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No. 3 Georgia reveals No. 24 South Carolina as SEC East pretender, not contender

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No. 24 South Carolina hosted No. 3 Georgia with an eye on announcing themselves as the top dogs (pun intended) in the SEC East. The Gamecocks thought they had the quarterback (junior Jake Bentley), the personnel (led by do-it-all star Deebo Samuel) and the game plan to overwhelm the Bulldogs by wearing Georgia’s defense down through a hurry-up offense that would throw the ball all over the field, thereby wilting the larger Bulldogs in the Columbia heat.

The problem: Georgia was well-prepared and well-equipped to handle such an attack. They may have lost a lot of talent from 2017’s SEC champion squad, but the players who stuck around are pretty good, too.

South Carolina accepted the ball to open the game and threw right at Georgia. This proved to backfire, as Georgia teed off on South Carolina’s skill players. On South Carolina’s fifth snap of the game, all passes to that point, Bentley hit running back Rico Dowdle, who bobbled the ball, which was intercepted by Georgia’s Deandre Baker. Baker returned the ball for a would-be touchdown, but dropped the pigskin just shy of the goal line; Juwan Taylor hopped on the loose ball for a Bulldogs touchdown.

Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) forced a three-and-out on South Carolina’s next touch, then swiftly moved down the field to take a 14-0 lead, needing only four snaps to traverse 76 yards, the last 17 on a D’Andre Swift run.

South Carolina climbed back in the game over the next quarter-plus, but whiffed on two chances to even the score. First, after a 13-yard Samuel pass to Bryan Edwards pulled the Gamecocks within 14-7, South Carolina took over at the Georgia 34 when a Rashad Fenton intercepted an errant Jake Fromm pass. But the Gamecocks moved only yard before turning the ball over on downs, and Georgia capitalized with a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to push their lead to 17-7.

South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC) pulled back within seven through a field goal of its own and threatened to tie the game just before half, moving to midfield inside the first half’s final minute. But the drive stalled and Joseph Charlton‘s punt sailed just 18 yards. Armed with good field position and two timeouts, Fromm maneuvered Georgia to the USC 27, allowing Blankenship to again stake Georgia to a two-possession lead as time expired in the first half.

Leading 20-10 at the break, Georgia took the ball to open the second half and emphatically shut the door with a third quarter that highlighted the actual distance between the two programs. It was five consecutive possessions that saw Georgia march 75 yards for a touchdown, force a South Carolina three-and-out, move 75 yards for another touchdown, force another South Carolina three-and-out, and then again march the field (this time 86 yards) for a third touchdown in a 12-minute blitzkrieg.

The first score came on a 34-yard pass from Fromm to Mecole Hardman, the second a 5-yard Elijah Holyfield run and the third a 15-yard Brian Herrian dash.

In all, Georgia racked up 21 third quarter points while moving 236 yards in 21 plays and limiting South Carolina to 16 yards in six snaps. That third quarter staked Georgia to a 41-10 win, and the Bulldogs cruised to a 41-17 victory. The win was Georgia’s eighth straight against SEC East competition and fourth straight over its neighbors to the north.

Bentley threw the ball 47 times on the day, completing 30 for 269 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. While throwing the ball nearly 50 times for less than six yards an attempt may have been part of the plan, the running production was not. South Carolina rushed the ball 20 times for just 54 yards.

Fromm completed an efficient 15-of-18 passes for 194 yards with a touchdown and a pick, while nine Bulldogs combined to rush 52 times for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

Georgia starts fast, but South Carolina hanging around in Columbia

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The defending SEC champions threatened to run upset-minded South Carolina off their own field early in Columbia, but South Carolina has fought back to make a game of it. At the break, Georgia holds a 20-10 lead.

South Carolina’s game plan to pull off this would-be program-defining upset has been clear: the Gamecocks want to wear down Georgia’s defense, but they don’t have the horses to line up and run the ball down the Bulldogs’ throats. (Does anyone?) So South Carolina has put the ball in Jake Bentley‘s hands, play after play after play, with a series of short throws.

The problem: Georgia came out acutely aware of that, so as South Carolina opened the game by throwing, Georgia teed off on South Carolina receivers. The Gamecocks’ first series ended when a Bentley pass to running back Rico Dowdle was deflected and returned for a Georgia touchdown.

Immediately after South Carolina’s next possession, a three-and-out, Georgia glided up the field on a 4-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to grab a 14-0 edge on a 17-yard D’Andre Swift run at the 11:50 mark of the first quarter.

Facing a credible threat of a blowout, South Carolina put together a do-or-die drive, moving 75 yards in 11 snaps, the last of which was a 13-yard pass from Deebo Samuel to Bryan Edwards.

South Carolina had a great chance to tie the game immediately after that score when Rashad Fenton intercepted Jake Fromm and returned the ball to the Georgia 34, but South Carolina turned the ball over on downs and Georgia regained control with a 45-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal.

South Carolina answered that field goal with one of their own, a 26-yard Parker White boot with 5:57 to go before halftime. Bentley threw the ball 31 times in the first half, completing 18 for 146 yards. Ty’Son Williams led South Carolina’s ground efforts with six carries for 26 yards.

South Carolina attempted to cut into Georgia’s lead just before the break, but the Gamecocks’ drive ended near midfield and Joseph Charlton punted the ball just 18 yards, setting Georgia up at the 33 with 42 seconds and two timeouts at its disposal. Fromm maneuvered the Bulldogs to the South Carolina 27, allowing Blankenship to kick Georgia’s lead back to 10 with a 44-yard field goal as time expired.

