By JEFFREY COLLINS
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his No. 1 Bulldogs are sending messages to anyone who thought they were going to drop off after a national championship.
The latest statement came Saturday in a 48-7 victory over South Carolina (1-2, 0-2) in their Southeastern Conference opener, where the Gamecocks needed a touchdown with 53 seconds to go to avoid becoming the fifth shutout victim of the Bulldogs (3-0) in their past 14 games.
Meanwhile, the Georgia offense gained 547 yards, scoring on eight of its first nine possessions and was averaging nearly 10 yards a play before the backups came in and took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter.
Even though 15 players left for the NFL after winning Georgia’s first national title since 1980, there still is still plenty of talent and an attitude that winning a championship leaves behind, coach Kirby Smart said.
“That was a very special group. That’s going to linger in our building,” Kirby said. “Not the championship, but the way they practiced, the way they carried themselves.”
Stetson Bennett went 16 for 23 for 284 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. Just like the Bulldogs’ 49-3 victory over Oregon and 33-0 win over Samford, Bennett didn’t take a snap in the fourth quarter. He reminded his teammates that it won’t stay this easy.
“We’re going to have to play a four-quarter game at some point. We’re going to have to stay in shape,” Bennett said. “This isn’t going to happen every week.”
Tight end Brock Bowers had five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score. Georgia let 10 players carry the ball, rushing for 212 yards.
The Bulldogs’ defensive line overwhelmed South Carolina’s front. A defender was in quarterback Spencer Rattler’s face almost every time he dropped back more than three steps. The Oklahoma transfer got off just three deep balls, with two of them intercepted. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter and was 13 of 25 for 118 yards.
“I obviously did a horse-crap job of getting our team ready to play today regardless of how many guys we had out,” said South Carolina coach Shane Beamer, who was missing six defensive players. “I don’t even want to hear it. We had a good enough team to go out there and compete.”
The 41-point victory was Georgia’s biggest against the Gamecocks in their 75 meetings. It was South Carolina’s worst loss since a 56-6 defeat to Florida in 2008.
SHUTOUT SO CLOSE
That touchdown that ruined the shutout still stung, especially after Trezman Martin intercepted a fourth quarter-pass at the Georgia 9 that appeared to snuff out the Gamecocks’ last chance with 4:33 to go.
Linebacker Nolan Smith said there is no garbage time for the Georgia defense, which allowed an offensive touchdown for the first time in the last five regular-season games.
“If you are on the field, you are a starter,” Smith said. “That’s our body of work. That’s our entire defense.”
After throwing a touchdown to Bowers in the second quarter, Bennett threw up on the field as his teammates celebrated in the end zone. He said he was dry heaving during the drive but stayed in. Smart said he thinks Bennett was nervous about the heat and drank too much water.
Bennett didn’t miss a play.
“It hit me all of a sudden,” he said, smiling. “I ate a lot of grapes. Maybe I had a bad grape.”
Georgia: Struggles against teams like South Carolina used to define the Bulldogs. At one point when Steve Spurrier was Gamecocks coach in the early 2010s, South Carolina won four of five in the series. But after Saturday, Georgia has won 15 of its last 16 over SEC East teams.
South Carolina: Beamer appears to be breathing life into a program that had lost 13 of its last 16 when he took over in 2021, but there is still a big gap to the best. In his second season, Beamer is 0-4 against Top 25 teams, losing by an average of nearly 24 points.
Beating an SEC opponent by 41 points should be enough to keep the Bulldogs at No. 1.
Georgia: The Bulldogs have one more nonconference tuneup, this time against Kent State, before playing seven SEC games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks dip out of the SEC for a home game next Saturday against Charlotte.
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