COLUMBIA, S.C. Steve Spurrier used to haunt Georgia's dreams.
He beat the Bulldogs 11 times in 12 tries when he was head coach at Florida and then, after dropping his first two ‘Dawgfights' after he arrived at South Carolina, he upset Georgia in Athens last year.
This season, the Bulldogs came in ranked No.2, and the Gamecocks had never beaten an opponent ranked that highly. And you know those Georgia fans were sweating it Saturday afternoon while South Carolina once again played their guys tough in the heat and humidity.
Just not quite tough enough.
The final was 14-7 Georgia, to the disappointment of most of the 83,704 fans jammed into Williams-Brice Stadium and to Spurrier himself.
“But it's history; we've got to try to file it,” he said. “Hopefully we're building some credit for the future. We've got a good team but we got beat today, and we had all kinds of chances.”
Two in particular come to mind.
Midway through the fourth quarter with Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC) in front by what would prove to be the final score, South Carolina drove (1-2, 0-2 SEC) to a first down at the Bulldogs' 2. Then the Gamecocks tried to power it in, with running back Mike Davis pushing behind the left side and attempting to dive into the end zone.
Davis was hit in mid-air by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, the ball popped loose and the Bulldogs' Asher Allen fell on it in the end zone.
“(Davis) leaped and the guy hit him on the ball,” Spurrier said.
South Carolina mounted one last-ditch effort in the final minutes. The Gamecocks pushed to the Georgia 17 with 31 seconds left, but a holding call moved the ball back to the 27.
Then USC quarterback Chris Smelley thought he had tight end Jared Cook open over the middle, but his throw was high and intercepted by Georgia safety Reshad Jones, ending the threat in the final minute.
“They were playing man-to-man and had a safety on top of it,” Smelley said, who added that he had plenty of protection from his offensive line on the play. “I just threw it too high and the guy was able to come in and get it.”
The Bulldogs had piled up 101 points in season-opening thumpings of Georgia Southern and Central Michigan, but this was different.
“I can say in all honesty, my gut has churned more in this series, and on this field, than any other times since I have been at Georgia,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Richt.
And no wonder. The Gamecocks out-gained the visitors 208 yards to 83 in the second half, as South Carolina's defense allowed six first downs after the break, four on the Bulldogs' winning scoring drive.
“Sometimes you're disappointed in your players and sometimes you're disappointed for them,” said Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. “This was definitely one of (the latter).”
It made for a quiet USC locker room. Inside it, Spurrier told his players, “A lot of you guys deserve to be winners today but we're all losers.
“That's just the way it is.”