ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia likes this view a whole lot better.
The Bulldogs were forced to rally the last two seasons, managing to win a pair of Southeastern Conference East titles despite losses to South Carolina. Now, it’s Georgia seizing the early lead, knocking off the Gamecocks 41-30 in the league opener and moving up two spots to No. 9 in the Associated Press rankings Sunday.
South Carolina slipped seven places to No. 13 and will have to do what the Bulldogs did two years in a row — come from behind to reach the SEC title game in Atlanta.
“It feels great to be ahead in the SEC East,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said after Saturday’s game. “That’s a huge thing.”
The Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) snapped a three-year losing streak to the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1), thanks to a dynamic offensive performance and one key defensive play — a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter. This was essentially a must-win for Georgia, given it has a more difficult conference schedule the rest of the way, including a game in three weeks against No. 8 LSU.
Georgia is off this week. It will be an enjoyable break.
“It’s been tough for three years hoping that (South Carolina) loses so that we can get to Atlanta,” Murray said. “We know it’s a long season, though, and we just have to keep working.”
There’s not a whole lot of work needed on the offensive side, not after the Bulldogs ripped off 536 yards and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes against Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina defense.
Murray, a fifth-year senior, had one of the best games of his career, completing 17 of 23 passes — even with several drops — for 309 yards and four touchdowns. More impressively, he showed some mobility on two of his scoring throws, a point of emphasis during his preseason work with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
An 8-yard TD to Todd Gurley late in the third quarter came after the running back ran the wrong route. Murray rolled out of the pocket, motioned Gurley to an open spot in the end zone and zipped him the scoring pass. But the biggest play came with 13 minutes remaining, after the Gamecocks had scored to close within 34-30.
On third-and-13, Bobo sent in a play the Bulldogs had not practiced all week. Murray slipped away from Clowney barreling into the backfield, rolled to the left, and lofted a pass to Justin Scott-Wesley, standing all along down the sideline, not a defender in sight. The speedy receiver hauled in the throw and was gone on an 85-yard touchdown that provided some breathing room in the wild, back-and-forth game.
“That’s what we talked about — extending plays, when things break down in the pocket,” Murray said. “We were able to have two huge plays there.”