ATHENS, Ga. – Melvin Ingram had never scored a touchdown for South Carolina. Not surprising, since he plays defensive end.
On Saturday, the 276-pound senior finally made it to the end zone.
Looking like a running back, Ingram went 68 yards for a touchdown with a fake punt, then scooped up a fumble and stepped into the end zone with just over 3 minutes remaining to clinch No. 12 South Carolina's wild 45-42 victory over Georgia, handing embattled coach Mark Richt another galling loss.
The Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) gained the early upper hand in the East Division by taking advantage of every Georgia mistake: Antonio Allen returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown, and Stephon Gilmore's 56-yard return with a fumble set up another score for South Carolina.
"Really, it was three defensive scores. And the punt, too. Melvin, he's a defensive player. So that's basically four defensive touchdowns," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Georgia outplayed us. Give 'em credit. They definitely outplayed us. But we won the game. Sometimes it happens like that. Somebody was looking out for us tonight."
Georgia (0-2, 0-1) got four touchdown passes from Aaron Murray but simply couldn't overcome all the major blunders.
"When we look at the film, there will probably be some things that cause us to slam the projectors against the wall. There's so many things we can't afford to do," Richt said. "But just as many times, we'll probably say, 'That was awesome. That was awesome execution.' We did a lot of great things too. I think we have all the ingredients to be a really fine team, ultimately."
The teams combined for 60 points over the final 21:09 and the lead changed hands four times (with a tie, as well) during that span.
Marcus Lattimore, who rushed for 176 yards on 27 bruising carries, put the Gamecocks ahead for good on a 3-yard run that made it 38-35 with 3½ minutes left.
Then there was one last crushing mistake by the Bulldogs.
Freshman Jadeveon Clowney burst through the line without being blocked and threw down Murray, who lost the ball before slamming the ground. Ingram batted it toward the end zone and picked it up there for an improbable two-touchdown performance by the fifth-year senior.
"Whatever my team needs me to do," Ingram said.
Georgia piled up plenty of yards, with Murray throwing for 248 and Isaiah Crowell rushing for 118 in what the Bulldogs hope will be the first of many big games for the touted freshman. But Georgia is off to its first 0-2 start since 1996, coming off an opening 35-21 loss to No. 4 Boise State.
The only team to open the season with back-to-back games against ranked teams can only hope the tough beginning pays off the end. But clearly, the pressure is building on Richt. In an uncharacteristic show of emotion, he flung his headset and playcard onto the field after Ingram scored on the fake punt.
"There's a lot of games left to play," said Richt, under fire with Georgia coming off its first losing season in 14 years. "There's no question we're still in the SEC race."
Crowell had some big runs but also made a huge mistake, fumbling a handoff around midfield. The ball bounced into the South Carolina secondary, where Gilmore picked it up and went 56 yards all the way to the Georgia 5. From there, Stephen Garcia scrambled up the middle for an 8-yard touchdown run on an otherwise forgettable day for the senior in his return as starting quarterback.
Garcia, who won back the job by leading a comeback win over East Carolina, went 11 of 25 for 142 yards and two interceptions.
"It's kind of a blur right now," he said. "It's just a big win for us."
Indeed, the second half was a blur. Allen's TD stretched South Carolina's lead to 28-20. Michael Bennett hauled in a 19-yard pass for Georgia, and a two-point conversion tied it up. Jay Wooten's 49-yard field goal put South Carolina back ahead 31-28. The Bulldogs reclaimed the edge on Crowell's stiff-arming, 15-yard touchdown run.
Finally, Lattimore put the Gamecocks ahead to stay.
Murray threw for a career-high fourth score, hitting Tavarres King on a 33-yard pass with 2:15 to go. But Ingram capped off his amazing day by recovering the onside kick, and Lattimore ran for the necessary first down to bleed off the final seconds.
"Give Melvin Ingram credit," Spurrier said. "He was making some HUGE plays."
Two special team plays epitomized a frustrating first half for the Bulldogs.
After going up 13-7 on Murray's 26-yard touchdown pass to Rantavious Wooten, Georgia called an onside kick and appeared to pull it off perfectly, the ball bouncing high over the front line of blockers and right into the hands of Bacarri Rambo. He took it on the fly and scurried into South Carolina territory.
Not so fast. There was a yellow flag at the 30, the officials ruling that Rambo had just crossed the line a fraction too early for an offsides penalty. Georgia had to kick again and booted it deep. From its own 29, South Carolina failed to move it and lined up to punt with just over 2 minutes left in the half.
But Spurrier had a trick of his own.
The snap went straight to Ingram, who took off in front the South Carolina bench, breaking tackles and going all the way to the end zone.
The Bulldogs had only themselves to blame. Three times, Georgia drove deep into Gamecocks territory but only managed field goal attempts. Blair Walsh connected from 37 and 39 yards, then missed a 33-yarder.
South Carolina finally struck, wiping out all of Georgia's good work on offense with one throw. Garcia lofted the ball to the corner of the end zone and Alshon Jeffery, who might've gotten away with a bit of a shove on the defender, hauled in the 34-yard touchdown.
Georgia reclaimed the lead on its next possession, finally taking a drive all the way to the end zone. Murray scrambled for a 23-yard gain, then hooked up with Wooten in the back of the end zone to make it 13-7.
But this game was only getting started.