COLUMBIA, S.C. – Georgia coach Mark Richt said a long time ago he's not concerned with style points. He doesn't care about looking good to impress the voters, and he doesn't rightly concern himself with what the pundits say - just as long as they call the Bulldogs winners.
That much can certainly be said, although, it wasn't until Reshad Jones' interception in the waning seconds enabled the No. 2 Bulldogs to let out a collective exhale, relieved with the knowledge that Saturday's 14-7 win over South Carolina was finally secure.
"I think our players are thankful. I think our players are happy. I'm happy. I can't control the voters, you know what I mean? We're going to play enough big games where I don't think this is going to bite us in the long run. The bottom line is, we won this game," Richt said.
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He continued: "We were 13-1 in 2002, the most wins in the history of the school, and it was what, 13-7? We didn't score an offensive touchdown that game; that was because of (David) Pollack's heroics. That's just the way it is. When we get a victory, we're happy, if we don't we don't, we're not. That's the bottom line. Style points don't mean a darn to me, in this ball game in particular."
Georgia (3-0, 1-0) entered the game at Williams-Brice Stadium a solid seven-point favorite over South Carolina, but after scoring 101 points in its first two games, many expected a much easier time.
The Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1) would have none of that.
In fact, if not for a trio of huge fourth-quarter stands by the Bulldog defense, Georgia could easily have limped out of Columbia with its second straight loss to Steve Spurrier's squad.
The first occurred with 8:03 to play when the Gamecocks drove all the way to the Georgia 2-yard line before linebacker Rennie Curran forced a Mike Davis fumble which Asher Allen recovered in the end zone giving the Bulldogs back the ball.
The Gamecocks weren't done. Following an incredible 77-yard punt by Brian Mimbs, South Carolina roared back to the Bulldog 31 before quarterback Chris Smelley threw incomplete on fourth-and-1.
Amazingly, Georgia's defense would be called on one more time.
After a 51-yard punt by Mimbs pinned South Carolina down on its 10 with 1:42 to play, the Gamecocks got all the way to the Georgia 17, using a pair of pass interference calls for a pair of key first downs. But that was as close as South Carolina would get.
Following a holding call on the offense, Smelley cut loose a pass, but right into the arms of free safety Reshad Jones. From there, all it took was quick kneel-down from quarterback Matthew Stafford and Georgia was able to secure its third win.
"I can say with all honesty, my gut has churned more in this series and on this field than any other times since I have been at Georgia," Richt said. "Our defense knew it would have to step up."
They Bulldogs defense certainly did that.
Georgia held South Carolina to 272 total yards, including just 18 on the ground. Unfortunately, South Carolina's defense was almost as good.
The Bulldogs rushed for just 106 yards, 79 courtesy of star Knowshon Moreno, followed by Stafford with 32, including a huge 30-yard run in the third quarter that set up Georgia's lone touchdown.
There were more than few queasy stomachs on the Georgia sideline before Moreno finally put the Bulldogs ahead with a magnificent 4-yard run, one which he somehow kept his balance after stumbling forward, catching himself with his left hand before falling into the end zone with 5:10 left in the third.
That made the score 12-7, but instead of settling for the extra point, the Bulldogs went for two which Stafford converted when he hit a wide open Kris Durham to make the score 14-7. Stafford finished 15-of-25 for 146 yards but no touchdowns and was sacked four times.
"We need to win these close games," Spurrier said. "Our last two games, we lost by seven. That determines the difference between a good year and a bad year and so-so- year. Fortunately, we've got time to get it back."
The first half of Saturday's contest was eerily similar to last year's contest in Athens, when dropped passes led to missed opportunities which resulted in South Carolina grabbing a 7-6 halftime lead.
It wasn't pretty.
A trio of drops by tight end Tripp Chandler caused a couple of drives to stall, while Durham let a would-be touchdown catch glance off his fingers as he attempted a slide-and-catch midway through the second quarter.
South Carolina, meanwhile, only totaled 81 yards the first half but 34 came on a touchdown pass from Smelley to Moe Brown at the 8:42 mark in the first half.
Georgia tried to answer back, as Stafford converted a third-and-21 play with a 39-yard pass to A.J. Green and later picked up a first down at the 5-yard line before bogging down.
Again, it was mistakes that cost the Bulldogs in. Georgia got as close as the 1-yard line, but an illegal snap pushed the ball back five yards before Stafford was dragged on a quarterback run. That brought in Walsh who converted a 23-yard field goal to draw the Bulldogs within 7-6 as the half came to an end.
Walsh also scored the first points of the game for Georgia when he booted a 42-yard field goal with 10:22 to play in the second quarter.
"Coach Richt warned us that it was going to be a 60-minute fight and it would go down to the wire," Allen said. "All we wanted to do was come out with a victory. We know the SEC is tough. We've got to keep moving, keep driving and do whatever we have to do."
Georgia returns to action Saturday with a much-anticipated game at Arizona State.