ATHENS — In the past five seasons, Georgia’s football team posted a combined 11-4 record against SEC rivals Auburn, Florida and Tennessee. Yet in the same five seasons, the Bulldogs went 1-4 against South Carolina.
It is a record that gnaws at Georgia’s veteran players and provides the backdrop to Saturday’s matchup with the Gamecocks in Sanford Stadium.
“It’s definitely motivating,” UGA nose guard Chris Mayes said. “You definitely want to come back and just play them harder to … get that chip off your shoulder.”
Georgia and South Carolina have met 67 times in football, dating to 1894, and this marks the first time the Gamecocks have won four of five games against the Bulldogs. Georgia still leads the all-time series 47-18-2. The Bulldogs even won four of the first five games after Steve Spurrier became the Gamecocks’ coach in 2005.
Then came this stretch.
Three of Georgia’s four losses to the Gamecocks since 2010 came in Columbia, including last year’s 38-35 defeat, while the teams split the past two meetings in Athens.
The pain of those losses wasn’t lost on the Bulldogs, particularly the seniors, as they prepared this week for another game against the Gamecocks.
“You look back and see some of the plays you could have made that you didn’t make and just look at some of the reasons why you lost and use that to get yourself mentally ready,” senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said.
“Me personally, I didn’t play to the best of my capabilities last year when we played them. I feel like I was definitely a part of that loss. Some of that weight had to belong on me.”
Of the eight teams Georgia faces annually — six SEC East opponents plus Auburn and Georgia Tech — the Bulldogs had a losing record against only South Carolina in the past five seasons. From 2010 through 2014, Georgia was 5-0 against Kentucky and Tennessee, 4-1 against Tech and Vanderbilt, 3-2 against Auburn and Florida, and 2-1 against Missouri (which joined the SEC in 2012).
South Carolina’s recent record against Georgia has resumed Spurrier’s famous coaching success vs. the Bulldogs. He is 16-6 against them, including 11-1 as Florida’s coach and 5-5 as South Carolina’s. That gives him more wins against UGA than any other coach in history.
South Carolina’s upset win last season was particularly painful for Georgia, which entered that game ranked No. 6 nationally compared to the Gamecocks’ No. 24. The Bulldogs didn’t rely on Todd Gurley to get the ball into the end zone after an interception gave them a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line trailing by three points with about six minutes to play. Then Marshall Morgan missed a short field-goal attempt that could have tied the score.
“I remember a sour taste in my mouth leaving the field,” Jenkins said. “That was another heart-felt loss.”
Mayes remembers something else about that game: South Carolina’s 176 rushing yards.
“If we had stopped the run, that would have been our game,” Mayes said. “But it’s a new year, so we plan on definitely stopping it this game.”
Georgia enters this game as a 17-point favorite, the oddsmakers reflecting South Carolina’s home loss to Kentucky last week rather than its recent record against Georgia.
“We always end up playing South Carolina close,” said Jenkins, scoffing at the 17-point spread. “I know it’s going to be a game of inches. … You just have to always be ready for whatever. Spurrier has got tricks in his bag.”
Tailback Nick Chubb, now the focal point of Georgia’s offense, played sparingly at South Carolina as a freshman last season — four carries for 34 yards — and seems oblivious to series history.
“I don’t care about all that,” Chubb said. “It’s year by year.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt also doesn’t think there’s much to be gained from belaboring the past.
“Just like if you’re going to take a math test and you’re thinking about, ‘Well, my last math test, I got an F,’ if that’s all you’re thinking about, what’s the chance of succeeding?” Richt said. “You’ve got to be thinking about, ‘How do I do this formula? How do I do that formula?’
“You’ve got to focus on your job. That’s what we try to do: Focus on the job.”