Bennett, No. 1 Georgia’s defense steamrolls South Carolina 48-7

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Georgia at South Carolina
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – 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.”

BENNETT BARFS

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.”

THE TAKEAWAY

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.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Beating an SEC opponent by 41 points should be enough to keep the Bulldogs at No. 1.

UP NEXT

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.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.