Explosive Dawgs look to the future in romp over struggling Gamecocks
Kirby Smart’s Dawgs re-established their running game in a big way Saturday night in Columbia, albeit against a depleted Gamecocks defense hit by injuries, COVID-19 and players opting out in the wake of their head coach’s firing.
A week after being held to 8 net yards on the ground against Mississippi State, the Dawgs ran seemingly at will against South Carolina, racking up 332 rushing yards (for an average of 7.2 yards per rush) and four touchdowns on the ground as four backs had at least 75 yards rushing in the 45-16 win.
And, for once, the Dawgs had a game so well in hand that they got to play a lot of young players in the fourth quarter, including freshman tailback Daijun Edwards, who almost single-handedly ate up the final 9:27 of the clock.
As Smart conceded afterward, South Carolina’s defense was not of the same caliber as the Mississippi State stone wall that infamously had shut down the Dawgs’ running game a week earlier, forcing Georgia to lean heavily on the passing game.
Still, that didn’t diminish the tremendous play of Georgia’s offensive line against the Gamecocks, continually opening gigantic holes for a posse of hungry young running backs.
Meanwhile, the question on many Bulldogs fans’ minds this past week — How would quarterback JT Daniels follow up his stellar debut (401-yards and 4 touchdowns passing) in his second start? — was answered quietly and efficiently, as the USC transfer led his team to a season-best 471 yards of offense.
His passing numbers — 10-for-16 passing for 139 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception that wasn’t his fault — were not as gaudy as last week’s, but, as Smart told SEC Network’s Alyssa Lang: “The run game was his friend tonight.”
Daniels did show a few growing pains, holding the ball too long on a couple of sacks, throwing into double-coverage once while he failed to see an open receiver, and underthrowing a wide-open Jermaine Burton.
But, Daniels also had a touchdown pass dropped in the end zone by Burton, and he did have his moments to shine, including a 40-yard completion to Tré McKitty that set up a TD and a 31-yard scoring strike to freshman Arian Smith. Burton led Georgia’s receivers, with 3 catches for 33 yards, George Pickens had 3 catches for 25 yards and McKitty had 2 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown on which he dove for the pylon.
Aside from the sacks, Daniels mostly ran the offense with poise.
“We probably didn’t let him do everything he could do,” Smart told the Bulldogs radio network’s Chuck Dowdle, but “he played a nice game … he took what they gave him.”
And, what the Gamecocks gave him was the opportunity to just keep handing off to Georgia’s backs, who were led by James Cook, who had a career-high 104 yards and 2 TDs on just 6 carries (including a 44-yard run and a beautiful 29-yard touchdown run in which he shot through the middle and outran the Carolina secondary).
Meanwhile, Zamir White ran hard, accruing 84 yards on 13 runs; Kenny McIntosh ran the ball 9 times for 79 yards; and Edwards had 77 yards on 14 carries, 11 of them on the final drive that saw Smart show a lot of class by having Daniels take a knee as fog crept in and time expired, even though the Dawgs were in position to add yet another score at the Carolina 1-yard line. Former Dawg Mike Bobo, South Carolina’s interim head coach after Will Muschamp’s recent firing, no doubt appreciated the gesture. The game marked Smart’s 50th win in five seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
The Dawgs, who entered the game a 21½-point favorite, also played well on defense — most of the time. There was some poor tackling, particularly in the second quarter, when the Gamecocks closed the gap to 21-10, but the Dawgs ended up with 10 tackles for loss (4 of them sacks of Carolina QB Luke Doty), and held the Cocks to 273 yards of total offense, including just 83 on the ground, despite having the SEC’s best runner in Kevin Harris (who was held to 53 net yards on 17 carries).
Georgia’s leading tackler was safety Lewis Cine (with 12), and cornerback Tyson Campbell notched his first career interception, which he returned 40 yards.
The Dawgs’ special teams had another strong night, with Jake Podlesny perfect on PATs and his one field goal try, and Kearis Jackson having two kickoff returns for 62 yards plus two punt returns for 55 yards. One of the punt returns covered 52 yards and gave the Bulldogs the ball at the 13 and an eventual TD. Jalen Carter also blocked a Gamecocks PAT.
Overall, it was a solid win for the Dawgs, who showed off their depth on the offensive line and at receiver and running back. Edwards and Smith look like stars of the future.
It’s true that, no matter how well Georgia does in its final games of this pandemic-wracked season, 2020 will go down as something of a disappointment in that only an unlikely Florida collapse could put the Dawgs back into playoff contention.
Still, Smart wisely touched on an unsung accomplishment of this year’s team, saying: “I’m really proud of our guys. I don’t know if really anybody understands the college football environment this year. It is just so different; 2020 has been so different in terms of motivation. These kids sacrifice a lot to have this season. They don’t get to go and do things they normally do.
“The season has really been long and, all across college football, with the injuries, COVID concerns and cancellations it has been a really unique year. I just want to give our kids a lot of credit for sticking through it, staying together and continuing to fight.
“You talk to coaches across the country and they are having trouble trying to keep kids playing football. This group has really stuck together, and I want to give them a lot of credit for that.”
That’s not the kind of achievement that gets a display at Butts-Mehre, but it’s one that should make Bulldog Nation proud.