Gamecocks wide receiver Ace Sanders (1) celebrates a punt return touchdown in the first half against the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium. (Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE)
(USA TODAY) - South Carolina has arrived.
After years of unmet expectations, squandered potential and relentless thirst for big-time football, the Gamecocks can finally call themselves national championship contenders. In the first top-10 matchup ever at Williams-Brice Stadium, No. 6 South Carolina rose to the moment in every way possible, thrashing No. 5 Georgia 35-7 Saturday in front of an overflow crowd of 85,199.
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"We got a pretty good team, that's what it showed," said coach Steve Spurrier in response to a question from ESPN after the game. "Defense was sensational. Connor Shaw is the kind of quarterback you love to have. And (Marcus) Lattimore was beautiful tonight."
And just in case anyone missed what he thought about his defensive performance, Spurrier repeated, "And the defense was sensational."
With their game-altering defensive line, efficient quarterback, powerful running and dangerous special teams all operating at a high level, the Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0 SEC) never gave Georgia much chance. They took a 21-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old and spent the next 50 exercising their physical will, beating up Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and mostly trying to avoid mistakes.
It worked, as Lattimore's 1-yard touchdown run with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter extended the lead to 28-0 and ended any hopes of a comeback by Georgia (5-1, 3-1).
Not that there were many to begin with. South Carolina rolled up a 177-39 edge in offensive yards by the end of the first quarter -which didn't even include Ace Sanders' 70-yard punt return that made it 21-0 -and had only allowed Georgia 18 rushing yards in the first half.
In a sequence that punctuated South Carolina's defensive dominance with 4:21 remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs were stopped cold on four straight plays inside the 5-yard line. The Dawgs scored with 1:57 remaining to avoid being shut out for the first time since a 31-0 loss to Alabama in 1995. They nonetheless lost their third consecutive game to South Carolina for the first time in school history.
The Gamecocks now own major college football's longest current winning streak at 10, also the first time in school history they've won 10 in a row.
The win makes the first time USC has beaten Georgia three straight years, and is the largest margin of victory by Carolina over UGA ever.
"We got a lot of firsts tonight," Spurrier said.
South Carolina, with a long-suffering fan base that filled the stadium even in the worst of times, now takes control of the SEC East. The Gamecocks likely will be a top-four team in the polls heading into another key game next Saturday at LSU. The USA TODAY Sports coaches poll will be released midday Sunday.