Georgia fans, it's OK to exhale. Rennie Curran's got your back.
A grateful Bulldog Nation certainly has him to thank after the junior linebacker tipped away a fourth-down pass in the end zone to preserve the Bulldogs' 41-37 win over South Carolina Saturday night.
"Somebody had to make a play, somebody had to make a play," Curran said surrounded by a horde of post-game reporters. "Somebody had to do something. We had worked too hard. I'm just glad I stepped up when I did."
So was head coach Mark Richt.
After Blair Walsh booted a 42-yard field goal to put Georgia up by four with 6:23 to play, South Carolina took the ensuing kickoff and methodically marched down the field to the Bulldog 7 before the defense bowed its neck bringing up fourth down.
After taking the snap on the fourth-and-4 play, quarterback Stephen Garcia appeared as though he would attempt to run the ball in before flipping it toward the end zone. But just as the pass was about to find its target, Curran, whose listed as a generous 5-foot-11, dove to make arguable the biggest play of his Bulldog career.
"Rennie talked to the team before the game and he promised them all that he would play with every ounce of energy he had, all his heart and sure enough at the very end he makes a play," Richt said. "It was just a fantastic effort."
Ironically, it was the second straight year that Curran has come up big against the rival Gamecocks (1-1).
Last year it was Curran who forced a fumble at the 2-yard line that was recovered by Asher Allen that preserved Georgia's win when the Gamecocks were headed toward a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"We've been working so hard day in and day out," Curran said. "We've been hearing from the critics and no one is paying us any attention, but this is a confidence booster and step in the right direction for our team."
Up until Curran's play, Saturday's contest was definitely an offensive show.
The 78 points was the most combined points in a Georgia-South Carolina game since 1970 when the teams had 86, a 52-34 win by the Bulldogs in Athens.
"Bottom line, we got the job done," Richt said. "There were probably 100 good things and 100 bad things, but the most important thing is we got that first victory and that first SEC victory, which is so key and so critical."
Defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson deserves a tip of the cap from Bulldog fans.
Moments after Gamecock linebacker Eric Norwood stunned the crowd of 92,746 with a 35-yard interception return of quarterback Joe Cox, Tyson stuck out a big paw to swat down Spencer Lanning's extra point to keep Georgia in front 38-37 with 12:56 to play.
"That play was just crucial," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "He could have just gone through the motions, but no, he came through with a huge block and that's likely the reason we were able to come out on top."
The interception was one of the few mistakes for Cox, who conceded he's got a shoulder issue that will likely hamper him the rest of the year.
Cox completed 17 of 24 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, one each to Michael Moore (4 yards) and A.J. Green (9).
Running back Richard Samuel had 15 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown run of 1 yard, while freshman Branden Smith electrified those in attendance when he took a reverse from Cox and turned it into a 61-yard scoring play.
Georgia (1-1) also set a school record with 252 kickoff return yards, including one of 100 yards by Brandon Boykin which enabled the Bulldogs to tie the game at 7-7.
Garcia, meanwhile, had a career day for South Carolina completing 31 of 53 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns while Lanning set a Gamecock record with five field goals.
"There were a lot of big plays all over the place," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "A lot of our guys played well but we had a lot of bad plays. We had a great chance to win at the end, but just made too many mistakes."
For two teams where the winner didn't reach 20 points in the previous five games between the two schools, Saturday's 54-point explosion in the first half must have seemed like a dream.
By halftime, the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks had already combined to score the most points in their series since the 1995 game with 54 points. Georgia won that matchup 42-23 in Athens.
The 54 first-half points were also the most combined by both teams in one half since 1991 when Georgia and Kentucky combined for 55 (Georgia 35-20). It also matched the most first-half points scored by the Bulldogs since 2006 when they led Western Kentucky 31-7 at the half and eventually won 48-12.
Georgia's 31 points in a half is the most against an SEC team since 2004 when the Bulldogs scored 42 points in the second half in a 62-17 road win over Kentucky.
Boykin certainly enjoyed himself. It was Boykin who answered South Carolina's first score with a 100-yard kickoff return to tie the game, the longest in Bulldog history.
Following a 13-yard pass from Garcia to Brian Maddox and a 21-yard field goal by Lanning, Boykin returned his second 50-yard to the Gamecock 48.
Seven plays later, Samuel bulled over from the Gamecock 1 to bring Georgia within 17-14 with 1:56 left in the first.
Barely three minutes later, Smith took a handoff from Cox 61 yards for his first collegiate score.
"I was just getting to the end zone," Smith said. "It was good blocking, what else can I say? Once I got around the corner I just ran hard and was able to score."
Smith's play put Georgia up 21-17 before tacking on 10 more points, three on Walsh's 50-yard field goal followed by a nine-yard scoring pass from Cox to Green with nine seconds left in the half.
In the second half, Cox hooked up with Moore for a 4-yard touchdown pass before a 34-yard field goal by Lanning and a safety drew the Gamecocks within 38-28.
Following another field goal by Lanning, Norwood returned a Cox interception 35 yards for a score before the Bulldogs answered on Walsh's 42-yard field goal with 6:20 to play.
"All I can say is I'm very thankful for the victory," Richt said. "We've got a lot to look at on film, a lot to iron out and a lot to praise. I'll enjoy this for about 24 hours, but it's going to be soon time to get back to work."
Georgia travels to Arkansas next week for a 7:45 contest in Fayetteville.
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