Photo: Craig Cappy
Georgia's Isaiah Crowell (1) is brought down by South Carolina's Quin Smith (24) during Saturday's game in Athens.
ATHENS -- From Georgia's perspective, Saturday's 2011 home and SEC opener against South Carolina wasn't what it should have -- or at least, could have -- been.
The Bulldogs outgained the visitors in total yardage 436 to 395. They had 216 yards in returns to South Carolina's 67 and picked up 23 first downs to Carolina's 15 and even won the time of possession.
But one stat that didn't go Georgia's way was turnovers -- which the Bulldogs "won" 3-2 -- which was a big reason the No. 12 Gamecocks were able to escape with a 45-42 victory before 92,746 fans Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
"Losing is not fun," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We didn't enjoy that part. But as a head coach, I saw an awful lot of awfully great ingredients. But too many giveaways."
Those giveaways -- two fumbles and an interception -- led to 21 South Carolina (2-0) points, along with a 68-yard touchdown by the Gamecocks' Melvin Ingram on a fake punt late in the first half proved to be a big difference in the game.
"It's just those four plays that really (made a difference)," said Bulldogs' quarterback Aaron Murray, who completed 19 of 29 passes with the interception for 248 yards and four touchdowns on the day. "We just shot ourselves in the foot. You can't turn the ball over and expect to win a game, and we did that (Saturday)."
A defensive struggle much of the first half turned into a shootout near its end, which Georgia trailed 14-13 despite dominating most of the early action.
With the Bulldogs leading 6-0 late in the opening 30 minutes, Stephen Garcia fired the first volley in the back-and-forth barrage, rolling to his right under pressure and lofted a pass into the end zone.
That's where Alshon Jeffery leaped high into the air over tight coverage and came down with the ball inbounds for a 34-yard touchdown, giving South Carolina its first lead of the game at 7-6 with 6:41 left in the first half.
But the action that was only beginning to heat up.
Georgia quickly answered, driving 64 yards in seven plays in 3:38 before Aaron Murray hit Rantavious Wooten on a simple post pattern for a 26-yard scoring strike, putting the Bulldogs back in front 13-7 with 2:53 left in the half.
Richt then rolled the dice and sent an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, which Bacarri Rambo recovered, but the junior from Donalsonville was flagged for being offside.
Spurrier then answered by taking a gamble of his own after the Georgia defense held South Carolina on three plays on the Gamecocks' next possession.
He called for a fake punt, which upman Ingram received by taking the snap and darting 68 yards for a touchdown with 2:03 left in the half that vaulted South Carolina back in front 14-13 heading into intermission.
"They did a good job on the fake," Richt said. "They had the nerve to call it and execute it, and took it to the house. It was a big swing after our onside kick in which we crossed the line too quick."
But while the special teams plays were big, three big plays by the South Carolina defense made just as a big an impact during a wild second half.
After highly-touted freshman Isaiah Crowell scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 17-yard screen pass from Murray to put Georgia back in front 20-14 with 6:09 left in the period, momentum abruptly switched back to South Carolina when Crowell committed his first collegiate turnover with 3:31 left in the quarter -- a fumble that Stephon Gilmore scooped up at the South Carolina 39 and returned 56 yards to the Georgia 5.
Two plays later, Garcia took advantage of a free play on a Georgia offside penalty to scoot into the end zone, leapfrogging the Gamecocks back on top at 21-20 with 2:39 left in the quarter.
And the South Carolina defense created another turnover and more points on the Bulldogs' next possession.
This time, Antonio Allen stepped in front of Israel Troupe and picked off the pass before bolting 25 yards for a score, pushing the lead to 28-20 with 1:52 left in the quarter.
"Our defense payed well in the first half, but the pass defense got shoddy in the second half," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. "Luckily, we were able to get some scores from our defense, which helped a lot."
The Gamecocks got yet another big defensive play that essentially put the game away after the two teams exchanged points on the first four possessions of the fourth quarter, which left South Carolina leading 38-35 after Marcus Lattimore capped a six-play, 79-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with 6:28 to play.
This time, freshman Jadeveon Clowney burst in from the right side and hit Murray as he drew back to throw and causing a fumble that Ingram recovered and returned 5 yards for the score that pushed the Gamecocks' lead to 45-35 with 3:12 remaining.
It wasn't quite the backbreaker it could have been after Georgia quickly responded by scoring in four plays, capped by Murray's 33-yard scoring strike to King to cut the deficit to 45-42 with 2:15 left and the Bulldogs still possessing all three timeouts.
Richt then considered kicking the ball deep and trying to use those timeouts to try to get the ball back, but a key injury made him change his mind.
"We were having a debate -- myself and (defensive coordinator Todd) Grantham -- trying to decide what we were going to do," Richt said. "Right as we were speaking, we caught word Christian Robinson wasn't going to be able to line up and play a snap at that moment in time. And we had enough immaturity in there at that point."
The absence of the GAC grad, who led the Bulldogs with eight combined stops on the day, including a sack, prompted Richt instead to opt for the onside kick, which the Gamecocks recovered to run out the clock once Lattimore added the last of his game-high 76 yards on 27 carries to pick up a first down.
Aside from Murray's numbers, another big positive was the day Crowell had, as he picked up 118 yards and just 16 carries with a touchdown on the ground, plus two receptions for 40 yards and a score in his first start at Sanford Stadium.
"I think I did better than I did last week," said Crowell, who ran for just 60 yards on 15 carries in his college debut against Boise State last week. "You've got to (correct) your mistakes from last week, and I (corrected) them (Saturday) night."