COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A group of friends greeted Steve Spurrier after he concluded his post-game press conference.

"Meant to be," Spurrier, fresh off his 16th career win over Georgia and his fourth in five tries, told the group in between hugs and handshakes. "Meant to be."

How else do you explain Georgia's appearance to South Carolina's 3-yard line in the final minutes, armed with the country's best offensive player, only to disappear without a point?

Yep, Spurrier just loves to needle Georgia.

After lightning delayed kickoff for 95 minutes, Georgia and Todd Gurley's 131 rushing yards couldn't overpower the Gamecocks because of an erratic defense that had minimal answers in a 38-35 loss. On fourth-and-inches with 1:22 left, after two timeouts to balloon the suspense, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier called a quarterback sneak with Dylan Thompson to seal the game.

But the Bulldogs offense might feel the biggest regret despite a good gampelan that produced 35 points on the road and averaged nearly 7 yards per play with no turnovers. 

Georgia was primed to take its first lead of the second half after cornerback Damian Swann picked off Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson, giving Georgia the ball at the 3-yard line after a penalty.

The Bulldogs had three downs to get three yards. They had Gurley to do it. A touchdown puts them up by four. But the first play was a rollout with quarterback Hutson Mason that resulted in a sack and intentional grounding, pushing back the Bulldogs 10 yards. This was the kind of play that looks good when drawn up during the week but not after the fact.

Georgia targeted Gurley on the next two plays (by then momentum was lost), and on the same night Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan set an SEC record with 20 consecutive field goal makes, he missed a 28-yarder -- his second miss -- that left Georgia behind by 3 with 4:24 left. The kick barely missed left.

"If I were to do it again, we would've hammered it," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who minutes earlier claimed Georgia "didn't seize the moment -- very disappointing." 

Gurley didn't sound thrilled by the goal-line stance, though he didn't rip the gameplan, saying it was the "coaches' call." Getting him the ball on a power play on first down would've been sensible. 

What seemed to bother Gurley more: Georgia is 9-6 since the 2013 season.

"As I said, the same thing over again, you get tired of losing, you get tired of feeling letdown," said Gurley, whose 17-yard cutback rush on third-and-17 earlier in the game was a snapshot of a Heisman contender. "But we're going to move on. We're going to bounce back. We're going to get it right."

Thompson got the yards -- and inches -- South Carolina needed. Officials debated Thompson's sneak to the left side for at least a few minutes while each sideline contingent pointing toward its favorable direction of the field. Richt said he couldn't tell whether Thompson got the first down because the scrum of players was so large.

Spurrier was incensed with his Gamecocks after a 52-28 blowout to Texas A&M in the opener two weeks ago, so he relied on Thompson's arm to find the Gamecocks' rhythm. Thompson completed 21 of 30 for 271 yards, three touchdowns and was intercepted once. South Carolina also rushed for nearly 200 yards to punctuate a rough night for Georgia's defense.

In the first half, the middle of the field was open consistently for Thompson. Georgia's inexperienced defensive backfield struggled for most of the night. South Carolina's secondary looked adequate, though Mason (16 of 22, 191 yards, two touchdowns) didn't exactly test the group very often.

If Thompson sustains his pace, he'll deepen the intrigue in the SEC East race.

"All you hear about all week is how great Georgia is and I just got tired of it," Thompson said. "We wanted to come out today and just show what we had."