Bulldogs Blog

3 things we learned in Georgia’s SEC-opening rout of South Carolina

Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman (4) leaps over South Carolina’s (29) J.T. Ibe during the first half of their game Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman (4) leaps over South Carolina’s (29) J.T. Ibe during the first half of their game Saturday in Columbia, S.C. AP

The setting for Demetris Robertson’s first SEC road game was picturesque and one he was certain to soak in.

A profane chant from students began and a capacity crowd finished filing into the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium as Georgia headed to the locker room after pregame warmups. Robertson stood still and waited briefly to beat his chest and raise his arm to amplify the noise.

The Bulldog hate was percolating across a briefly rambunctious student section full of garnet-and-white in the west end zone. Meanwhile, Georgia was silently enjoying the moment and was ready to do its thing — make a statement.

“Somebody had to pay for the preparation we do,” Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm said. “Today, that was South Carolina.”

As the clock hit zeroes a few hours later, that proved to be the case in Georgia’s (2-0, 1-0 SEC) 41-17 rout of SEC East foe South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC). The exit to the locker room was the same, but the dynamic was the opposite. All the Gamecock fans were nowhere to be found and the garnet had turned to Georgia red.

Here are three things we learned in Georgia’s first conference win of the season.

Speed merchant Mecole

Jake Fromm notices Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman asking for touches each time he goes to the sideline. That has shown to be a good thing for Georgia.

Fromm was 15-for-18 with 194 yards and a touchdown — the score coming on a 34-yard pass to Hardman in which the receiver showed separating speed, again. The strike to Hardman came in the third quarter, and that was where Fromm was able atone for a shaky first half that included an interception.

In the second half, Fromm was 6-for-6 with 115 yards. The highlight was to his new go-to target. For the second consecutive game, Hardman displayed separating speed from the defenders and scored a touchdown. Hardman has also collected 196 all-purpose yards through two games.

“I have a good acceleration, I’d like to say,” Hardman said. “I just trust my speed.”

The Fromm-to-Hardman strike was a part of a 473-yard offensive attack for the Bulldogs, which stalled in the second quarter. It marked the most points scored by Georgia in Columbia since the first game of the series in 1894.

Blankenship a force at place-kicker

It may be time to add yet another feature to Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s famed repertoire. Along with the goggles, of course.

Through 15 kickoffs, Blankenship has recorded 15 touch backs and a fist pump followed by an aggressive clap each time. Against the Gamecocks, he was able to eliminate the return game of Deebo Samuel. Before the ball hit the ground, Samuel’s only effort was to return to the South Carolina sideline. He knew exactly where it was headed.

Blankenship, however, did have one mishap in a second-half kickoff as it was shanked. An out-of-bounds penalty was bound to occur, but the good fortune continued for Blankenship as it rolled past the pylon. His 15-for-15 conversion rate is the best nationally.

“Deebo is good at that spot,” Georgia kick returner and running back Elijah Holyfield said. “That took him out of the game.”

Along with the kickoffs, Blankenship’s field-goal tries are seemingly becoming automatic conversions. He was hitting tries in warmups from 55 yards out, and it looked like reenactments heroic kicks in the College Football Playoff.

Once he was pressed into game action, it was no different. Blankenship hit from 44 and 45 yards out, including a make to end the half and give the Bulldogs a 10-point lead. Blankenship is now 3-for-3 on field goals this season.

Strong run defense, secondary concerns linger

Georgia’s run defense always set lofty goals and it nearly met it once more. Each time a Gamecock running back got a touch, it wasn’t for long as a host of Bulldog linebackers were immediately bringing contact.

South Carolina left its home stadium with only 54 rushing yards on 20 carries — a significant factor in its 24-point loss. Monty Rice led Georgia’s front seven with eight tackles.

“The (defensive) line said we were going to hold them to 50 yards or less,” Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said.

He paused for a second then grinned in pleasure. Only four yards away.

Overall, Georgia’s defense allowed 336 yards, but at one point its offense was being outgained by the Gamecocks in the second quarter. South Carolina Jake Bentley had found a rhythm and posed a problem to the Bulldogs with an up-tempo offense.

But a potential turning point in the game was Georgia’s ability to hold a long, 71-yard drive to a field goal. Then, in the third quarter, the Bulldogs pulled away in part to allowing only 75 yards to South Carolina — including two three-and-outs to start.

“If you give up enough big plays, which we gave up a few, it makes it tough to win,” Smart said. “But, when you control the line of scrimmage in this conference, you've got an opportunity.”

Looking ahead

Georgia returns home for a bout with Middle Tennessee State (7:15 p.m., ESPN2) as it’ll serve as the primer for seven consecutive games within the SEC.

Middle Tennessee State will enter its third week of play at a 1-1 record, with its loss coming to Vanderbilt, also out of the SEC East. The Blue Raiders defeated Tennessee-Martin 61-37 on Saturday.

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