Scenes from before the Georgia vs. South Carolina game on Sept. 18, 2021, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

In its SEC opener of the 2021 season, Georgia leads South Carolina 26-6 at halftime. Here are some observations from The Red & Black.

Daniels returns

On the first play of his return to the starting spot, Georgia quarterback JT Daniels threw a 21-yard dart to tight end Brock Bowers.

Daniels impressed early in his first start since Week 1’s clash against Clemson, flawlessly passing 3-3 for 44 yards on Georgia’s opening drive. The drive ended in a James Cook touchdown run from 23 yards out.

The second drive was much of the same for Daniels. He took no time as he completed 5-6 passes, the last pass going 43 yards to Jermaine Burton for a touchdown, Daniels’ first touchdown pass of the year. The Bulldogs threw the ball on all six plays of their second drive, taking the lead 14-3.

Georgia tried to mix things up late in the first quarter as backup quarterback Stetson Bennett trotted onto the field instead of Daniels. The move proved to be costly as Bennett threw an interception on his first throw, leading to a South Carolina field goal. Following the interception, Daniels was under center the rest of the way.

After throwing the ball 30 times against Clemson, Daniels tossed 21 passes in the first half alone against the Gamecocks. He finished with 208 yards and two touchdowns at the break.

Defense bends, doesn’t break

South Carolina came out firing early against the Bulldogs as quarterback Zeb Noland tossed a 61-yard pass on a third down. The play was the longest Georgia has given up so far this year and arguably the closest the Bulldogs defense has come to conceding a touchdown. The eight-play Gamecock drive led to a field goal, making the score 7-3.

On the second drive of the game, Georgia’s defense saw a new face under center for the Gamecocks. Quarterback Luke Doty, who missed the start of the season due to injury, replaced Noland. Despite giving up one first down to the new Gamecock quarterback, the Bulldogs came up with a stop forcing the Gamecocks to punt.

After Bennett’s costly interception, the Georgia defense found itself pinned back in the red zone. South Carolina was forced to kick yet again behind stout defense from Georgia and some help from a penalty. Leaving Georgia’s no touchdown record alive.

The Bulldogs looked vulnerable through the air in the first half but the front seven looked as good as ever. Nolan Smith led the team in tackles grabbing five, including a sack shared with Jordan Davis for a safety at the end of the half. Adam Anderson tallied the teams only other sack.

The first half marked the ninth and 10th quarters this year that the Georgia defense has survived without giving up a touchdown.

Big plays bite Bulldogs

Coming into Georgia’s SEC opener against South Carolina, the largest play the Bulldogs had given up was a 44 yard pass from Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Despite entering the game with the No. 1 ranked defense in the country, allowing only 177 yards per game thus far, Georgia looked vulnerable to the deep ball early.

The first big pass came from quarterback Noland who tossed a 61-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Vann. The deep ball came on third-and-13 in South Carolina’s first drive of the game and set the Gamecocks up for their first field goal.

Later, as quarterback Doty took the field, Georgia dodged another bullet when a deep pass was initially ruled as a catch before being reviewed. Doty connected with Vann again in the second quarter for 31-yards, another third down conversion that could have been prevented.

Vann finished the half with two catches for 92 yards, something the Bulldogs could look to contain in the second half.

Despite the clear vulnerability to the deep ball, the Bulldogs only allowed 123 passing yards in the first half.

Jake Jennings is a senior journalism major from Powder Springs, Georgia. He is minoring in sports management and political science as well. He reports on soccer, football and baseball.

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