South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson saw Saturday as shut-em-up time.
“All we heard all week was all Georgia had,” Thompson said after the 24th-ranked Gamecocks’ 38-35 victory over the sixth-ranked Bulldogs. “We just got tired of it.”
Thompson very nearly reinforced the “all Georgia had” narrative when he threw an interception that gave Georgia the ball 4 yards from the end zone late. But the Gamecocks remarkably held Georgia scoreless that drive and then Thompson gained just enough for a first down that effectively decided the game with 72 seconds left.
Thompson ran a sneak to the 50-yard line that reached the first down by a fingertip. For Thompson, still trying to live up to predecessor Connor Shaw’s presence, it was a seminal moment.
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“When I threw that pick I thought, ‘I just lost this game,’ ” Thompson recalled, adding of the sneak, “I thought we got it by a lot more than we got it I don’t really care. We got it.”
And with that the Gamecocks saved their chances in the SEC East race. Had they lost they would have started 0-2 in the conference and a tiebreaker down to Georgia. Coach Steve Spurrier acknowledged during the week that’s as good as eliminated.
Saturday’s game was wild in many ways. It started about 90 minutes later than scheduled because of a threat of lightning. There was abundant pushing and shoving, including a head butt by Georgia tailback Todd Gurley that no referee apparently saw.
Gurley, a 232-pound tailback from Tarboro, was again exceptional. He ran for 131 yards and a touchdown. His go-left, go-right, get-to-the-sticks run for a first down on 3rd-and-16 was breathtaking.
Which makes it all the more curious that on Georgia’s last possession starting 4 yards from what would have been a go-ahead touchdown, Gurley got just one carry.
Bulldogs quarterback Hutson Mason went back to pass, was chased down by Rock Hill’s Gerald Dixon, and was flagged for intentional grounding. That stalled out the drive, setting up kicker Marshall Morgan with a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Morgan had made 18 field goals in a row entering this game. He made No. 19 in the first quarter, then missed twice Saturday – a 44-yarder in the second quarter and the chip shot in the fourth.
“I hit it, I thought it was high but going in,” Morgan said. “It just went over the right upright. I can’t explain it.”
The Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 SEC) needed to control the ball to have any real shot against Georgia’s offense. They demonstrated against Texas A&M and East Carolina that their defense was porous on third down (a 62 percent conversion rate).
South Carolina set the tone on its opening drive, going 75 yards in nine plays. That was the first of four 75-yard drives, all ending in touchdowns.
Thompson did his part, completing 21 of 30 passes for three touchdowns. But it was the Gamecocks’ offensive line – both in pass protection and run blocking – that carried the night. South Carolina gained 118 yards on the ground in the second half, essential to playing keep-away from Georgia’s offense.
“It was our turn to win,” Spurrier said. “We were meant to win this game and Georgia was not.”