Aaron Murray returned for his senior campaign with the goal of leading Georgia to a national championship. Thanks to the quarterback's brilliant performance, those dreams likely remain a possibility.
Murray threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns to lead the 11th-ranked Bulldogs to a potentially season-saving 41-30 victory over No. 6 South Carolina in a showdown between SEC heavyweights from Sanford Stadium.
Georgia (1-1, 1-0 SEC) came in with its BCS title hopes already in jeopardy following last week's 38-35 non-conference setback at Clemson, but got big efforts out of both Murray and running back Todd Gurley in avenging last year's 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks.
Gurley powered his way to 132 yards on 30 carries while scoring both a rushing and receiving touchdown, with Justin Wesley-Scott totaling a career-high 116 yards and a touchdown on three catches as the Bulldogs piled up 536 total yards on South Carolina's highly touted defense.
"It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today," Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier remarked. "They kicked our tails up and down the field, we couldn't stop them and they made a bunch of third-down conversions."
Mike Davis amassed 149 yards and a touchdown on 16 rush attempts for the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1), who were held to just six points over the final two quarters after battling back from an early two-touchdown deficit.
Connor Shaw recorded 228 yards on 16-of-25 efficiency in the loss and threw a pair of touchdown passes to Nick Jones, who finished with 97 yards on six grabs.
The two rivals were tied 24-24 at the conclusion of a fast-paced first half after Shaw deftly executed a two-minute drive capped by a 30-yard scoring delivery to Jones. However, the gritty quarterback made his only major mistake of the day on South Carolina's first possession of the third quarter.
Faced with a 4th-and-5 at the Georgia 34, Shaw scrambled out of the pocket to pick up a first down but was stripped by Armarlo Herrera, with the Bulldogs' Damian Swann recovering the fumble to thwart a potential go-ahead scoring chance.
Keith Marshall turned a screen pass into a 48-yard gain to the Gamecocks' 27 on the next play from scrimmage, which led to Patrick Beless' go-ahead 37-yard field goal with 8:03 left in the period.
The Georgia defense then came up with a big stop, and Murray orchestrated a methodical 13-play, 82-yard jaunt that featured a pair of chain-moving completions on third down. His third TD pass of the game, an 8- yard strike on the move to Gurley in the corner of the end zone, increased Georgia's lead to 34-24 with the third quarter winding down.
"Murray created some big plays by scrambling, moving around and standing in the pocket like a champion," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt.
South Carolina regrouped, however, with Davis sprinting down the left side for 75 yards on the first play of the following series and barreling in from three yards out shortly afterward to cut the deficit to six just over a minute into the fourth quarter. Elliott Fry's point-after try was blocked following a shaky snap from center.
The momentum was short-lived, though, as Scott-Wesley got behind the Gamecock defense and hauled in Murray's deep pass for an 85-yard touchdown that staked the Bulldogs to a 41-30 advantage.
Georgia's defense would seal the pivotal victory by stifling Davis on a 4th- down pitch from the Bulldogs' 1-yard line with 8:28 to go. The Bulldogs held the ball the rest of the way.
The Gamecocks moved 57 yards in 11 plays on the game's initial possession before settling for Elliott Fry's 36-yard field goal, but the Bulldogs dominated the majority of the first quarter to build a two-touchdown lead.
Georgia needed just six plays and two minutes to answer South Carolina's early score. Murray completed a 32-yard heave to Michael Bennett with All-American Jadeveon Clowney in his face prior to Gurley ripping off a 19-yard run to the Gamecocks' 1-yard line, setting up Murray's 3-yard strike to a wide-open Arthur Lynch off play action that produced a 7-3 edge midway through the opening period.
The Bulldogs then got daring and were rewarded for it. Collin Barber's onside kick was recovered by Georgia near midfield, and Murray hit Scott- Wesley for a 24-yard gain on 4th-and-13 to create a 1st-and-goal opportunity. South Carolina's defense held, however, prompting Beless to come on for a 22-yard field goal that extended the margin to seven points.
"[Linebackers coach Kirk] Olivadotti saw that and brought it to me last Sunday," said Richt of the decision to try the onside kick. "He really coached it up this week. It's one thing to have the scheme but another to execute it. Collin hit it with pace, we had some blockers and it worked out. We stole a possession and got points out of it. Against a team that's hot, that's important."
After the Georgia defense forced a quick three-and-out, the Bulldogs executed a 7-play, 69-yard drive that was extended by a facemask penalty on South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles after Gurley was stopped short on third down. Two plays later, Murray found Marshall in the flat for a 6-yard touchdown and a 17-3 advantage just over 2 1/2 minutes into the second quarter.
South Carolina countered, however, with Shaw engineering a 12-play, 84-yard sequence culminating in Brandon Wilds' 7-yard touchdown run with 7:07 remaining before the half.
The Gamecocks then cashed in on a special-teams miscue, as Barber bobbled the snap while back to punt and was tackled at his own 18. Jones got open on a corner route in the end zone on the very next play and hauled in Shaw's floater to tie the game at 17-17.
Georgia went back ahead on the ensuing series, courtesy of Gurley. The powerful back rushed seven times for 45 yards as the Bulldogs drove back down the field, with the final carry resulting in a 2-yard score 1:29 before the intermission.
That was more than enough time for Shaw, though. The senior signal-caller evaded pressure on a 9-yard scramble on third down to keep the ball in the Gamecocks' hands, then later ended the 7-play, 71-yard drive with a 30-yard connection to Jones with just 13 seconds on the first-half clock.
South Carolina had won three straight in the series and have handed Georgia its only two SEC losses (excluding the championship game) over the past two seasons ... Murray, who went just 11-of-31 for 109 yards in last year's loss in Columbia, completed 17-of-23 passes ... Davis' 149 rushing yards was a career high, bettering the 115 he had in the Gamecocks' season-opening win against North Carolina on Aug. 29 ... Jones set a personal best for catches, receiving yards and touchdowns in a game, with his previous high of 78 yards coming in January's Outback Bowl against Michigan .... South Carolina fell to 14-26 under head coach Spurrier when trailing after one quarter.