The Georgia-South Carolina showdown finally arrives

semerson@macon.comSeptember 30, 2012 

ATHENS -- Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier were not on different pages Sunday. In fact, the two head coaches used the same word in describing the coming showdown between their teams.

“It’s a big, big game right now,” said Richt, the head coach at Georgia. “When you start playing this deep into the conference season and you’ve got two undefeated, it’s huge.”

“This is a huge game,” said Spurrier, the head coach at South Carolina. “We all know it.”

This year’s version of Georgia-South Carolina might be later in the season than usual, but it’s still too early to bill this as the game of the year for either team. Whoever wins still has to deal with Florida, and last year’s events show that the loser Saturday isn’t necessarily eliminated from the division picture.

Still, there are so many dynamics pointing to a “huge” contest:

• No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 South Carolina can both harbor national title implications. The loser of this is at least out of that picture, it would seem.

• ESPN’s “GameDay” will broadcast from Columbia on Saturday, which both speaks to the importance of the game and will help to increase its profile as the week goes on.

• Spurrier’s long-running hate-hate relationship with Georgia fans and the fact he has gotten the better of the Bulldogs two years in a row.

The story lines abound.

Ever since the game was moved from its customary second-week spot to later in the season -- thanks to SEC expansion -- this game has been circled as a potential be-all end-all. South Carolina won the SEC East in 2010, and Georgia won the division last year. The thought was if both teams could survive the opening stretch, they would collide unbeaten and once again decide the division.

But Florida’s re-emergence has put a crimp in that story line. Of course, it could be back by kickoff.

Richt pointed out that Florida-LSU is earlier in the day, so the winner of Georgia-South Carolina could be in first place alone.

“Either way the winner of that game is going to be in first place and in control of their own destiny. And the loser is gonna be two games behind that opponent,” Richt said. “If we were to lose, South Carolina loses, we have to lose twice to get them in. Unless there’s some kind of three-way tie, which is possible, as well.”

Both teams enter unbeaten after experiencing a bit of a scare. South Carolina was trailing Kentucky by 10 at the half before winning by 21. Georgia blew a 17-point first half lead to Tennessee, rallied to re-take the lead and then had to withstand another rally to win 51-44.

That game, as numerous Georgia coaches and players pointed out, reminded them of last year’s 45-42 loss to South Carolina. The difference is this time the Bulldogs won.

“We were able to come back in the second half and fight through it. Last year we were able to fight through it, but we didn’t finish the game,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “That’s always been our motto -- finish the drill. And (against Tennessee) we did that.”

Of course, South Carolina seems a much stiffer test. The Gamecocks still have tailback Marcus Lattimore, who gashed Georgia’s defense the past two years, especially in 2010, and defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who bedeviled Murray last year.

Spurrier had one of his trademark one-liners ready when asked Sunday about the health of Lattimore, who had knee surgery last year.

“I hope he’s where he was when he ran against Georgia two years ago,” Spurrier said with a laugh, alluding to Lattimore’s 182-yard performance, when he carried it 37 times. “Because that was sort of his coming-out day here at Williams-Brice two years ago.”

But Georgia also seems an improved team, especially on offense. The Bulldogs currently rank first in the SEC in rushing offense, pass efficiency and total offense.

Freshman tailback Todd Gurley leads the SEC in rushing (536 yards) and scoring (nine touchdowns). Murray is tops in the conference in pass efficiency, with 1,370 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Georgia defense, however, has been surprisingly uneven. The return of Alec Ogletree and Baccari Rambo from suspension did not stop Tennessee from racking up 478 yards and four offensive touchdowns.

But Spurrier had an interesting take on what has afflicted the Bulldogs’ defense.

“They’re scoring so fast,” Spurrier said. “You score fast, your defense has to play a lot more than we do. Usually it takes us a while to get it down the field and score. So our defense is hopefully only out there 58-62 plays, something like that. I think Georgia’s been scoring so fast and there’s been so many turnovers made in their games that their defense is playing a lot more plays than a lot of others.”

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