Report Card: Much room for improvement as Dogs pass midway point

The Georgia Bulldogs dominated South Carolina in all phases of the game except for the score on the scoreboard.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Davin Bellamy had a message for his teammates when the Georgia Bulldogs huddled up in the locker room before playing South Carolina on Sunday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“I said, ‘everyone in here has aspirations of playing on Sundays. Well, it’s Sunday, so it’s time to go play some ball,'” the senior outside linebacker said with a laugh. “We were the only college football game in the country and all eyes were on us. So we had to go out there and put on a show.”

Head coach Kirby Smart might argue that their game was more entertaining than it should have been as Georgia held on for a 28-14 victory. The Bulldogs could breathe easy only after Terry Godwin returned an onsides kick 43-yards for a touchdown with 1:33 to play.

The Bulldogs (4-2, 2-2 SEC) and Gamecocks (2-4, 1-4) were playing a day later than originally scheduled due to Hurricane Matthew, which struck the South Carolina and Georgia coasts on Saturday.

Here’s how the Bulldogs’ performance broke down:

OFFENSE: C

Georgia rushed for 326 yards as a team and nearly had three running backs go for more than 100 apiece as Sony Michel led the way with 133 yards, Nick Chubb had 121 and scored twice and Brian Herrien added 82 on just nine carries. But the Bulldogs will tell you that their offense is designed to be one of balance, and it was nothing of the sort against South Carolina’s over-matched defense. The 29 passing yards was the fewest by a Georgia team since 1990. And while the wind definitely had an effect, freshman quarterback Jacob Eason was missing open receivers all afternoon on the way to a 5-for-17 passing performance with an interception. The Bulldogs’ 355 yards total offense was 53 yards below their season average.

DEFENSE: B

Georgia won this game because of its defense, which forced South Carolina into three turnovers and would have had a fourth if Quincy Mauger hadn’t allowed the Gamecocks to rip away a would-be interception. The Bulldogs recorded a season-best five quarterback sacks, and allowed only 30 yards rushing, an average of 1.2 per attempt. However, quarterback Perry Orth found way too much success throwing the ball, completing 26 of 36 passes for 288 yards to nine different receivers. Tight end Hayden Hurst had six catches for 86 yards and receiver Deebo Samuel added four for 90. Bottom line, Georgia kept the Gamecocks out of the end zone and off the field most of the day. So it was a good day.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  C

Any time you score a special-teams touchdown, you’ve got to think it was a good day. Indeed, Godwin went 43 yards to score on a kickoff return off of South Carolina’s onsides attempt late in the game. But coach Kirby Smart said the right play would have been for Godwin to get down and not run with the ball. Punter Marshall Long gets credit for pinning the Gamecocks inside the 20-yard line three times, including once at the 3. Long averaged 38.5 yards on the day, but got bailed out twice by long rolls at the end of low line-drive punts. And he had one that went for just 17 yards after Georgia chose to punt from the South Carolina 39. That speaks to another special-teams issue: The Bulldogs’ entire offensive operation has been impacted by the team’s inability to kick a field goal of any reasonable distance.

COACHING: D

It was a tough day for head coach Kirby Smart and his staff. The Bulldogs clearly were the dominant team, yet they were unable to dispatch the pesky Gamecocks until the final minutes of the game. Georgia should have been comfortably ahead by halftime, but butchered its final possession of the half when Smart let the clock run out with two timeouts in his pocket and the Bulldogs at the South Carolina 29. Smart said he thought the clock was going to stop on a holding penalty after Herrien reached the Gamecocks’ 19. But rules don’t allow that and time ran out as Georgia coaches were debating whether to try a field goal or attempt a Hail Mary pass. In Smart’s own words, “it was just mismanagement, to be honest with you.” The Bulldogs were penalized eight times for 56 yards and also got away from the power running game at times when it was thoroughly dominating the line of scrimmage.

OVERALL: C

Any time you can come back home with a victory on the SEC road, you’ve done well. But the reality is, this particular South Carolina team is in a serious rebuilding mode and is among the three worst in the league this year. They shouldn’t have been able to compete with Georgia. But give the players and coaches credit for reacting well to adverse circumstances. The Bulldogs didn’t know until late in the evening Thursday not only when they were going to play this game, but if they were going to play it at all. The only reason this mark is not higher here is there is so much room to improve. A good performance would have seen them bury the Gamecocks.

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