Posted by Jerry Hinnen
SOUTH CAROLINA WON: In another good old-fashioned SEC shootout (that's how it goes in this conference these days), the Gamecocks escaped Athens with a 45-42 victory, defeating Georgia in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000-2001. Marcus Lattimore only enhanced his reputation as the league's preeminent Bulldog-slayer with 160 yards on just 26 carries, a 6.2 per-carry average. But the story was the opportunistic Gamecock defense and special teams, which scored three touchdowns directly -- two of them by defensive end/tackle Melvin Ingram, who rumbled 68 yards for a score on a fake punt and later recovered a fumble for a score -- and set up a fourth with a 57-yard Stephon Gilmore fumble return to the Georgia 5.
WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Because they made the plays that mattered. As with many of Georgia's losses a year ago, the Bulldogs were good enough from a statistical standpoint to win the game: they held Stephen Garcia to just 141 yards passing and picked him off twice; they outgained Carolina overall 435 yards to 389; they averaged a healthy 6.5 yards per-play and revived their moribund running game behind Isaiah Crowell's hard-charging 116 yards.
But in the end, none of that was enough to offset the Dawgs' three killer turnovers, which Carolina turned into a touchdown on all three opportunities. As sharp as Aaron Murray was overall, hitting 19-of-29 for 248 yards and four touchdowns, his two mistakes were backbreakers: first a pick-six thrown to Antonio Allen immediately following the momentum-changing fumble return to put the Bulldogs down eight entering the fourth, and then the all-but-game-ending fumble that Ingram returned to put Carolina up 10 with just 3:12 left.
Yes, as he was in 2010, Lattimore was the best player on the field; by the fourth quarter, he was powering over, past, and through Bulldog defenders much as he did in Columbia last year. But without the fake punt, the fumble returns, and Allen's interception, the Bulldogs likely would have found a way to outshine him anyway.
WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA WON: How good was Ingram? Not only did he score on the momentum-turning fake punt (smoothly eluding a tackle attempt by UGA punt returner Branden Smith in the process), not only did he score the Gamecocks' final touchdown (after Jadeveon Clowney had forced the Murray fumble), but he also skied to recover the Bulldogs' well-executed last-gasp onside kick with 2:15 remaining. With Georgia only down three and having carved up the Gamecock secondary for much of the second half, Ingram's effort was critical ... and arguably sealed team MVP honors for the day.
WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA WON: With Florida coming to Columbia later this season, the right to be called the clearcut SEC East favorites. Moreover, the win was another sign that the up-and-down malaise that affected the early years of Steve Spurrier's tenure are well and truly gone. The old Gamecocks would have found a way to wilt on the road in the face of a quality opponent playing quality football; the new ones have the big guns in Lattimore, Ingram, Clowney, and Alshon Jeffery to weather the storm and make enough plays to ride out the storm.
WHAT GEORGIA LOST: Give Mark Richt this: his team played far, far better than they did a week ago, and they could have very easily won the game. But there have been many Bulldog football games over the past three years where Georgia could have won, where they played well but not well enough to win. With the Bulldogs now staring down a de facto two-game hole in the SEC East race and sitting at 0-2 overall, Richt has no doubt now lost every last shred of "margin for error" or "benefit of the doubt" his tenure possessed. He must win the overwhelming majority of his remaining games -- surely, nothing less than nine of them -- or he will be fired.