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USA TODAY

ATHENS, Ga. - Throughout his career, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has been criticized for his performances in the biggest games. But with the No. 12-ranked Bulldogs' defense flailing and their season on the line, Murray's ability to improvise under pressure lifted them to a 41-30 victory against No. 6 South Carolina.

With the Gamecocks threatening to steal momentum and quiet a nervous crowd at Sanford Stadium, Murray avoided pressure on two key third-down plays and found open receivers for touchdowns.

The second of those touchdowns, with exactly 13 minutes remaining, came after it appeared star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would have a chance to sack Murray. Instead, backup offensive tackle Mark Beard bothered Clowney just enough to allow Murray to change directions and he found Justin Scott-Wesley streaking down the left sideline for an 85-yard touchdown.

Georgia's defense preserved that 11-point lead with 8:28 to go, making a goal-line stand when South Carolina's Mike Davis, who ran for 149 yards on 16 carries, couldn't get into the end zone on an option pitch from inside the 1-yard line. Georgia chewed up the rest of the clock with a 13-play drive, breaking a three-year losing streak against the Gamecocks.

That sequence also ensured Georgia wouldn't fall to 0-2, which looked like a very real possibility in a wild game with several momentum swings and big-yardage plays happening all over the field.

"What a war," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "You hate to so early in the season feel the pressure of all your goals being on the line. It was Game 2. It's just no fun to be 0-2 and 0-1 in the league and hoping somebody gets beat and looking at the gauntlet ahead of you. It was good medicine to get a victory."

The Bulldogs couldn't exhale much, even when they opened a 34-24 lead with 18 seconds left in the third quarter on a broken play that ended with Murray finding running back Todd Gurley freelancing across the end zone.

The Gamecocks came right back, with running back Mike Davis rumbling 75 yards on the next play from scrimmage to put South Carolina in position to score, which it did three plays later. A missed extra point left the Bulldogs ahead 34-30 with 13:55 remaining.

That was a similar pattern to the first half, which ended tied at 24.

Georgia rode a wave of momentum and a well-executed on-sides kick to a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter, but things changed quickly. The Gamecocks came up with a big touchdown drive in response, converting a fourth down inside the 10-yard line instead of taking a short field goal. Then, after Georgia went three-and-out, punter Collin Barber fumbled a perfectly good snap, a special teams meltdown reminiscent of the bungled field goal that played a key role in the Bulldogs' 38-35 loss to Clemson last week.


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