ATHENS — Aaron Murray threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns, Georgia's beleaguered defense finally came up with a stop, and the 11th-ranked Bulldogs defeated No. 6 South Carolina 41-30 on Saturday for an early edge in the Southeastern Conference East.
Coming off a 38-35 loss at Clemson, Georgia could not afford another defeat if it wanted to remain a serious contender for a national title.
Murray took care of that, turning in one of the best games of his career and shaking off his reputation as a quarterback who couldn't win the big game. The fifth-year senior capped his stellar day for the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) with an 85-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley with 13 minutes remaining.
The defense made sure it stood up, stuffing Mike Davis on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1.
Davis led the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1) with 149 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Georgia snapped a three-year losing streak against the Gamecocks, seizing control of the SEC East though South Carolina still has a chance to get back in the race, thanks to a more favorable schedule. In fact, the Bulldogs won the division the last two years despite losing to their neighboring rival.
Todd Gurley had another huge day for the Bulldogs on the ground, rushing for 136 yards on 30 bruising carries and scoring two touchdowns. His first came on a 2-yard run in a wild first half, which ended with the teams tied at 24. Then, in the final seconds of the third quarter, he hauled in an 8-yard TD pass from Murray to give Georgia a 34-24 lead.
Davis ended the third with a 75-yard run down the sideline, and finished off the drive early in the fourth with a 3-yard run. South Carolina missed the extra point, leaving Georgia with a 34-30 lead.
It looked as though the Gamecocks were poised to get the ball back when Georgia faced third-and-13 from its own 15. But Murray scrambled away from Jadeveon Clowney — who, again, wasn't much of a factor — and lofted a pass to Scott-Wesley all alone behind the secondary. The speedster ran away from his pursuers in front of the South Carolina bench, giving Georgia an 11-point lead.
The Gamecocks took it right down the field again, and Davis nearly powered over before he was stopped a couple of inches short of the goal line. South Carolina had to go for it on fourth down, and coach Steve Spurrier called a quick pitch to Davis out of the shotgun. Amarlo Herrara led a swarm of tacklers that stopped Davis short of the end zone and pushed him back.
Georgia started inside its one, and never gave the ball back, running the final 8:28 off the clock.
The teams combined for 990 yards — Georgia had 536 — in a game that sparked such passion, a couple of South Carolina coaches got into it with each other on the sideline early in the third quarter. They had to be pulled apart by another assistant.
After South Carolina grabbed a 3-0 lead, the Gamecocks ran only three offensive plays in nearly 13 minutes.
Murray guided the Bulldogs 65 yards in just six plays the first time they had the ball, capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass to Arthur Lynch. On the ensuing kickoff, Georgia caught the Gamecocks napping, as Collin Barber dribbled an onside kick that was recovered easily by Blake Sailors. The Bulldogs went 49 yards before their drive stalled, settling for Patrick Beless' 22-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead.
South Carolina went three-and-out, and Georgia took it right down the field again — a seven-play, 69-yard drive capped by Murray's second TD pass, a 6-yarder to Keith Marshall swinging out of the backfield.
With the Bulldogs on the verge of blowing the game open, South Carolina put together the sort of drive it had to have. Going 84 yards in a dozen plays, the Gamecocks closed to 17-10 on Brandon Wilds' 7-yard run. The big call came in from the sideline, when Spurrier passed on a field goal on fourth-and-2 at the Georgia 14. Davis picked it up with a 3-yard run, and South Carolina was still in the game.
After getting burned on special teams, the Gamecocks caught a break on Georgia's next possession. Attempting to punt, Barber dropped a snap that was right on the money. South Carolina smothered him at the Bulldogs 18 and one play to tie the game up on the first of Shaw's two touchdown passes to Nick Jones.
Georgia responded with a touchdown of its own, allowing Gurley to do most of the work. He carried it seven times for 46 yards, powering over from the 2 with 1:42 left in the half.
The Bulldogs left too much time on the clock. Shaw ran it three times and completed all four of his passes on a 71-yard drive. This time, he finished it off with a 30-yard scoring pass to Jones in the left corner of the end zone.