ATHENS, Ga. -- Throughout his career, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has been criticized for his performances in the biggest games. But with the No. 12-ranked Bulldogs' defense flailing and their season on the line, Murray's ability to improvise under pressure lifted them to a 41-30 victory over No. 6 South Carolina.
With the Gamecocks threatening to steal momentum and quiet a nervous crowd at Sanford Stadium, Murray avoided pressure on two key third-down plays and found open receivers for touchdowns, breaking a three-year losing streak against South Carolina.
The second of those touchdowns, with exactly 13 minutes remaining, came after it appeared star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would have a chance to sack Murray. Instead, backup offensive tackle Mark Beard bothered Clowney just enough to allow Murray to change directions and he found Justin Scott-Wesley streaking down the left sideline for an 85-yard touchdown.
Georgia's defense preserved that 41-30 lead with 8:28 to go, making a goal-line stand when South Carolina's Mike Davis, who ran for 150 yards, couldn't get into the end zone on an option pitch from inside the 1-yard line.
That sequence practically ensured Georgia wouldn't fall to 0-2, which looked like a very real possibility in a wild game with several momentum swings and big-yardage plays happening all over the field.
The Bulldogs opened a 34-24 lead with 18 seconds left in the third quarter when quarterback Aaron Murray avoided pressure on third down and found running back Todd Gurley freelancing across the end zone.
But the Gamecocks came right back, with Davis rumbling 75 yards on the next play from scrimmage to put South Carolina in position to score, which it did three plays later. A missed extra point left the Bulldogs ahead 34-30 with 13:55 remaining.
That was a similar pattern to the first half, which ended tied at 24.
Georgia rode a wave of momentum and a well-executed onsides kick to a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter, but things changed quickly. The Gamecocks came up with a big touchdown drive in response, converting a fourth down inside the 10-yard line instead of taking a short field goal. Then, after Georgia went three-and-out, punter Collin Barber fumbled a perfectly good snap, a special teams meltdown reminiscent of the bungled field goal that played a key role in the Bulldogs' 38-35 loss to Clemson last week.
South Carolina (1-1) scored on the next play, with Shaw tossing an 18-yard pass to Nick Jones for a touchdown. Though Georgia re-took a 24-17 lead with an 11-play drive - seven of which were handoffs to Gurley - South Carolina tied it again just before halftime, going 71 yards in just 89 seconds. Once again, Jones caught the 30-yard touchdown pass, beating true freshman cornerback Brendan Langley over the top.
Shaw played very well for South Carolina, running for 75 yards and throwing for 225 more. But Georgia's balance paid off, with Gurley carrying 27 times for 124 yards and Murray throwing for 309.