On the Beat with Mike Griffith: South Carolina confidence and hype benefits Georgia
ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has been wanting some real adversity to test his football team, and South Carolina is doing its best to provide it.
The Gamecocks are doing what they can to amplify the setting and importance of Saturday’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
It’s understandable in that South Carolina football hasn’t won a league title since 1969 — when it was in the ACC. That team went 7-4 and lost to West Virginia in the Peach Bowl.
The challenge the Gamecocks have to become relevant in football is very real.
Legends fell short in Columbia
College Football Hall of Fame Coaches Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier won national titles and were perennial contenders at other schools. But at South Carolina, both struggled to rise above mediocrity.
Beating Georgia this Saturday would rank as one of the greatest victories in school history.
South Carolina is 2-26 all time vs teams ranked in the AP top 3.
1981 North Carolina
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 6, 2018
For Georgia, it’s an opportunity to make the statement that the 2018 Bulldogs have just as much bite as last season’s team.
Beyond that, it’s another day at the office. Several teams will circle Georgia as an opponent and an opportunity to shock the world.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs are a 9 1/2-point favorite over the No. 24-ranked Gamecocks and have won the past three meetings entering Saturday’s game
Smart has made it clear to his team those numbers mean nothing on Saturday.
“Every year is different, every team is different, and we don’t really know what it will be,” said Georgia sophomore safety Richard LeCounte, who is making his first road start in nearly a year. “We can only go in there ready to battle.”
In that sense, former South Carolina player Tori Gurley has done Smart and his football team a favor by guaranteeing a Gamecocks’ victory.
The Georgia football staff plastered Gurley’s guarantee all over the walls of its football facility, providing a cause and added source of motivation.
Each player will internalize the “trendy upset pick” narrative and brash prediction differently.
“It’s plastered all over the walls, but we kind of see it one time, and we let it set in our hearts,” Bulldogs offensive guard Ben Cleveland said. “We don’t really dwell on it, we just know what we need to do.”
Indeed, and many of the Georgia players have done it before, coming from behind at Notre Dame to defeat the Irish in Jake Fromm’s first start as a true freshman, and then rallying in the Rose Bowl against a loaded Oklahoma football team.
But others, like LeCounte, have less experience in such situations.
Opportunity for Georgia
The Bulldogs new starters and young players are chomping at the bit to show their coach — and prove to the world — they can handle the sort of environment South Carolina and its fans will attempt to create in Williams-Brice Stadium.
It will be hot, it will be loud and the South Carolina fans will attempt to make it personal with random, and sometimes insulting, remarks aimed at players.
One of the Gamecocks, highly-touted receiver Deebo Samuel, added fuel to the fire when he claimed not to know about Georgia’s first-team All-SEC cornerback, Deandre Baker.
“Who?” Samuel said, asked about his impressions of Baker. “I really ain’t watched much of him.”
It’s that sort of gamesmanship that makes sports fun, as a player or spectator with a rooting interest.
Lion in the cage
Smart and his players have handled the pregame build-up in stride, keeping the tone level, likely waiting until game day to “let the lion out of the cage” as former South Carolina player and current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio likes to say.
“We’re gonna get South Carolina’s best, and they are going to get our best, it’s going to be a great football game,” Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter said. “We have to make the game about Georgia football and play our brand of football.”
Smart has told his players the road setting can only be a factor if they allow it to be. The team has prepared, and the head coach said he has shared stories of teams that handled the road adversity the right way, and the wrong way.
But South Carolina has ultimately done Georgia a favor with the confident and upset talk, because the Bulldogs now feel as if they have something to prove.
“We like being the underdogs, nobody is predicting you or wanting you to win,” Georgia offensive lineman Solomon Kindley said. “That’s just going to push us and make us go even harder.”
— GATA Dawgs (@BassinDawg) September 6, 2018
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