No. 1 Georgia rebounds from 11-point halftime deficit to beat South Carolina in SEC opener

AP photo by John Bazemore / South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler is hit by Georgia defensive lineman Mykel Williams as he releases a pass during Saturday's game in Athens, Ga.
AP photo by John Bazemore / South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler is hit by Georgia defensive lineman Mykel Williams as he releases a pass during Saturday's game in Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga. — The top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs trotted off Dooley Field to a smattering of boos from the home crowd and facing their biggest halftime deficit in nearly three years.

When they returned for the second half, they suddenly played like champions — which is exactly what they've been for some time now.

Carson Beck passed for 269 yards, Daijun Edwards, Dillon Bell and Cash Jones ran for touchdowns, and the two-time reigning national champs rallied to beat South Carolina 24-14 on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

"I was pretty excited at halftime," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "I knew we would find out what kind of team we have."

He sure liked what he saw over the final two quarters as the Bulldogs won their 20th consecutive game, wiping out a 14-3 deficit.

Georgia (3-0) totally shut down quarterback Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks (1-2), who managed just 129 yards over the final two quarters. After the break, Rattler was 6-of-24 passing for 104 yards with two interceptions on a soggy day at Sanford Stadium that turned increasingly gloomy for South Carolina.

"It was just self-inflected stuff," Rattler said. "If we clean that up, the outcome is probably a little different."

With first-year starter Beck completing 27 of 35 passes, the Georgia offense scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions in the second half, with the only blip a series that ended with the Bulldogs missing a field-goal attempt.

Edwards, who was sidelined for the first two games with a lingering knee injury, rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries.

"We came out with energy," Beck said. "We were composed, we were poised and we started making plays."

The Bulldogs took the second-half kickoff and quickly drove 75 yards in six plays, scoring their first touchdown of the day on Edwards' 7-yard run.

After the Gamecocks went three-and-out, Georgia ripped off a 49-yard drive that ended with Bell, a receiver who has been getting extended time at running back, taking it in from the 3 to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game before the third quarter was halfway done.

Finally, Georgia finished off the Gamecocks when Cash sauntered in from 13 yards out with just more than nine minutes remaining.

"The biggest thing is figuring out ways to win," Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran said.

The first half was a stunner as Rattler carved up the Bulldogs, known for dominant defense under Smart, by completing 16 of 18 passes for 152 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown to Antwane "Juice" Wells Jr. on a screen pass on third-and-16.

It was the first time Georgia had trailed since last year's College Football Playoff semifinal victory over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Wells sustained a foot injury on the scoring play and didn't return.

The Bulldogs answered with Peyton Woodring's 31-yard field goal, but the Gamecocks tacked on another touchdown with just a minute left in the half after Woodring missed a chip shot from 28 yards.

Rattler guided South Carolina on a five-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Dakereon Joyner powering in from the 2 off a direct snap to push the margin to double digits. Rattler completed two passes for 53 yards and scrambled twice for 20 yards on the lightning-quick possession, which was helped along by a 15-yard face-mask penalty on Georgia's Warren Brinson.

The final play of the half summed it up for the Bulldogs: Beck was sacked near midfield as the clock ran out with Georgia facing its largest halftime deficit since trailing Florida 38-21 on Nov. 7, 2020.

"We just went toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the country and back-to-back defending national champions," third-year South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said. "We just weren't able to get it done."

The Gamecocks have shown a lot of promise under Beamer, and their performance over the first two quarters was certainly impressive, but the second-half meltdown demonstrated they're not quite ready for prime time in the SEC. They'll continue league play when they host another set of Bulldogs, Mississippi State, next Saturday — and they might have to do so without Wells after Beamer said the receiver may have broken a bone in his left foot.

Georgia's running game got a big boost from the return of Edwards, who provided the sort of explosiveness they've been missing, but the Bulldogs have some troubling concerns in the kicking game, which has traditionally been one of their strongest areas. Woodring is just 3-of-6 on field-goal attempts this season, including two misses from inside of 30 yards. He also was wide right on a 43-yard try against the Gamecocks.

"We've seen much better in practice," Smart said. "We've got to do something there."

Georgia lost offensive tackle Amarius Mims to what appeared to be a fairly serious left ankle sprain in the first half, while running back Kendall Milton exited with an ailing left knee. The Bulldogs already were missing veteran receiver Ladd McConkey, who has yet to play this season because of a back injury, and star safety Javon Bullard with an ankle injury sustained the previous week against Ball State.

Georgia will cap a four-game homestand by stepping back outside of SEC play next week to face the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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