ATHENS — The way Georgia’s game against South Carolina had gone throughout the day, how it ended seemed only fitting.
Rodrigo Blankenship’s miss wide left on a potential game-tying 43-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime period perfectly encapsulated how nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs in their 20-17 loss Saturday before a mostly-stunned crowd of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium.
But the miss by the normally-reliable Blankenship was only a small portion of the Bulldogs’ (5-1, 2-1 in the SEC woes.
Despite 468 yards of total offense, including 295 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 28 completions in a career-high 51 attempts by Jake Fromm and 113 yards and a score on 23 carries for D’Andre Swift, and holding South Carolina (3-3, 2-2) to just 295 total yards, Georgia’s miscues negated all that work.
Most damaging were four turnovers — including three interceptions by Gamecocks defensive back Israel Mukuamu, one of which went for a touchdown — but add in a few ill-timed penalties and a second field goal miscue on a block right before halftime and the Bulldogs were left to lament all their self-inflicted wounds.
“Four is astronomical,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of the turnovers. “And when one goes for a touchdown, that’s a back breaker. You can’t turn the ball over in this league and win. It’s that simple.
“We didn’t execute very well. We didn’t play clean. We didn’t do a good job protecting the ball. If you turn the ball over, you will get your butt beat. … Every time we got something going and rolling, we butted our toe in some area.”
At least some of the credit has to go to South Carolina’s defense, which bent but didn’t break most of the day, in particularly in defending the running game.
Despite Swift’s big day, the Gamecocks allowed Georgia only 173 net yards on 43 carries thanks to a big day by its defensive line, led by Archer grad Kobe Smith, who finished with six combined tackles and assists, including a half sack and a tackle for loss, and D.J. Wonnum (6 tackles 1/2 sack).
“Defensively, we got some turnovers. That’s what we needed,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “We scored on defense, got the game into overtime. … Our kids fought their (butts) off. You can’t question that, as far as our football team is concerned.
“I really feel like (our defensive line) pretty much the whole year has played consistently well. Javon (Kinlaw) has been tough. Kobe played another good game for us. He had a couple of tackles. Richard Sandidge continues to come on for us. I feel like those four guys, with D.J., Aaron Sterling, … all those guys have played good football for us.”
The game started well enough for Georgia, which took the opening kickoff and drove 42 yards in nine plays down into South Carolina territory.
But the drive stalled on the Gamecocks’ 33-yard line, and the Bulldogs settled for a 50-yard Blankenship field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 10:15 left in the first quarter.
From that point, Georgia did manage 188 more yards and 13 more first downs, compared to just 156 yards and eight first downs total for South Carolina in the first half.
A trio of breakdowns, one on each phase of the game, made life much more difficult for the Bulldogs.
First, with South Carolina in the midst of their longest drive of the game, Bryan Edwards snuck behind the Georgia secondary, and Ryan Hilinski hit him in stride for a 46-yard touchdown that capped a nine-play, 93-yard march and vaulted the Gamecocks into a 7-3 lead with 1:58 left in the opening frame.
Georgia answered with a nine-play drive of its own, this one covering 75 yards, with Swift running for 29 of those yards, including the final yard with a dive into the end zone that vaulted the Bulldogs back in front at 10-7 with 13:35 left in the first half.
With Georgia looking like it would answer with another effective drive after South Carolina tied the game 10-all on Parker White’s 49-yard field goal with 3:00 left in the half, disaster struck.
Fromm was flushed from the pocket and throw on the run as he rolled to his right, and Mukuamu jumped the route, snagged it and sped down the left sideline 57 yards for a pick six that put South Carolina back on top 17-10 with exactly one minute left in the half.
The Bulldogs tried to regain a little momentum heading into halftime by moving quickly on Fromm completions of 12 yards to Lawrence Cager and 19 yards to George Pickens.
But the drive stalled at the South Carolina 36-yard line and Blankenship’s attempt at a 56-yard field goal was blocked, sending South Carolina into intermission with the seven-point lead.
The Georgia defense gave the Bulldogs a chance to win by holding South Carolina to just 166 yards in the second half and knocking Hilinski out of the game with a leg injury.
The offense finally woke up late in the fourth quarter by methodically marching 96 yards in 13 plays, with Fromm hitting Demetrius Robinson in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring strike that tied he game at 17-all with 1:48 left in regulation.
It looked like Blankenship another chance to rescue the Bulldogs after the defense forced a turnover on downs at the Georgia 40 with 1:08 left and the offense moved as deep as the South Carolina 38.
An illegal shift penalty moved the ball out of field goal range with three seconds left, and the Hail Mary pass to the end zone fell short to force overtime.
In the extra frame, it looked like South Carolina had squandered a golden opportunity at the game-winner when Mukuamu’s picked off his third pass of the day, which helped set up White’s attempt at the game-winner from 34 yards out.
Georgia got a reprieve when White missed the attempt, and the Bulldogs defense gave the team another chance to save itself by holding the Gamecocks to another field goal attempt, which White this time connected on from 24 yards out to take a 20-17 lead.
After a Swift run for no Gian and two incomplete passes from Fromm, Blankenship’s attempt to send the game to a third overtime sailed wide left to send South Carolina’s bench and fans into celebration.
“It was lit,” Smith said of the postgame celebration. “It’s very special. I mean, I dream about games like this. I came (to South Carolina) to play college football for games like this.”