ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — No. 1 Georgia trotted off the field to a smattering of boos from the home crowd and facing its biggest halftime deficit in nearly three years.
When the Bulldogs returned for the second half, they suddenly played like champs.
Carson Beck passed for 269 yards, Daijun Edwards, Dillon Bell and Cash Jones ran for touchdowns, and No. 1 Georgia rallied to beat South Carolina 24-14 on Saturday.
“I was pretty excited at halftime,” coach Kirby Smart said. “I knew we would find out what kind of team we have.”
He sure liked what he saw over the final two quarters as the two-time reigning national champion Bulldogs won their 20th consecutive game, wiping out a 14-3 deficit.
Georgia (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) totally shut down Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1), who managed just 129 yards over the final two quarters.
After the break, Rattler completed just 6 of 24 passing for 104 yards with two interceptions on a soggy day that turned increasingly gloomy for South Carolina.
“It was just self-inflected stuff,” Rattler said. “If we clean that up, the outcome is probably a little different.”
With Beck completing 27 of 35 passes, the Georgia offense scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions in the second half — the only blip being a drive that ended with a missed field goal.
Edwards, who missed the first two games with a lingering knee injury, rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries.
“We came out with energy,” said Beck, in his first year as Georgia’s starting quarterback. “We were composed, we were poised, and we started making plays.”
The Bulldogs took the second-half kickoff and quickly drove 75 yards in six plays, scoring their first TD of the day on Edwards’ 7-yard touchdown.
After the Gamecocks went three-and-out, Georgia ripped off a 49-yard drive that ended with Bell, a receiver who has been getting extended time at running back, taking it in from the 3 to give Georgia its first lead of the game before the third quarter was halfway done.
Finally, Georgia finished off the Gamecocks when Cash sauntered in from 13 yards out with just over 9 minutes remaining.
“The biggest thing is figuring out ways to win,” center Sedrick Van Pran said.
The first half was a stunner, as Rattler carved up the Bulldogs by competing 16 of 18 passes for 152 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown to Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. on a third-and-16 screen.
It was the first time Georgia has trailed since last year’s playoff semifinal victory over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Wells sustained a foot injury on the scoring play and didn’t return.
The Bulldogs answered with Peyton Woodring’s 31-yard field goal, but the Gamecocks tacked on another TD with just a minute left in the half after Woodring missed a chip shot from 28 yards.
Rattler guided South Carolina on a five-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Dakereon Joyner powering in from the 2 off a direct snap to push the margin to double-digits.
Rattler completed two passes for 53 yards and scrambled twice for 20 yards on the lightning-quick possession, which was helped along by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Georgia’s Warren Brinson.
The final play of the half summed it up for the Bulldogs: Beck was sacked near midfield as the clock ran out with Georgia facing its largest halftime deficit since the Bulldogs trailed Florida 38-21 in the Cocktail Party rivalry on Nov. 7, 2020.”
“We just went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country and back-to-back defending national champions,” coach Shane Beamer said. “We just weren’t able to get it done.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have shown a lot of promise under Beamer, and their performance over the first two quarters was certainly impressive. But the second-half meltdown demonstrated that they’re not quite ready for prime time in the SEC.
Georgia: The running game got a big boost from the return of Edwards, who provided the sort of explosiveness they’ve been missing. But the Bulldogs have some troubling concerns in the kicking game, which has traditionally been one of their strongest areas. Woodring is just 3 of 6 on the year, including two misses from inside of 30 yards. He also was wide right on a 43-yarder against the Gamecocks. “We’ve seen much better in practice,” Smart said. “We’ve got to do something there.”
Georgia lost offensive tackle Amarius Mims to what appeared a fairly serious left ankle sprain in the first half, while running back Kendall Milton left with an ailing left knee.
The Bulldogs already were missing receiver Ladd McConkey, who has yet to play this season because of a back issue, and star safety Javon Bullard with an ankle injury sustained the previous week against Ball State.
As for Wells, Beamer said the receiver may have a broken bone in his left foot.
The second-half blitz ensured the Bulldogs will easily maintain their No. 1 ranking, though they may lose a few first-place votes.
South Carolina: Hosts Mississippi State next Saturday in its first SEC home game.
Georgia: Caps a four-game homestand to start the season, taking on non-conference foe UAB next Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll