COLUMBIA — Playing in front of the largest crowd in Williams-Brice Stadium history, sixth-ranked South Carolina beat fifth-ranked Georgia, 35-7, on Saturday night, assuring the Gamecocks of their highest ranking since they were No. 2 in 1984.
That wasn’t the only history the Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) made Saturday. They beat Georgia (5-1, 3-1) for the third straight meeting — something they had never done. They won a meeting of top 10 teams for the first time. They started 6-0 for the first time since 1988. And they won their school-record 10th straight game, surpassing their 9-0 start in 1984.
In the smaller picture, but no less important, the victory gave them a leg up on the SEC’s Eastern Division in the race for the conference championship game. They are now 4-0 against the East and have won 12 straight against divisional opponents, dating to 2010.
Saturday’s game, played before 85,199 fans, was one of the most anticipated in South Carolina’s history. The teams’ combined rankings were the second-best ever in a South Carolina game, behind No. 8 South Carolina’s trip to No. 2 Miami in 1987.
The previous Williams-Brice attendance record was 85,000 in 2001 against Clemson, and the stadium buzzed from start to finish as the Gamecocks began a brutal October that will define their season. The Gamecocks’ win Saturday improved their home record since the start of 2009 to 22-3, 11-3 against Southeastern Conference opponents and 6-2 against ranked teams.
One of the few things that went wrong for South Carolina on Saturday happened early in the second half, when the stadium’s new video board went dark. But on this historic night, nobody seemed to mind.
The Gamecocks travel next week to LSU, which will fall from its No. 4 ranking after losing for the first time, 14-6, Saturday at No. 10 Florida. The following week, South Carolina plays at Florida.
South Carolina roared out of the gates Saturday, marching 76 yards in five plays for a touchdown on the game’s first drive. The Gamecocks followed that 20-yard pass from Connor Shaw to receiver Bruce Ellington with another touchdown pass on their next drive – 14 yards to tight end Rory Anderson. That drive covered 69 yards in 11 plays.
Georgia answered with a three-and-out that ended with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ace Sanders. And just like that, with 5:18 left in the first quarter, South Carolina led 21-0. At that point, Georgia had run just six plays. By the time the first quarter ended, Georgia had 12 plays for 39 yards, South Carolina 20 for 177.
Seven of USC’s plays in the first quarter covered at least 10 yards, including a 42-yard pass from Shaw to receiver Damiere Byrd on the game’s second play. Byrd ripped the ball away from free safety Bacarri Rambo, and the Gamecocks never looked back in the first half.
They led 21-0 at halftime and out-gained Georgia 211-111. The Bulldogs’ true freshman tailback combination of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall had 11 carries for 23 yards and four carries for three yards in the first half, respectively.
The Bulldogs had a chance to get on the board on their second-to-last drive of the first half. They had first and goal at the 4-yard line, then fourth and goal at the 2. Georgia coach Mark Richt decided to go for it. Aaron Murray hit Rantavious Wooten on a quick pass just short of the goal line, but D.J. Swearinger and Shaq Wilson were right there to stonewall Wooten with 4:15 left in the first half.
That stop improved South Carolina’s already impressive red zone defensive numbers this season. It was the 13th red zone trip for a South Carolina opponent. All of those trips yielded just three touchdowns and five field goals.