ga (AJC) -- Quarterback Aaron Murray said he hoped to use his legs more this season. Georgia’s senior quarterback did that to great effect Saturday, utilizing his mobility to escape pressure from Jadeveon Clowney and company and throw two late touchdown passes as the No. 11 Bulldogs held on to beat No. 6 South Carolina 41-30 at Sanford Stadium.
Also crucial to the victory – Georgia’s first over South Carolina in the past four seasons – was a goal-line stand by the defense with 8:28 left in the game. The Gamecocks had first-and-goal at the 8 before the Bulldogs stiffened. On fourth-and-goal inside the 1, linebacker Amarlo Herrera brought down Mike Davis on an option pitch around right end.
Taking over inside its own 1, Murray hit fullback Quayvon Hicks on a gutsy play-action pass that went for 23 yards and got the Bulldogs out of the shadow of its end zone. The Bulldogs then were able to run out the clock with tailbacks Todd Gurley and Brendan Douglas doing the lion’s share of work.
Murray, who came in with a reputation for not playing well against Top 10 opponents, came up big in this one. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns and did not throw an interception. He was sacked just once by All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was held in check by tackle Kenarious Gates and tight end Arthur Lynch.
Tailback Todd Gurley added 130 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdowns. Wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley had 116 yards on three receptions, including the back-breaker on an 85-yard sprint down the left sideline.
The victory erases the pain of a heart-wrenching 38-35 loss at No. 4 Clemson last week, and puts the No. 11-ranked Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) in the driver’s seat to three-peat as the SEC Eastern Division
champions. South Carolina falls to 1-1.
Murray’s legs enabled the Bulldogs to record their last two scores. On third-and-goal at the South Carolina 8, Murray was pressured but rolled right and pointed Gurley to back corner of the end zone. He hit Gurley on the money and the point-after gave Georgia a 34-24 lead with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
South Carolina appeared to have the Bulldogs cornered on their next possession. But on third-and-13 at their own 15, Murray scrambled left to avoid the rush of Clowney and pointed Wesley up field. Again, his pass was true, and fleet-footed Scott-Wesley out-ran the pursuit to paydirt. At that point, 13 minutes remained, but Georgia had a two-score lead at 41-30.
The defense made its share of plays as well. Georgia finally created a turnover – its first of the season – when Josh Harvey-Clemons knocked the ball loose from Shaw on what otherwise would have been a first-down run on fourth down. Instead, Amarlo Herrera recovered at the Georgia 25 and the Bulldogs were back in business.
Georgia quickly got down the field when Keith Marshall took a swing pass from Murray 48 yards down the left side of the field. That got the Bulldogs to the 27, and they’d reach the 11 when South Carolina linebacker Kaiwan Lewis was whistled for a personal foul. But they went backward from there, and walkon kicker Patrick Beless bailed them out with a 37-yard field goal and a 27-24 lead at the 8:03 mark of the third quarter.
Georgia added to that advantage with its most impressive drive of the young season. The Bulldogs used 13 plays to drive 82 yards and score on an improvised play on third-and-goal. Murray was flushed out of the pocket, scrambled right and pointed Gurley to back corner of the West end zone, where he hit him with a perfect pass. That staked Georgia to a 34-24 lead with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Georgia’s 10-point margin was in jeopardy before the fourth quarter. South Carolina’s Mike Davis took a handoff around left end and rambled 72 yards down to the Georgia 5. Davis would score three plays later on an option pitch around right end. But kicker Elliott Fry got a high snap and missed the point-after, leaving Georgia’s margin at 34-30 with 13:55 to play.
Georgia scored 24 points in the first half but South Carolina managed to head to the locker room with momentum at halftime.
That’s because the Gamecocks flew down the field to score a tying touchdown with just 13 seconds in the half. Quarterback Connor Shaw, orchestrated the two-minute offense beautifully, negotiating the 71 yards in just 1:25 and hooking up with wide receiver Nick on a 30-yard scoring pass down the left sideline over Georgia cornerback Brendan Langley.
It was the second time Jones and Shaw victimized the freshman Langley. They connected to score on an 18-yard pass play on the Gamecocks’ previous possession with 5:05 remaining in the half.
Georgia’s inability to make a routine play is what kept South Carolina engaged in the first half. The Bulldogs led 17-10 but had already lost some momentum midway through the second quarter after South Carolina put together a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive. Then they went three-and-out on offense.
But rather than punt the Gamecocks back down the field, Collin Barber let the long snap from Nathan Theus go right between his hands and hit him in the facemask. He fell on the ball on the 18 where South Carolina took over.In classic Spurrier fashion, the Gamecocks went for the end zone right away. Shaw’s pass for Jones on the right sideline of the West end zone was perfect and the game was tied.