COLUMBIA, S.C. — Heading into No. 3 Georgia’s marquee SEC East matchup with No. 24 South Carolina, the Bulldog defensive front set a lofty goal for itself when it came to stopping the Gamecocks’ ground game.
"Our goal was to hold them rushing [for] 50 yards or less,” senior defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter said. “I don't know what our secondary was communicating back there, but the D-line as a group said that we're going to hold them to 50 yards or less."
While that expectation seems a little high, the Bulldogs came extraordinarily close to fulfilling it.
The Bulldogs allowed just 54 rushing yards to South Carolina on Saturday, rendering the Gamecock offense totally one-dimensional. The Gamecocks averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and the longest rush came from quarterback Jake Bentley when he scrambled for 11 yards.
The smothering run defense allowed the Bulldogs to control the game and force the Gamecocks into a large quantity of passing plays. And the end result was a 41-17 drubbing of the Gamecocks by the third-ranked Bulldogs.
“It's hard to win a game without being able to run the ball,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “If you give up enough big plays, which we gave up a few, it makes it tough to win. But, when you control the line of scrimmage in this conference, you've got an opportunity. And that's what we want to do week in and week out is control the line of scrimmage and still have good enough skill players to play.
Bentley threw the ball 31 times in the first half and 47 times on the night. He averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt and when coupled with the inefficiencies in the run game, South Carolina struggled to sustain any form of offense.
Despite the staggering numbers that South Carolina was limited to in the run game, the Bulldog defenders still demand more out of themselves.
"I still feel like we gave up too many explosive plays in the run game,” senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker said. “I know, me personally, I missed the edge on one play and he got outside and I feel like we still could get better at the run and the pass a lot."
Georgia’s defense had many questions to answer coming into Saturday. The Bulldogs lost nine key contributors from their elite 2017 defense and were not tested greatly in last week’s opener against Austin Peay.
But on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium, the Bulldogs’ run defense stonewalled a South Carolina team’s run game, offense and hopes for dethroning Georgia atop the SEC East.
“Look, we didn't play great in the secondary,” Smart said. “We gave up some passes. We gave up some things we can't do. But if we can control the line of scrimmage, I can promise you most teams would rather run the ball than have to throw it."