Don’t be fooled by the lopsidedness of the South Carolina series … several of the blemishes have been special season killers
As Georgia and South Carolina get set to play one of the most important games in the annals of the series, this Southeastern Conference clash offers the Bulldogs of 2017 yet another opportunity to shed another skin of some historic hauntings.
Now some of these happened before any current Georgia players – and coaches for that matter – were born, though the Bulldogs current seniors were around for a crusher in 2014. Despite Georgia’s dominance in the series (49-18-2), several of the most successful, popular and greatest red and black gridiron squads ever have suffered some sad Saturday’s against the Gamecocks. This is the latest these two have ever met, and for elite Georgia teams that have lost to South Carolina, those setbacks have typically come early and the Bulldogs have rallied back for highly successful campaigns.
In 1959, Georgia rolled to a 10-1 record and captured the Southeastern Conference championship for the fourth time, and the first time since 1948, in the penultimate season of the 22-year Wallace Butts era. That lone loss came to South Carolina, 30-14 in the third game of the year. It was a magical run for Georgia, highlighted by the Fran Tarkenton to Bill Herron TD to beat Auburn, win over Tech and Orange Bowl championship over Missouri. But a win over the Gamecocks and a piece of the national title would have likely belonged to Georgia. Of course, this was well before South Carolina joined the SEC. The “Wonderdogs” of 1978 had a 9-1-1 regular season. A tie with Auburn cost Georgia a share of the conference crown – the loss was in Columbia, 27-10 to the Gamecocks in the third game of the year.
In the SEC era of this rivalry, two of Mark Richt’s great teams went down to the Gamecocks. Perhaps the worst came in 2007, Georgia stubbornly went away from sensational tailback Knowshon Moreno, who was cutting through the Gamecocks defense, in the red zone. Relying on field goals, Georgia fell behind and never caught up, losing 16-12 in Athens. That Georgia team was 4-2 after getting drilled at Tennessee, but Moreno and Matthew Stafford led a tremendous turnaround and the Bulldogs wound up 11-2, Sugar Bowl champions, ranked No. 2 nationally. LSU won the SEC and national title with two losses. South Carolina went 6-6. A shot at the SEC and national titles were lost on that night of missed opportunities. Two excellent teams squared off in Columbia in October of 2012. That one was over in the middle of the first quarter, as the Gamecocks raced to a 21-0 lead and cruised to a 35-7 rout of Georgia. The Bulldogs would win the next six and went to Atlanta 11-1 to play for the SEC title and a berth in the national championship game. There was heartbreak inside the Dome. The Dogs wound up 12-2, ranked No. 4. South Carolina went 11-2, and finished No. 7.
Well, the stakes are again high.
At the top of the list, a win over a tough and talented Gamecocks squad would be an impressive victory and a step towards the SEC Championship Game. Kirby Smart, in his second season at the Georgia helm, his staff and a tremendous group of veteran players have helped keep the Bulldogs focused every Saturday out. Short term goals lead to dreams that come true. The next goal for this team is beating South Carolina Saturday.
For the Gamecocks, who have been a surprise for the last two years under the watch of another former Georgia defensive back from the 1990s, Will Muschamp, Saturday’s meeting sets up sweetly on the schedule. Sure as the sunrise, when the schedule came out, every Georgia fan saw South Carolina squeezed between Florida and Auburn and thought “uh-oh.”
Muschamp’s senior season in Athens was 1994, which was the freshman year of Smart. Kirby, the speedy son of a high school coach would redshirt that year. He would debut between the hedges September 2, 1995. Against South Carolina.
Running a variety of blitz packages that caught the Gamecocks off guard, the young freshman safety registered three quarterback sacks against the long mullet-haired South Carolina signal caller Steve Taneyhill. Smart, with Georgia down 14-7, made a big stop inside the 10 that forced a field goal. Robert Edwards would run wild for five second-half touchdowns – Mike Bobo quarterbacking, and Hines Ward springing the final score with a crushing block. The Bulldogs would win 42-23.
It was clear that hot afternoon between the hedges that this kid wearing No. 16 out of Bainbridge had something.
Once again Muschamp faces his alma mater. He has done so as an assistant for Nick Saban at LSU and for Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. As Florida’s head coach from 2011-14, Muschamp’s Gators were 1-3 against Georgia. His final Florida team, like South Carolina and Tech, delivered defeat to favored Georgia.
In the first head-to-head meeting as head coaches last season, Smart’s Bulldogs topped the Gamecocks 28-14. A powerful running game and a strong defense that Sunday (due to Hurricane Matthew) offered a glimpse of what was to come this season.
Now Smart’s Bulldogs try to deliver again and join very good to all-time great Georgia teams like those of 1941, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 which beat South Carolina. It is a much longer list than the one of great Bulldog squads sidetracked from further glory by the Gamecocks.
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