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Out of gas in Athens: South Carolina’s upset bid falls short against No. 1 Georgia

The South Carolina Gamecocks hushed Sanford Stadium’s sold-out crowd during the first half Saturday afternoon, walking into the locker room with a 14-3 lead. But the Georgia faithful came alive in the second half, as the Bulldogs marched down field for a quick score.

That sequence was a microcosm of the contest, in which South Carolina jumped out to an early lead only for Georgia to thwart it in the final 30 minutes.

The Gamecocks fell to No. 1-ranked, two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs 24-14 in Athens on Saturday. USC did not score in the second half.

The game was easily circled as the toughest of the year for South Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SEC), whose schedule Sports Illustrated labeled the toughest in FBS.

Game recap

UGA (3-0, 1-0) started slow in each of its previous games as well, scoring zero points in the first quarter versus Ball State last week and seven versus UT Martin the week before. South Carolina players and coaches preached “fast start” in the days leading up to the game, then came out and scored on the first drive of the game.

Rattler completed all eight of his passes — including one to Dakereon Joyner while being dragged to the ground by a UGA defender. Antwane “Juice” Wells, who had seen little playing time and few targets in USC’s first two games, caught a 17-yard pass for the score. It was his third catch of the season.

Wells left the field, however, left the field after the touchdown with an injured left foot. Coach Shane Beamer told the CBS broadcast that Wells was likely done for the day, explaining that he had a screw in the foot, which he had surgery on, and may also have a broken bone in it.

Despite Wells departure and the hole left by fellow starting receiver Ahmarean Brown (hamstring), South Carolina owned the first half. USC outgained Georgia on the ground and in the air in the first half. The Gamecocks rushed for 28 yards to the Bulldogs’ 19 and recorded 152 receiving yards to their 98.

Rattler and Legette — as individuals and a tandem — continued to see success during the first half in Athens.

Rattler completed 16 of his 18 passes with one touchdown and one sack in the first two quarters. Legette snagged all six of his targets for 68 yards, including an explosive 35-yard catch on the first drive of the game.

The quarterback threw his first interception of the season with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and a second one in the final moments of the game.

On the other side of the ball, South Carolina defensive coordinator Clayton White spoke about tackles for loss as a focal point for the defense after each of the Gamecocks first two games. They had just one against UNC and four against Furman. Between T.J. Sanders, Debo Williams and Stone Blanton, they had four (including Balnton’s sack to end the second quarter) in the first half against Georgia.

Georgia received to start the second half and exploded on its first drive. In six plays spanning 75 yards, two minutes and 40 seconds, the Bulldogs into the Gamecocks’ lead. After a delay of game penalty on a two-point conversion attempt, UGA made the extra point to move within a touchdown of USC.

Georgia’s defense followed that up with a quick three-and-out — highlighted by a Rattler sack deep in South Carolina territory, which drew a pop from the crowd. Then the offense scored on another quick drive: nine plays, 49 yards in three minutes and 20 seconds. The Bulldogs led for the first time with seven minutes and 40 seconds left in the third.

Georgia scored again in the fourth, with a Brock Bowers touchdown pass punctuating an eight-play, 61-yard drive in less than four minutes. And that was that.

What stood out against UGA

The run game’s continued struggles: South Carolina’s rushers outgained UGA’s in the first half by 11 yards. Then the Gamecocks only added 25 yards to their tally, while the Bulldogs improved by more than 100. Rattler had the most yards on the ground, despite getting sacked three times.

The defense shut it down (at first): The same South Carolina defense that allowed UNC to score 31 and Furman to score 21 limited the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs to just three points in the first half. But UGA pulled away in the time-of-possession battle during the second half, ultimately spending 37 minutes with the ball to USC’s 23.

Injuries: Wells left the field after his touchdown catch in the first drive of the game. He was without his left cleat and unable to put weight on his left leg. Beamer told CBS Wells was likely done for the day, explaining that he had a screw in the foot, which he had surgery on, and may also have a broken bone in it. Wells did return to the sideline, though, seemingly cheering on his teammates.

With Wells’ absence, the Gamecocks were without two starting receivers. Ahmarean Brown (hamstring) did not travel with USC.

No “Beamer Ball,” but big break with Bulldogs special teams: Georgia’s kicker Peyton Woodring went one-for-three on field goal attempts Saturday. USC didn’t block any of his kicks but did benefit from a couple missed scoring opportunities for UGA.

Next USC football game

Who: South Carolina vs. Mississippi State

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23

TV: SEC Network