ATHENS – There is almost every reason to believe Georgia should easily handle South Carolina this Saturday. Almost every reason.
Georgia won its first two games by an average of 27 points. South Carolina is coming off a home loss to Kentucky. Georgia has Nick Chubb, and South Carolina’s run defense was gouged by the Wildcats. And of course, the game is in Athens.
Even Las Vegas has bought into the lopsided angle, posting Georgia as a 17-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com.. That’s the most the Bulldogs have been favored over the Gamecocks in 10 years.
But two things still have Georgia leery: It’s South Carolina, which has taken four of the past five in the rivalry, and Steve Spurrier will still be on the other sideline.
“I don’t know if it’s Spurrier or what it is over there, but every year that team has brought their A game against us,” said Georgia senior left tackle John Theus, who still has the memory of three years ago, when South Carolina ran his team off the field, 35-7. “No loss is fun. That one especially stung.”
No coach has more career wins over Georgia than Spurrier, who is 16-6 against the Bulldogs between his time at Florida and South Carolina. Spurrier got a slow start at South Carolina, losing four of his first six, then started the current run in 2010, thanks to stars like Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, Connor Shaw and Alshon Jeffrey.
They’re all gone now, but one person still looms: Spurrier.
“He’s crazy good,” Chubb said, before adding: “But our defense is crazy good too.”
Last year may have encapsulated Georgia’s recent frustration in the rivalry. It came into the game off a strong win over Clemson, while South Carolina came in struggling. But the Gamecocks won yet again, 38-35, with the Bulldogs’ playcalling – not giving the ball to Todd Gurley at the goal-line late in the game – emerging as the main story.
Still, Georgia went on to win 10 games, and South Carolina only won seven. Clearly it was a game the Bulldogs should have won – and expectations for this year set up very similar for both teams.
One thing does bear pointing out, and it’s in Georgia’s favor: During this five-year run, the Bulldogs have played well at home against Spurrier:
They beat him in 2013, knocking off what turned out to be an 11-win Gamecocks team. And while Georgia lost the 2011 game, it was close (45-42), with a missed field goal the difference. That game was also a week after a lackluster opening loss to Boise State, and the Bulldogs responded well against the Gamecocks.
Some players believe this year’s schedule helps Georgia: Junior receiver Reggie Davis thinks they’ll be helped getting them the third game this year, rather than the second game after a big first game against Clemson.
“It’s really a big difference, especially since we’ve got a new offensive coordinator,” Davis said. “We got a chance to get reps at the playbook in the game now, now have a few games under our belt, instead of coming in the second game of the season, back-to-back big games. It’s definitely gonna help us out this year, I feel.”
Spurrier also hasn’t shown his customary swagger this week.
“I think we’ve been fortunate,” Spurrier said Tuesday when asked about his success against Georgia. “Seems like we play really well at home against them.”
And this game isn’t at home for the Gamecocks.
Given recent history, however, the Bulldogs aren’t talking like 17-point favorites.
“You can never count a team like South Carolina out,” senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Because with the size of the linemen they have and the things they do on offense you really can never rule them out. Because Spurrier’s gonna find a way to get things rolling on offense.”
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