ATHENS — There is nothing that should lead anyone to believe anything other than Georgia will beat South Carolina handily on Saturday.
- The Bulldogs are playing at home, where they’re 26-8 against the Gamecocks;
- South Carolina barely escaped with a win over North Carolina and then lost to Kentucky at home last week;
- The Gamecocks have lost their starting quarterback to injury;
- South Carolina gives up more yards rushing per carry (5.8) than any team in the SEC — and they have yet to meet Nick Chubb.
Those are just a few of the reasons No. 7 Georgia was posted as a 17-point favorite for Saturday’s nationally-televised game at Sanford Stadium (6:01 p.m., ESPN).
Yet as the RVs rolled into Athens the last two days, the angst being emanated from the inhabitants this quaint college town has been almost palpable. There is one distinct advantage most feel like the Gamecocks have this year, and every year.
That’s not a knock on Georgia coach Mark Richt, necessarily. There are simply some cold, hard facts that gnaw at the Bulldogs when the visored-one enters the equation. Of this their fans are well aware.
Georgia has lost four of the its last five games against his South Carolina teams, the worst stretch in the 121-year-old history of the series. Including his time at the helm of the Florida program, that makes Spurrier 16-6 against the Bulldogs all time.
The numbers are even more alarming when the talk turns to Spurrier as the underdog. David Purdum of ESPN Chalk told The State’s Josh Kendall this week that Spurrier is 39-34 in games in which his teams are underdogs, a fairly astounding stat. Within that, they’ve pulled off 25 straight-up upsets.
Among those upsets would be last year’s meeting in Columbia. Georgia was a 6.5-point favorite but lost 38-35.
To all this, Spurrier offers a shrug.
“Who knows why?” he said. “Sometimes you win a lot of close games against one team and not another team. Sometimes that just happens. No particular reason.”
Well, maybe one. It has long been theorized that Spurrier harbors a deep-seated hatred for Georgia that extends back to his days as an award-winning quarterback for the Florida Gators in the 1960s. In 1966 in particular, the Gators were in position to win their first SEC championship in history. But Bill Stanfill and the Georgia defense got after Spurrier that day in Jacksonville and sacked and harassed him multiple times on the way to a rousing 27-10 victory.
Spurrier went on to land the Heisman Trophy that year, but the Bulldogs won the SEC title and Florida wouldn’t claim a conference championship for another 25 years.
It was at that point, that Spurrier had taken over as head coach and started drubbing the Bulldogs annually.
“Georgia was the team that was the thorn in the side of the Gators for history,” Spurrier recounted this week. “I think somebody said that every time the conference championship was on the line that Georgia had won the game. If Georgia was involved in it or if Florida was involved in it, Georgia always won the game. So we needed to change that if we were to ever win an SEC down there. And fortunately, we had a lot better players than they did in the early ’90s there to sort of get an upper hand.”
That’s what has made this current trend so frustrating to the Bulldogs. In most cases, they have had equal if not better talent on the sideline when they’ve faced off against the Gamecocks. And that’s definitely the case this year.
Receiver Pharoh Cooper and tight end Jerell Adams arrive as South Carolina’s only legitimate offensive stars. The Gamecocks lost starting quarterback Connor Mitch to a pair of potential season-ending injuries last week and are expected to start junior Perry Orth – a transfer who didn’t have an FBS offer out of high school – in his place. Lorenzo Nunez, a true freshman from Kennesaw, is expected to play as well.
Defensively, they’re giving up 419.5 yards a game and are 13th in the 14-team SEC against the run. Linebacker Skai Moore is tied for the NCAA lead with three interceptions, but otherwise there’s not a lot of star power on that side of the ball either.
Georgia counters with a litany of stars, starting with Chubb and Sony Michel and continuing on defense where Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter are surely salivating over fresh meat at quarterback.
The Bulldogs have some quarterback concerns of their own, with first-year starter Greyson Lambert struggling for a half in last week’s win at Vanderbilt. But generally that has been more about aesthetics than effectiveness. Georgia is and will remain a tailback-oriented team and comes in averaging a healthy 41 points a game.
“We know they’re going to stack the box on us,” senior tackle Kolton Houston said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t run the ball. It’s our job as linemen to get a hat on a hat, and then it’s the tailbacks’ job to make the free hitters miss. And we’re lucky enough to have the special backs that we do who can do that.”
But then there’s this: South Carolina is desperate. Already saddled with a home loss to Kentucky, the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) will effectively be eliminated from the SEC East race with a loss to Georgia.
The Bulldogs expect the Ol’ Ball Coach to throw at them everything he’s got. And with their 25-year tortuous relationship as testament, they know that’s scary bag of tricks.
“I don’t know if it’s Spurrier or what, but every year that team has brought their ‘A’ game against us,” Georgia tackle John Theus said.