ATHENS – It was as if everybody gathered for a séance at Sanford Stadium, summoned any evil spirit who may have played a role in every miserable, horrible and terrifying chapter of Georgia football history against Steve Spurrier, and said, “Hello. We have something for you.”
And then they were hit with 92,000 pies flying in from all directions.
Georgia kicked a field goal on its first possession. Think of Godzilla stepping on a kid’s tricycle before stepping on, well, buildings.
After the field goal, Georgia drove 82 yards for a touchdown. Then 88 yards for another. Then 78 for another. They scored five straight touchdowns. They had nearly 500 yards in offense after three quarters. The Dogs never stopped scoring until they stopped themselves with a third-quarter fumble, by which time the score was already 38-13 and even throwing pies at Spurrier had gotten old.
OK. Not really.
They scored again.
This was the long-awaited exorcism. After 25 years of Nightmare on Elm Street-level terrors, dating back to when Spurrier took over as Florida coach in 1990, Georgia bodyslammed South Carolina and its head coach 52-20 Saturday night. It’s only one win in September but the collective exhale in Athens was obvious, the victory sweeter than most others, even if coach Mark Richt wasn’t going to admit that.
“Any win feels good, but I know a little bit about the history of those two,” wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said, referencing his coach and Spurrier. “So I know it definitely means a lot to coach Richt to win the game, regardless if he says it or not.”
And he didn’t.
“It’s just fun to win period,” Richt said when asked about beating Spurrier.
Spurrier is 70 years old. I’m guessing that right about at halftime, shuffleboard and fish stick Tuesdays was looking pretty good to him.
He had beaten Georgia 16 out of 22 meetings at Florida (11-1) and South Carolina (5-5), including four wins in the last five years. He had won in Athens in 2007 when the Gamecocks held a Matthew Stafford–Knowshon Moreno led offense to four field goals in a 16-12 upset. He won again in Athens in 2011, 45-42, getting two touchdowns from a defensive end. (Don’t ask.)
This is the 20-year anniversary of the ugliest meeting of all: Florida 52, Georgia 17. Spurrier had his offense throwing on the final possession so the Gators could become the first opponent to put 50 in Athens.
Georgia put up 50 Saturday. I think they call that irony.
It was easily the most one-sided of the Dogs’ seven wins over their great tormentor, surpassing the 37-17 win over the Gators in 1997 (the only time they beat Florida with Spurrier on the sideline).
“As the game progressed, we felt like we could protect and call about any thing we wanted,” Richt said.
This will mean little when Georgia faces Alabama in two weeks. (Nick Saban is seldom moved emotionally.) But it counts for a lot that the Dogs and certainly their starting quarterback, Greyson Lambert, had such impressive performances after hiccups at Vanderbilt the week before. They eased concerns responded with a more dominating performance than anybody could have been expected.
Lambert hadn’t been the center of anything beyond doubt in the first two games. But he completed 24 of 25 passes — setting an NCAA record for completion percentage and leaving the game with 20 straight completions. He threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
Richt, with a rare tongue-in-cheek comment: “I can’t believe he threw an incompletion. I’m a little disappointed in that.”
Richt and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemed to protect Lambert in the first two games with conservative play-calling, suggesting a low trust level. But Saturday was different. They allowed him to throw and he threw well. Exceptional, actually.
After completing zero of five attempts in the first half against Vanderbilt, he went 14 for 15 for 190 yards and a touchdown in the first half against South Carolina. It wasn’t just that Schottenheimer and Richt were letting Lambert do more, the quarterback was on target, throwing with confidence, leading Georgia to four straight scoring drives (one field goal, three touchdowns).
The Dogs had 323 yards in offense in four possessions. They had touchdown drives stretching 82, 88 and 78 yards. Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was among those in attendance and must’ve wondered, “What’s everybody complaining about?”
Richt has been saying positive things about Lambert’s decision-making but the words came off more as a little league coach telling a player, “Good cut!” after a strikeout. Not Saturday. In the second quarter, Lambert had a key 17-yard, third-down completion to Terry Godwin and a 19-yarder in traffic to Jay Rome at the South Carolina 3, setting up the Dogs’ first touchdown.
On the next possession, he fired impressive completions to Jackson Harris (21 yards) and Mitchell (15). Then Sony Michel, against a clearly gassed, and possibly befuddled South Carolina defense, broke open for a 21-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead. Later in the half, Lambert fired a five-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell and the rout was on.
“We definitely saw some things we thought we could exploit from their last two games,” Lambert said.
They did more than exploit. They left the Gamecocks and their coach doubled over. The exorcism is complete. All can exhale.
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