ATHENS, Ga. — So much for Aaron Murray’s reputation as a quarterback who can’t win the big game.
The senior took care of that with one of the best performances of his career.
Murray threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns, Georgia’s beleaguered defense finally came up with a stop, and the 11th-ranked Bulldogs defeated No. 6 South Carolina 41-30 on Saturday for an early edge in the Southeastern Conference East.
Coming off a 38-35 loss at Clemson, Georgia could not afford another defeat if it wanted to remain a serious contender for a national title.
Murray capped his stellar day for the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) by slipping away from South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney and connecting with Justin Scott-Wesley on an 85-yard touchdown pass with 13 minutes remaining.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Murray, who came in with a 1-6 record against Top 10 opponents. “It’s definitely up there.”
The defense made sure it stood up, stuffing Mike Davis on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1. Murray and the offense took it from there, running off the remaining 8:28.
“That was by far my favorite part of the game,” coach Mark Richt said of the final possession.
Davis led the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1) with 149 yards rushing. Connor Shaw passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 75 yards, but also lost a crucial fumble in the third quarter in Georgia territory.
That said, this loss was on the Clowney and the defense. They simply couldn’t stop Murray.
“Aaron played a pretty good game,” said Clowney, who had a lackluster opening game and was largely shut down again, held to three tackles and one sack. “He threw it quick and ran it away from me the whole game.”
Georgia snapped a three-year losing streak against the Gamecocks, seizing control of the SEC East though South Carolina still has a chance to get back in the race, thanks to a more favorable schedule. In fact, the Bulldogs won the division the last two years despite losing to their neighboring rival.
Todd Gurley had another huge day for the Bulldogs on the ground, rushing for 136 yards on 30 bruising carries and scoring two touchdowns. His first came on a 2-yard run in a wild first half, which ended with the teams tied at 24. Then, in the final seconds of the third quarter, he hauled in an 8-yard TD pass from Murray to give Georgia a 34-24 lead, running the wrong route but getting open when Murray motioned him where to go.
Davis ended the third with a 75-yard run down the sideline, and scored on a 3-yard run early in the fourth to make it 34-30. South Carolina missed the extra point.
With Georgia facing third-and-13 from its own 15, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo sent in a play the team had not worked on all week.
“That wasn’t in the playbook,” Murray said. “I was like, ‘I hope everyone knows what this play is.”
Murray scrambled away from Clowney with a bit of an assist from backup left tackle Mark Beard, who took over after Kenarious Gates went out with an ankle injury. Beard was beaten inside but gave Clowney enough of a shove to allow Murray to sprint away. It was easy from there. Scott-Wesley was all alone behind the secondary, hauled in the pass and was gone, the Gamecocks having no chance of chasing down a state high school track champion.
“I think today I showed I’m a wide receiver first,” Scott-Wesley said with a smile.
The Gamecocks weren’t done. Davis nearly powered into the end zone before he was stopped a couple of inches short. South Carolina had to go for it on fourth down, and coach Steve Spurrier called a quick pitch to Davis out of the shotgun.
Amarlo Herrara led a swarm of tacklers that stopped Davis short of the end zone and pushed him back.
“I didn’t even know it was fourth down,” Herrara said. “I just heard everybody cheering and figured it was good.”
The teams combined for 990 yards — Georgia had 536 — in a game that sparked such passion, a couple of South Carolina coaches got into it with each other on the sideline early in the third quarter. They had to be pulled apart by another assistant.
“It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there,” Spurrier said. “They kicked our tails up and down the field.”
After South Carolina grabbed a 3-0 lead, the Gamecocks ran only three offensive plays in nearly 13 minutes.
Murray threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Arthur Lynch, and Georgia caught the Gamecocks napping on the ensuing kickoff. Collin Barber dribbled an onside kick that was recovered easily by Blake Sailors. The Bulldogs drove from there for Patrick Beless’ 22-yard field goal.
South Carolina went three-and-out, and Murray extended Georgia’s lead to 17-3 with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Keith Marshall swinging out of the backfield.
The Gamecocks rallied. Brandon Wilds’ scored on a 7-yard run, and South Carolina tied it on the first of Shaw two touchdown passes to Nick Jones, an 18-yarder set up by Barber’s fumbled snap on an attempted punt.
The teams traded touchdowns in the final 1:42 of the half, Gurley powering in from the 2 and South Carolina evening the score again on Shaw’s 30-yard TD pass to Jones with just 13 seconds remaining.