ATHENS – It wasn’t so much that Jeremy Pruitt, a year after being schooled by Steve Spurrier, schooled him back. There were still rough moments for Georgia’s defense.
The good moments, however, vastly out-numbered them. The score reflected that, as did the stat sheet, and the feeling on each sideline.
There was Spurrier, trying whatever he could against his longtime Georgia rivals, but without enough pieces to make it work for long.
And there was Pruitt, sending in his freshman reserves early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s definitely great getting a win against a coach like coach Spurrier,” Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He’s a great player, and a great coach. I’m just glad I get to finish even against him.”
It was a tricky game for Georgia’s defense to gameplan, as it didn’t know quite what to expect. South Carolina was going with walk-on quarterback Connor Orth, who played well in the second half at Kentucky, but in a comeback mode. There was also freshman Lorenzo Nunez, expected to play in an option role, but how much?
“Some of us were figuring they were just gonna keep (receiver) Pharoah (Cooper) back there in quarterback and run him out of the Wildcat,” Jordan Jenkins said. “We didn’t have any film on the guy (Nunez), it was a toss-up all week what we were preparing for.”
As it turned out Nunez did see a lot of action, and Cooper played a bunch of tailback. Both gave Georgia trouble in some spots: Nunez rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown. Orth also had some good moments, but still only completed 6-of-17 attempts, for 66 yards, and one interception.
It was a rough finish to the first half for Georgia’s defense, giving up a 72-yard touchdown drive the last time it was on the field. But when the second half began the defense was back to playing energetic and effective.
“I feel like we did a great job as far as playing like Georgia,” junior safety Quincy Mauger said. “Staying focused. Locking in our keys. And playing with energy. We can’t just look at big plays they make and put our head down. We stayed locked in.”
Last year Georgia’s defense entered the South Carolina feeling great about itself after a shut-down performance over Clemson’s high-octane offense. But Spurrier, remembering his team’s win over Alabama in 2010 (when Pruitt was a Crimson Tide assistant) delved back into that game’s playbook. The Gamecocks hit the Bulldogs with down-the-middle passing, racked up 447 total yards, and won 38-35.
This year Spurrier, down to a walk-on quarterback and less playmakers in general, was able to muster a few good first-half drives. But this time Georgia had enough answers.
Georgia’s run defense was as firm as expected, holding the Gamecocks to 3.9 yards per carry during the decisive first three quarters.
Malkom Parrish, the sophomore cornerback, had strong coverage. At one point in the second quarter he knocked away a deep pass that would have converted a long third-down try.
Safety Dominick Sanders had another interception, following up one from last week, that set up the Georgia touchdown that made it 38-13. Sanders also had six tackles.
Georgia also protected the inside of the field well, something that had been an issue the first two weeks this season. Inside linebackers Jake Ganus, Tim Kimbrough and Leonard Floyd combined for 17 tackles, and Floyd had a sack.
“There were some rough spots here and there, but overall (it was) pretty good,” coach Mark Richt said. “I thought we defended pretty well, actually. But there’s always a few things that need to be cleaned up.”
It wasn’t a perfect game by any means for Georgia’s defense. The Gamecock receivers were able to get open too much in the first half.
But the end result was something to work on in advance of the looming Alabama showdown, rather than another game that would have stuck with Georgia, and Pruitt, for another long year.