Shane Beamer knew South Carolina could go toe-to-toe with Georgia, and on Saturday afternoon in Athens the Gamecocks proved it before falling 24-14.

“We have a group of fighters, (and) you saw that today,” Beamer said. “I know everybody thought this thing was going to be lopsided and out of hand by halftime -- we didn’t. We know we have a good football team.”

South Carolina charged out to a 14-3 halftime lead to put No. 1-ranked Georgia on the ropes in the nationally televised CBS game.

“Nobody came in the locker room and had a celebration because we were winning 14-3,” Beamer said. “We expected to be in that position. We were controlling the game in the first half.”

But as Beamer noted, the Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) deserve credit for how they responded against his Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1) in rallying for the victory.

“We just went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country,” Beamer said. “We did what we were supposed to do in the first half. Then, second half, give Georgia credit ....

“They showed what a championship team does and why they have won back-to-back national championships coming back in the second half and playing like they did.”

Spencer Rattler showed why he’s one of the top NFL prospects in the nation with his first-half performance.

Rattler picked apart Georgia’s secondary through the first 30 minutes by completing 16 of 18 passes for 152 yards.

The South Carolina offensive line held up against a reloading UGA defensive line that clearly misses first-round picks Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.

The Gamecocks weren’t nearly as effective in the second half, as Smart and his staff loaded up against the run to make South Carolina one-dimensional.

“Everybody struggles to run the ball against these guys,” Beamer said. “We have to be able to generate some runs. Overall, thought they did OK.

“Disappointing thing is just the penalties pre-snap. Receivers, offensive linemen, it was too many penalties in the second half.”

Rattler finished 22-of-42 passing with 256 yards, a TD and two late interceptions. He also rushed 8 times for 35 yards, including a 13-yard scramble, and was sacked 3 times.

South Carolina opened the season with a 31-17 loss to North Carolina in a game that saw Rattler sacked nine times.

“I know everybody thought they (Georgia) were going to come in here and have 90 sacks,” Beamer noted. “That didn’t happen.”

Beamer made it clear he felt South Carolina had the better quarterback.

“He is a dude; I told you guys before I wouldn’t trade him for any quarterback in the country,” Beamer said. “He gives you a chance to win every game. I know, statistically, the second half wasn’t great. I remember looking at the stats at halftime. I think he had two incompletions at halftime.

“We have to continue to help him and not have the penalties that we had. He is a special player. Great leader. Great poise throughout today. Great quarterback.”

As proud as Beamer was of his team’s effort in Athens, there was no moral victory.

“We expected to win this football game — we really did,” Beamer said. “We had a great week of practice. Great mindset. Great mentality coming in here. Hostile environment on the road. They played their butts off.

“If anything, I hoped they learned and realized that we can’t win football games against great teams with a lot of self-inflicted mistakes.”