COLUMBIA — Every week’s a season.
South Carolina had a losing season Saturday.
USC, ranked 24th this week but sure to fall out of the AP Top 25 on Sunday, again couldn’t handle the moment as third-ranked Georgia blitzed the Gamecocks 41-17. South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC) spotted Georgia (2-0, 1-0) the first 14 points, six from an interception that glanced off Rico Dowdle’s hands and was gobbled by Deandre Baker on his way to the end zone, and USC never recovered.
“Got whipped on the line of scrimmage,” a frustrated USC coach Will Muschamp said. “Lot of ball to play, lot of season to go. We needed to play better, and that’s on me.”
It was what he was supposed to say, and supposed to offer a bit of comfort. Yet it’s also what Muschamp said after other “big games,” like against Kentucky and Clemson in 2017, both in front of electric home crowds.
USC looked too hyped about what could happen with a win to concentrate on winning the game. Mistakes were compounded and turned into advantages by the Bulldogs, who didn’t need any extra help.
“It’s difficult, but we got to find a way to win,” said quarterback Jake Bentley, who completed 30 of 47 passes for 269 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown. “We’re not going to point fingers.”
Playing uphill all day, USC never established a running game, had its normally sure-handed receivers drop half a dozen balls and gave away chance after chance. A Rashad Fenton interception yielded zero points; a shanked punt from all-conference candidate Joseph Charlton was turned into a Georgia field goal to end the half; and missed tackles against the Bulldogs’ speedsters resulted in predictable chunk plays.
The Gamecocks can still have a fine season (they did despite a loss to Georgia last year), and there’s a lot that can happen in the next seven conference games to remove the Bulldogs’ basic two-game lead in the SEC East standings. But USC’s chances of an SEC Championship Game appearance likely ended Saturday, and the questions about Muschamp’s teams being able to beat elite teams elevated.
Georgia was favored by 10 points so a loss wasn’t unexpected. But the Gamecocks’ shocking ability to take themselves out of the game before the opponent got warmed up, like they did in other big games the past two years, loomed.
What went right
Bryan Edwards continues to show why he’s one of the best wide receivers in the country, hauling in seven balls for 111 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t want to hear any congratulations.
“We lost,” he said.
What went wrong
The Gamecocks knew they would have to tackle well and didn’t. They knew they had to find some way to stand up against Georgia’s massive offensive line and didn’t.
“At the end of the day, I think we just wore them out,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
The Gamecocks had 54 rushing yards. They allowed 271. Throw in at least six dropped passes, one of which became a pick-6, and a shanked punt that gifted three points, and it was a total team letdown.
Charlton has been one of the best punters in the league during his career. Kicking from his own 49-yard-line with 43 seconds to go before half, he somehow shanked it for an 18-yard net.
That gave Georgia just enough time to drive and kick a field goal, and the Bulldogs scored on their first three possessions of the second half.
“We got to be able to flip the field on the punt,” Muschamp said. “That was a critical error in the game.”
The Gamecocks step back out of conference play by hosting Marshall at 7:30 p.m. next week. USC has only played the Thundering Herd once, a loss in 1998.