ATHENS, Ga. -- The shoe was finally on the other foot Saturday night as the final seconds ticked off in No. 11 Georgia's 41-30 win against No. 6 South Carolina.
After three straight years of backbreaking blunders, key special-teams mistakes and offensive inefficiency, quarterback Aaron Murray -- who delivered perhaps the most impressive performance of his career -- and the Bulldogs gained redemption in the first big SEC East game of the season.
“For the whole team, it feels great,” Murray said. “All week long, everybody wanted to talk about the head coach and the QB, but it’s a team game. We win and lose as a team. Coach [Mark] Richt and I didn’t win tonight. The Georgia Bulldogs did, and I’m so proud of the way all the guys played.”
Twice in the last three years -- the other time it wasn't necessary as South Carolina won with a blowout -- the Gamecocks rode workhorse tailback Marcus Lattimore with run after pounding run in the fourth quarter, mounting long drives that used up the clock and secured huge division victories.
This time it was Georgia protecting a narrow lead when the Bulldogs took over at their own 1-yard line with 8:28 left on the clock. Thirteen plays -- including 12 runs -- and 81 yards later, South Carolina was out of time as the trio of Todd Gurley, Brendan Douglas and Quayvon Hicks teamed with a resurgent offensive line to pound South Carolina's defense into submission.
“When we got the ball on the half-yard line with eight minutes left, we knew that if we can control the clock, if we can keep the ball on the ground and just keep pushing it down their throat that we can win this game and close the door,” right guard Chris Burnette said. “That's the moments that you live for as an offensive lineman.”
Center David Andrews took it a step further, saying, “I think we made them quit tonight” in running 76 plays for 536 yards, including 53 for 227 on the ground.
In last season's 35-7 loss at South Carolina, Georgia's offense never got on track. Murray passed for a career-low 109 yards and a previously explosive offense delivered just four plays that covered at least 15 yards. The Bulldogs had four in the first quarter alone on Saturday, and finished the day with 11 that covered 15-plus -- none bigger than an 85-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley in the fourth quarter that gave the Bulldogs a 41-30 lead with 13 minutes to play.
Murray rolled left away from Jadeveon Clowney after his protection broke down and found a wide-open Scott-Wesley behind South Carolina's Ahmad Christian and T.J. Gurley down the left sideline. Once the UGA track sprinter -- and first-time starter at receiver -- hauled in Murray's pass, nobody was going to catch him.
“Murray got some pressure and I just stayed on the sideline uncovered and Murray got the ball out, great pass, and the rest is history,” said Scott-Wesley, who totaled 116 yards on three catches.
Clowney and South Carolina's defense seemed to intimidate Murray & Co. last season in Columbia, but that was far from the case on Saturday. Clowney, South Carolina's star defensive end, managed a sack and two tackles for a loss, but he was rarely a big factor for the Gamecocks.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Georgia averaged 8.3 yards per play in the 59 plays that Clowney was on the field, while the Bulldogs averaged 2.8 per play on the 17 downs where he was on the sideline.
Meanwhile, Murray was a nearly flawless 17-for-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns -- and most importantly, no turnovers -- while facing a defense that had previously held him to the lowest career Total QBR (46.0) of any division opponent.
Gurley and his backfield mates certainly eased Murray's burden on Saturday. Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo lamented his abandoning the running game early in last season's loss when South Carolina built a big early lead. That would not be the case in the rematch, with Gurley and Keith Marshall accounting for 252 yards and three touchdowns after managing just 81 rushing yards on 25 combined carries against the Gamecocks last season.
“The line, man, they kept telling me this week, 'You need 25 or more,' ” said Gurley, who rushed for 132 yards on 30 carries and scored on both the ground and through the air. “I was ready to give them 25 and we came away with the victory.”
Georgia enters its first bye week of the season back on solid ground after an uneven performance last week at Clemson gave the Bulldogs their first loss of the season. They have two weeks until North Texas visits Athens, with SEC power LSU waiting the following week to complete a demanding September schedule.
The Bulldogs knew they couldn't afford to open the season 0-2 if they were to maintain reasonable hopes of contending for SEC and perhaps BCS championships. Thanks to the past failings against South Carolina that they exorcised on Saturday, they won't have to spend the next two weeks stewing over another lost opportunity.
“That's a hypothetical that I'm glad didn't happen. It would be tough,” Burnette admitted. “We're just excited by the fact that all our goals are still on the table. If we win the next game and the next game and the next game, we can make it to Pasadena.”