I know all about Williams-Brice Stadium.
Having covered Georgia playing South Carolina countless times at the Gamecocks’ stadium through the years, I would have to say this particular venue is a unique one in itself.
First of all, Williams-Brice Stadium is nowhere near the University of South Carolina campus, which sits on the edge of Columbia’s downtown area. Nope, it sits a couple of miles south of the SC campus, out on the state fairgrounds complex. And traffic on a game day there, well, let’s just say it can be brutal at times … both before and after the football game.
And, aside from Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La., Williams-Brice will be the loudest stadium, concerning the opposing fans, that Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs will play at this season. The Georgia-Florida game, as you know, has 42,000 or so Georgia fans in the stadium in Jacksonville and the same number of Gator fans packed on the other side of the field. So that’s 40,000 and some change Florida people screaming against the Bulldogs compared to 70,000 South Carolina fans who will be trying to rattle the Bulldogs this Saturday … assuming the Georgia faithful may number about 10,000 or so in Williams-Brice’s 80,250-seat facility.
With the Carolina band cranking up “Sandstorm” early on with the students waving those white towels, that infernal rooster crowing constantly over the P.A. system, at a decibel where it seems your eardrums are damaged, and then the Gamecocks coming onto the field in a thick cloud of smoke to 2001 Space Odyssey, Williams-Brice can indeed seem like a proverbial madhouse for an opposing team and its fans.
I can also tell you this is a place where nothing has ever come easy for the Georgia Bulldogs, no matter how powerful a football team UGA has taken into the Palmetto State.
Take the Bulldogs’ 2002 team, the one that in his second season Mark Richt steered to a 13-1 record and Georgia’s first SEC championship in 20 years. That team had to get an interception in the end zone by All-America David Pollack to eke out a 13-7 win over the Gamecocks in a contest where the Bulldogs couldn’t score an offensive touchdown. Pollack’s clutch play, I have to say, was when he literally snatched the ball out of South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins’ right hand, happening so quickly it more resembled a fumble takeaway rather than the interception it was ruled.
And talk about agonizing losses for the Bulldogs on the Gamecocks’ turf Georgia’s 2012 edition, which would go on to finish fourth in the country after losing a heartbreaker to eventual national champion Alabama in the SEC title game in the Georgia Dome, was earlier, on Oct. 6, blown out of Williams-Brice 35-7 by the then sixth-ranked Gamecocks.
And how about that dagger-to-the heart 38-35 loss to the roosters in 2014 when the Dawgs traveled to Columbia ranked sixth in the country, compared to South Carolina being ranked No. 24 … by the way the same ranking this 2018 Gamecock team takes into Saturday’s 3:30 kick. With a first and goal on the South Carolina 4-yard line in the game’s final minute, Georgia didn’t give the ball to its all-world tailback, Todd Gurley, but rather opted for a failed pass play and never scored again, actually being called for grounding on Hutson Mason’s pass attempt.
I could go on and on but you get the picture: it’s never easy sailing for the Bulldogs when they motor east to Columbia, S.C.
But as the third-ranked Bulldogs ready for the 2018 rendition of Georgia-South Carolina there may a huge difference-maker for the Red and Black this time around.
And his name is Kirby Smart.
While the Bulldogs have dropped three out of the last four games to the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium, the fact remains that Georgia now boasts a three-game win string against South Carolina. Richt’s last Bulldog team in 2015 ran Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks out of Sanford Stadium 52-20 behind a record-breaking passing day by Greyson Lambert, Smart’s first UGA team in 2016 beat Carolina 28-14 in that game that was moved to Sunday by Hurricane Matthew, and then the Bulldogs won a hard-fought 24-10 game over the Gamecocks last year in a season where Georgia had posted six consecutive blowout wins leading into the matchup with Carolina.
So Smart enters Saturday’s battle with the ‘Cocks with an unblemished 2-0 mark against South Carolina. And to run that ledger to 3-0 in this series, Smart’s Bulldogs will have to turn back a Gamecock team that looks to be the best that Will Muschamp has fielded in this, his also third season at the SC helm. The Georgia defense will have to deal with an outstanding quarterback in the Gamecocks’ Jake Bentley as well as having to find a way to slow down Carolina’s explosive receiver and kick returner, Deebo Samuel.
As always, though, I think the game’s outcome will come down to who’s the strongest and best in the trenches …who wins the battle in the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage. This is where Smart comes in. The fiery UGA coach has stockpiled huge bodies up front for the Bulldogs, as evidenced by his first two recruiting classes in Athens carrying a No. 3 and No. 1 national ranking and the current 2019 class that Smart and his staff are working on also projected at the moment to finish No. 1.
As we all followed Smart’s second coaching season at Georgia in 2017, we learned his brand of Bulldogs will be superbly prepared for every single game (at Auburn last year an exception but payback was sweet in SEC title game) and no team will be more physical than the University of Georgia.
No, these current Bulldogs shaped by Smart and his excellent assistant staff are not your old Georgia, when sometimes the Bulldogs would look spectacular but would greatly underachieve in certain games where they were listed as a solid favorite.
Bet your last dollar, Georgia will be ready to play once again in that unfriendly place called Williams-Brice. No blowout victory, mind you, but rather a solid one that will be led by such names as Fromm, Swift, Holyfield, Godwin, Hardman, Ridley, and Robertson on offense and such names as Baker, Reed, Clark, Ledbetter (if ankle well), Walker, Rice, LeCounte and Campbell on defense.
In hot Columbia Saturday, the Dawgs claim their SEC opener by 35-24 over the Gamecocks!