Georgia wilts again

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Georgia has found itself in college football's center ring only a few times in the last several seasons -- and when it has, the results have not been pretty.

The No. 5 Bulldogs suffered another humiliating loss while occupying the national spotlight on Saturday night, watching No. 6 South Carolina immediately jump out to an enormous lead en route to a 35-7 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Asked about the widespread national perception that Georgia fails to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments, senior defensive end Abry Jones couldn't dispute that opinion.

"It's hard to argue that point of fact when we really don't come and put in work when the time comes," Jones said. "It's hard to argue something when you have nothing to put forth -- no proof or anything like that. We're definitely going to have to keep working and then when we get another opportunity to, just come up and show up and win the game."

The good news for the Bulldogs is that they will have another such opportunity in two games against a much-improved Florida club that beat defending SEC champ LSU on Saturday. The bad news is that once again, they wilted when they had the opportunity to change national opinions about where they rank among the nation's top programs.

Georgia brought the SEC's most productive offense to Columbia on Saturday, averaging 536 yards and 48 points per game, but needed Ken Malcome 's garbage-time touchdown run in the game's final minutes to avoid the program's first shutout loss since 1995.

And the domination was evident almost from the opening whistle.

Everything that could go wrong seemingly did in the first quarter, as South Carolina built a 21-0 lead. The Bulldogs' fears about containing South Carolina's defensive line were realized as the Gamecocks sacked quarterback Aaron Murray twice, deflected and intercepted his first pass and harassed him into multiple tentative throws.

The conference leader in passing efficiency finished 11 for 31 for 109 yards and one interception in perhaps the least productive start of his career.

"They're a very talented defense," Murray said. "We knew that heading into the game. We definitely had our shots to make plays. We just didn't execute when we needed to, simple as that. With a team like that, any great defense you play, you've got to be spot-on and we weren't that offense tonight."

And while Georgia's defense eventually settled down, it allowed South Carolina and quarterback Connor Shaw to mount seemingly effortless touchdown drives on each of their first two possessions as they took control of the game.

"We just let them jump out on us," Jones said. "They were pretty riled up in the beginning with the home crowd and letting it be GameDay and all that and we just added fuel to the fire by getting out 14-0 and then the kick return."

An SEC program with Georgia's winning tradition is on the national radar each fall Saturday, but Mark Richt's Bulldogs have had opportunities like this only so often in the last half-decade. The Gamecocks gave Georgia yet another black eye in such a situation, bringing to mind the previous two times a top-10 Bulldogs team played another top-10 team -- Florida's 49-10 win and Alabama's 41-30 win, both in 2008 -- only to look overmatched from the get-go.

Georgia's chances to make a game of it evaporated right off the bat, particularly when it had opportunities to make big plays that instead turned into momentum-building events for the Gamecocks.

Shaw underthrew his first pass attempt and Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo was in position to make an interception. But Damiere Byrd instead wrestled it away from the All-American, making an acrobatic 42-yard catch that led to a 20-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington three plays later.

Then when Malcolm Mitchell returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield and the Bulldogs had driven to the South Carolina 32, Gamecocks defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles deflected a Murray pass and DeVonte Holloman intercepted it, launching another touchdown drive.

"Tonight was just one of those nights," cornerback Sanders Commings said. "We've just got to learn from this and forget it and move onto the next game."

Georgia seems to have had a lot of those nights recently in the biggest games. ESPN flashed a graphic during the game showing that the Bulldogs are 0-9 in the previous two seasons against teams that finished the season in the top 25. And Saturday was more of the same, leaving Richt and company to try to get the team back on track before it gets another opportunity against a top-10 team, Florida, in a few weeks.

"Tonight we weren't very good, but the world hasn't ended," Richt said. "We do still have an awful lot to play for -- got a lot of games to play and a lot of things can happen. If we can get back on the winning track, a lot of good things can happen.

"So that's what we're going to be fighting hard to do. And then we'll just kind of see where everything lands. There's a lot of football not only for Georgia, but for South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, so we'll see how it goes."