COLUMBIA, S.C. — Leaves and tree limbs littered Main Street in the middle of downtown. Porta-Potties and trash cans were turned over and scattered throughout the Fairgrounds. The letters G, C and O out of “Gamecocks” were blown off the facade of the press box at Williams-Brice Stadium.
These were just some of the signs it was not just another football Saturday at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ game against Georgia, originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, has been re-scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
It’s a good thing because the weather here was rotten most of the day Saturday. Torrential rains blew hard through the area from the wee hours of the morning into the late-afternoon and early evening. That was about the same time that Hurricane Matthew was skirting the coast of South Carolina and inundating the cities of Charleston and Myrtle Beach with record-breaking storm surge.
But not long after making landfall, the Category 1 storm began to break up. About 5:30 p.m., sun actually peeked through the clouds over the Midlands.
It was hard to spot the thousands of evacuees from the South Carolina coast. Homeland Security police checked into the downtown Marriott to oversee some of the chaos but were finding none. So they’re not hanging around.
Inspector Roland Redfield of Washington, D.C., said their orders will take them down to Charleston on Sunday to help with the clean-up and organizing the re-population. He knew nothing of the South Carolina-Georgia game.
“We’re here to help with the storm,” he said.
Local schools, including the University of South Carolina, have been closed since Wednesday. Richland County school buses were sent to Charleston to carry evacuees back to Columbia.
As for the football game, South Carolina is honoring the tickets from the previous day, but it’s not expected to approach the sellout of 80,250 it was expected to be before the weather approached.
It could be argued Georgia got shortchanged on this operation. Traveling and playing a day later than scheduled, they’ll have one less day to rest and prepare for next week’s homecoming game against Vanderbilt.
UGA canceled its reservations at the Holiday Inn downtown and, at the behest of South Carolina, moved to an obscure federal facility known as the National Advocacy Center in the center of campus. When a reporter took a picture from the front of the facility on Pendleton Street, just behind the area known as The Horseshoe, a security guard yelled from the front door and said photos were not allowed and the image would have to be deleted.
Georgia players and coaches insists that all the uncertainty won’t affect them adversely.
“There’s been a lot of talk, but it’s really not something you can focus on,” tailback Sony Michel said. “Coach has done a good job of making us focus on the game and right now we’re focusing on South Carolina, so that’s what we’re focusing on. As far as we’re concerned, everything’s on track, we’re ready to travel, be the away team and go play a football game.”
Said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart: “The logistical concerns are for both teams. We both have good quality staffs and support systems that handle most of that. … We hire people to help us with that. So my concern has been with preparing for the game and not with logistics.”
Georgia (3-2, 1-2 SEC) remained a touchdown favorite heading into the game, which will be televised on the SEC Network. The Gamecocks (2-3, 1-3) are welcoming the return of two of their two receivers — freshman Bryan Edwards and sophomore Deebo Samuel — from hamstring injuries. Otherwise, South Carolina has been averaging only 14 points per game, less than half of the league average.
South Carolina has won the last three games played at Williams-Brice in the series.
“As a player and a coach, I’ve had some very good experiences there and some very bad experiences there,” Smart said.