ATHENS, Ga. -- This is exactly what everybody predicted.
OK, not really.
We’re only two weeks into the college football season, and all but two teams in the SEC’s Eastern Division are sporting a loss. Here’s the catch: Neither one of them is among the three teams that started the season ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Yep, Missouri and Tennessee are the only ones waving the unbeaten banner overall right now in the East.
That’s not to suggest that the Tigers or the Vols will be in Atlanta in December playing for the SEC championship, but what we were reminded of Saturday at Sanford Stadium is that it’s never wise to dance prematurely on Georgia’s grave.
These Dawgs don’t die easily.
Their 41-30 beatdown of No. 6 South Carolina was a soothing answer, not to mention a familiar answer, in Dawg Land to a disappointing season-opening loss at No. 8 Clemson last week.
“We’ve been here before and don’t panic,” Georgia senior tight end Arthur Lynch said.
No, they don’t.
They were steamrolled by four touchdowns last season at South Carolina and came back to play their way into the SEC championship game and within a tipped pass of potentially playing for the national championship.
Two years ago, Georgia opened the season with back-to-back losses to Boise State and South Carolina, but reeled off 10 consecutive wins from there and clawed its way into the SEC championship game.
That was on the heels of Mark Richt’s only losing season in 2010.
“We’ve been through a lot and understand what it means to lose early and fight back out of that hole,” said Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who answered the critics with one of the most impressive games of his career.
The knock on Murray had been that he pressed and didn’t play particularly well in big games.
Well, on Saturday, he shredded the Gamecocks’ heralded defense to the tune of 309 passing yards and four touchdowns on 17-of-23 attempts without an interception.
He had plenty of help, too.
The Bulldogs operated at a blistering pace offensively all game and threw it quickly to neutralize Jadeveon Clowney, who was held to one sack.
Georgia’s offensive line, which was spotty against Clemson, paved the way for 227 rushing yards (132 by Todd Gurley), 536 total yards and allowed just two sacks.
That’s after being decimated by Clowney & Co. last year in Columbia.
How much difference does a year make?
The Bulldogs gained 312 more yards on Saturday than they did last season against the Gamecocks.
“We were tired of hearing about [Clowney],” Georgia center David Andrews said. “You don’t like seeing his highlights against you on ESPN. But we didn’t fear anyone, and we weren’t scared of anyone.
“We were going to come out and play football and stick to our game plan. We didn’t change anything for No. 7. We just played our game.
“We knew if we kept pounding them that we could make them quit, and that’s what we tried to do all game.”
Georgia’s defense also got into the act.
The two teams were tied 24-24 at the half, and the Gamecocks had ripped off three second-quarter touchdowns.
But Georgia yielded just six more points the rest of the way and came up with a fourth-down stop they’ll be talking about for a while in these parts if the Bulldogs make it back to Atlanta for a third straight year.
The Gamecocks had a fourth-and-goal and needed about two feet for a touchdown. They pitched it to Mike Davis on an option play that had been working most of the day. But this time, the Bulldogs smothered him.
“It wasn’t always perfect, but our guys kept grinding,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “And at the end of the day, we were more mentally and physically tougher than they were.”
Afterward, Richt conceded that the pressure of facing top-10 teams in back-to-back weeks right out of the gate (the only team in the country to do so) was daunting.
But there was no playing it close to the vest against South Carolina and Steve Spurrier. Richt had the Bulldogs kick onsides after their first touchdown, setting up another field goal, and they also went for it on fourth-and-13 to keep that drive alive.
“It’s just no fun to be 0-2 and 0-1 in the league and hoping somebody gets beat and looking at the gauntlet ahead of you,” Richt explained.
The Dawgs know that drill well. They’d lost three in a row to South Carolina entering Saturday’s game.
“You know it’s bad when you’re rooting for Florida,” said Lynch, referring to the predicament the Bulldogs faced last season following the loss to South Carolina. “You want to be able to control your destiny in every aspect, and we can say that right now in the East.”
Then again, the grind is only just beginning. LSU comes to town in three weeks.
“That’s life in the SEC,” Richt said. “It’s kind of like dog years. You feel a little older than you are sometimes.”
But age is just a number after wins like the one Georgia pocketed on Saturday.