Georgia aims to throw ‘Sandstorm’ in South Carolina’s eyes

semerson@macon.comOctober 5, 2012 

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- As the Georgia football team practiced this week, those walking by on campus could hear the strains of a techno song, one that originated in Finland more than a decade ago but has become popularized elsewhere: South Carolina football games.

That’s why the pulsating song, called “Sandstorm,” was being piped in at Georgia practices.

”I think it’s pretty cool,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, smiling. “I hope it gets our guys excited. Obviously it’s an advantage, but anytime it’s an electric atmosphere that you’re playing in, it gets your juices flowing, too.”

An electric atmosphere might be an understatement for what amounts to the most important and anticipated regular-season game that either program has had in years.

Both teams are undefeated. The Bulldogs are fifth in the national rankings, and the Gamecocks are one spot behind.

It’s the first time both teams have even been ranked in the top 20 when they’ve met.

ESPN’s popular “GameDay” show is originating from Columbia, which will only help national ratings for the 7 p.m. kickoff.

Add in that Georgia has lost to its border rival twice in a row, having never lost to the Gamecocks three times in a row, and you have much more than the SEC East riding on it.

“This is definitely the biggest game of my career,” senior defensive end Abry Jones said. “There’s a lot riding on this game. I came in to Georgia with a lot of aspirations. Before I got here they started off No. 1 in the country, and it kind of ended up back. We’ve had our ups and downs, and now we’re back. We’re top five in the country. I see we’re kind of knocking on the doorstop, if we can win these couple big games. And I don’t wanna see it slip out of our hands.”

There are several matchup keys for the Bulldogs:

• Stopping tailback Marcus Lattimore, who has more than 350 combined rushing yards against Georgia the past two years.

• Keeping South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw from making plays with his feet.

• Maintaining the level of explosiveness on offense, led by quarterback Aaron Murray and the freshman tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

But there is also a mental test for Georgia, and it’s not just weathering “Sandstorm.”

Three weeks ago, the Bulldogs passed the test on intangibles at Missouri, rallying from a second-half deficit in a hostile environment. But in all fairness to Missouri, there will be 20,000 more fans at Williams-Brice, and the Gamecocks have a better team.

“This team is poised,” Georgia senior receiver Tavarres King insisted.

“We don’t get too worried about things. We don’t get too worried about things when things are going bad. And when things are going good, we cash it in, you know? We just keep it going.

“And I think that shows that we’re a very mature football team, and I think that’s the difference between this team and years past. We’re extremely poised, and we don’t get too high when things are going good and we don’t get too low when they’re going bad.”

Junior quarterback Aaron Murray is the Bulldogs player who will most be in the glare. Murray has yet to lead Georgia to a win over a top-10 team, a fact that might be the final blot on an otherwise sterling résumé.

Last year, Murray and the Bulldogs had leads against several teams, including South Carolina, but were undone by turnovers.

Murray’s fumble near the end was key to a 45-42 loss to the Gamecocks.

“It’s a completely different team from last year,” Murray said. “And I think we’re a lot better, and I think we’re ready to go.”

Murray and other teammates admitted that this game has been “circled” for some time. Senior linebacker Christian Robinson echoed Jones’ line that this was the biggest game he has ever played in.

But then there is Marshall, a freshman who grew up in North Carolina, who doesn’t have a sense for the past two years or the need to finish his career on a high note.

“One thing the coaches always try to say is ignore the hype,” Marshall said. “When everything’s going good you just wanna stay focused, and the same thing when everything’s going bad: Just stay focused on the task at hand.”

Georgia has its bye week next week, meaning this: If it wins Saturday, it can spend a week in glow, readying for a serious national championship run. But if it loses, those hopes are all but gone, and it has to get some help to just win the SEC East, which is its secondary goal this season.

So when Georgia senior Sanders Commings was asked about the magnitude of this game, the cornerback dispensed with talk of the hype. He just talked about what it means for the team’s primary goal of reaching the BCS title game in Miami.

“I know ‘GameDay’ is gonna be there. Two top-10 teams in the nation. I think that’s more for the fans, all the hype,” Commings said. “For us, it’s just the next game on the schedule. And it’s the next step to get to Miami, to the SEC championship. That’s all it is for us.”

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