If boxing rules prevailed in college football, they’d have stopped the Georgia-South Carolina game with 5:18 left.
In the first quarter.
Technical knockout, Gamecocks.
Since football rules don’t allow for mercy killings, the two teams continued to slog it out for another 50 minutes that were of particular interest to no one.
The final score of 35-7 clarified nothing the first 10 minutes hadn’t already revealed. South Carolina fans had to bide their time until they could storm the field and celebrate the coronation of the new SEC East kingpins.
Georgia fans were left to ponder how their team could have wandered so aimlessly through those initial 10 minutes with so much at stake.
The game carried so much promise, so much hype, that even Brent Musburger showed up.
Too bad Georgia didn’t.
The Dogs ran six offensive plays, and found themselves trailing, 21-0.
During that nightmarish span, South Carolina ran 16 plays, drove for 145 yards, scored two touchdowns, and held the ball for 7:18.
Then Ace Sanders returned a punt 70 yards, seemingly skirting through the entire Georgia punting team. That score put the exclamation point on the Gamecocks ten minutes of perfection.
"It was huge," quarterback Aaron Murray told Georgiadogs.com, recalling Sanders jaunt. "They built up a whole lot of momentum, and it’s hard when a team like that is rolling."
You’d have thought that Georgia might have a grasp of this momentum thing. Especially after last week, when they turned an easy romp over Tennessee into a wire job with a hideous 10-minute span in the second quarter. One closely resembling the start of the South Carolina game.
And did they not recall last year’s South Carolina encounter, in which Georgia gift-wrapped half of Carolina’s points in a 45-42 Gamecock win?
On their first two scoring drives, Carolina went through the Georgia defense as if the Dogs were coached by Al Groh. Between the running of Marcus Lattimore, an old nemesis, and quarterback Connor Shaw, a new one, and the resultant play action passes, the Dog defenders looked clueless.
Did Carolina do anything special? "Nothing special at all," cornerback Sanders Commings told georgiadogs.com. "It was just lack of focus. When that happens, it is easy for a team to make a big play, and that’s what they did."
Excuse me? Lack of focus? For this game? Please.
You could almost —almost — understand the Dog defense for appearing disinterested against the likes of Buffalo and Florida Atlantic. And they stopped Missouri and Tennessee when they needed to.
No, the faithful felt, the true Dog defense was the one that stifled Vanderbilt. That’s the defense that would show up against South Carolina.
"It’s heartbreaking," Commings told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. "If we remember this, then I don’t think we’ll ever want to have this feeling again."
Clearly, Commings and his mates have short memories. They’ve forgotten that they felt this way four times just last season.
But the Georgia offense fared no better than the Dog defenders. After Todd Gurley burst around left end for 15 yards on the Dogs initial play from scrimmage, Georgia failed to move the ball a single yard over the course of the ensuing five plays. And Murray tossed in an interception (on a tipped pass, so it was a combined effort) for good measure.
Yes, Georgia’s line is young and new, but after five games and scoring over 40 points in each, how could they be so totally outclassed by Carolina’s defensive front?
I mean, at one point, freshman right tackle John Theus was called for a facemask penalty. Seriously. When’s the last time you saw that?
"I think a couple of times we were blocking them halfway decent, trying to run them by the quarterback, but they are just so long and they are so athletic that Murray was getting grabbed right at the last moment as he was trying to move up into the pocket," coach Mark Richt explained to georgiadogs.com.
Sounds like maybe Georgia needed to call a screen pass to slow these people down. But Georgia doesn’t have a screen pass. They have brought back that little flat pass to the fullback. Merritt Hall caught one for nine yards. Murray badly overthrew the other.
Which raises another issue. Here’s a quarterback touted for his study and leadership, and he has yet to lead Georgia to victory in a big game. During those first 10 minutes, Shaw resembled the seasoned veteran. Murray resembled the wide-eyed, scatter-shot armed lad visiting the big stage for the first time.
Just as disturbing, the first 10 minutes continued a disconcerting trend of Richt being outcoached in big games.
Carolina came out of the gate ready to play. Georgia did not. Carolina dictated the tempo, the flow, the play. Georgia did not.
Until they prove otherwise, Georgia’s just a nice top twenty program. One that can’t stay on the stage with the big boys.
For longer than 10 minutes.