Swift leads all runners with 39 yards on half-a-dozen carries, while Fromm completed 9-of-12 passes for 79 yards with an interception.

Georgia will receive to open the second half.

Michigan spoils Big Ten’s perfect bowl season with Outback Bowl meltdown

Associated Press
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The Big Ten did not have a perfect 2017-18 bowl season. Though, to be fair, there are plenty in the Midwest who might argue that winning every bowl game except the one Michigan and Jim Harbaugh compete in is actually the perfect bowl season. However, South Carolina’s 26-19 Outback Bowl comeback over Michigan spoiled the league’s shot at winning every bowl game in a season in which it was shut out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the 4-year history of the system.

And, like many defeats in the 3-year Harbaugh era, it was one in which the Wolverines grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.

Quinn Nordin‘s fourth field goal of the afternoon pushed Michigan’s lead to 19-3 with 5:42 to play in the third quarter; considering the state of South Carolina’s offense to that point, Nordin’s kick relegated the Outback Bowl to “I’ll check back in if something happens” for New Year’s Day viewers with the Citrus and Peach bowls on simultaneously.

Needless to say, something happened.

The Gamecocks moved 77 yards in a half-dozen plays, finally crossing pay dirt on a 17-yard Rico Dowdle option rush. A failed 2-point conversion kept Michigan’s lead at two scores at 19-9. However, Michigan immediately gave the ball back on a botched 3rd-and-1 exchange, and one play later Jake Bentley pulled South Carolina within 19-16 on a 21-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Edwards.

Michigan punted on its next possession, and South Carolina took the lead on a 53-yard strike from Bentley to Shi Smith. Trailing 23-19 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan penetrated South Carolina’s red zone with a chance to re-gain the lead but, flushed to his left, Brandon Peters elected to force a 3rd-and-goal pass from the 5-yard line rather than accepted defeat and bring on the field goal time. It was intercepted by JaMarcus King in the end zone.

Michigan’s defense immediately forced a three-and-out, but the ensuing punt was muffed. Taking over at the Michigan 14, South Carolina bit off 90 seconds of the remaining 5:15, taking a touchdown lead on a 22-yard Parker White field goal.

The maize and blue took over at their 25 with 3:42 and needing a touchdown to force overtime, but could not get as much as a completed pass. Peters fired four straight incomplete passes. White missed a 48-yard field goal that would have ended the game at the 1:43 mark of the fourth quarter, and Michigan marched near midfield with one final chance to tie the game. However, Peters’s 4th-and-1 pass was intercepted with 1:05 to play, thereby ending the game.

The loss concludes a bitterly disappointing season in which Michigan accomplished nothing of significance. The Wolverines went 8-5 but beat just one opponent with a winning record, 7-6 Purdue. Most importantly, Michigan did not find a quarterback answer for 2018. Peters’s performance — he was 20-of-44 for 186 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions — proves that the answer lies in either redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey or Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, assuming the NCAA grants him eligibility.

South Carolina (9-4) has no such issues. The ‘Cocks won 15 games in Will Muschamp‘s first two seasons, something only two other South Carolina coaches have done. And in Bentley — 19-of-32 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — the Gamecocks have their quarterback of the present and the future.

No. 3 Clemson looks like the new No. 1 in pummeling No. 24 South Carolina

Associated Press
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No. 1 Alabama lost on the road today. No. 2 Miami lost on the road on Friday. No. 3 Clemson went on the road… and did not come close to losing. The Tigers led throughout and dominated in-state rival No. 24 South Carolina, winning 34-10 in Columbia.

The win gives Clemson four straight victories in the season and two straight blowouts, following last season’s 56-7 beatdown in Death Valley. It was also Dabo Swinney‘s 100th win in his 129th game as Clemson’s head coach. More importantly, the win completes Clemson’s third straight regular season of at least 11 victories and sends the Tigers into next week’s ACC Championship opposite Miami in prime position to defend its national championship.

After downing a punt at the 1-yard line, Clemson’s Ryan Carter capitalized on a miscommunication by South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley as he grabbed an uncontested pass at the South Carolina 12 and waltzed into the end zone for the game’s first score.

That was the only score of the first quarter, but Clemson’s offense got in on the action in the second quarter with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was keyed by two big Kelly Bryant passes and completed with a 1-yard Tavien Feaster run with 8:12 left in the first half.

Clemson put together a similar drive to close the half, moving 79 yards in 10 snaps, 40 of which came on a deep ball to Tee HigginsHunter Renfrow notched his second touchdown grab of the season, a 4-yarder, with 1:59 left in the half. Alex Spence‘s PAT was wide left.

The Tigers put their orange paws on South Carolina’s throat in the third quarter with a 61-yard touchdown strike from Bryant to Kelly, and then a 5-yard Travis Etienne run to push the lead to 34-0.

South Carolina (8-4) got on the board with a 40-yard Parker White field goal after a Bryant interception and then a 38-yard toss from Bentley to Bryan Edwards with 2:44 left in the game. Bentley concluded his second Cocks-Tigers game hitting 16-of-29 passes for just 126 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Bryant hit 23-of-34 passes for 272 yards with two touchdowns and a pick while rushing 10 times for 26 yards. Seven Tigers runners combined to carry 41 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, more than doubling South Carolina’s 81 rushing yards.