Spurrier, No. 6 South Carolina upended by rival Georgia
Steve Spurrier's offense found its rhythm in Athens. The Gamecocks' defense did not.
By ZACH DILLARDFS Carolinas
ATHENS, Ga. — When it was all over, Steve Spurrier walked purposefully into the northeast tunnel of Sanford Stadium — past an oversized flag, a crazed student section, a band playing "Glory, Glory" at a decibel level far past comfortable and a mascot dancing for all the wrong reasons — fresh off his first loss to Georgia since 2009. Spurrier's near-trudge was one of the uncommon sights on hand after No. 6 South Carolina's 41-30 loss to Georgia, the Head Ball Coach's career-long rival, on Saturday evening in Athens.
Three straight times coming into this blossoming South Carolina-Georgia rivalry, one that has yielded the SEC East division champ each of the past three seasons, Spurrier's Gamecocks had walked away with a victory.
For standout players like Jadeveon Clowney and Mike Davis and Nick Jones, losing to Georgia was as familiar as losing to Clemson.
But Saturday changed all of that as the Bulldogs came out firing on all cylinders — even recovering a surprise onside kick that brought up Richt-related shades of 2007 Georgia-Florida (another
first-quarter display of bravado that helped snap an ugly Georgia losing streak) — and now South Carolina faces the realities of suffering an early loss on a schedule that opens rather nicely from here on out. The latter is now officially walking in the former's well-worn shoes. And there are many, many miles still to march.
"It was a good tail-kicking and I have to give Georgia credit, They ran it right down our throat. Vince Dooley probably has a smile on his face with the way they played tonight," said Spurrier, who fell to 15-6 all-time against the Bulldogs. "I thought we could slow them down and when we did we gave up a big play. … It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today."
With a remaining schedule that avoids SEC West powers Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M and features just two teams presently ranked the rest of the way (Florida, Clemson), the Gamecocks' streak was snapped at the most inopportune of times. Did they cost themselves a shot at the SEC title? History says no. Georgia has walked out on the losing side of this rivalry the past two seasons and still wound up in Atlanta — thanks to back-to-back schedules mirroring South Carolina's 2013 version in terms of brutality — so the future could easily see the tides turn. And yes, one- and two-loss SEC teams have made BCS title runs in previous seasons, but never with such a lackluster schedule. In short, South Carolina missed its shot at a national statement, and it may not get many more.
Georgia knows the feeling.
"The team that loses this game is waiting for the other's bus to break down. We've been chasing them the last three years," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "This year, we get a chance to sit in the driver's seat. ... We haven't been 1-0 in the league in a while because South Carolina's been getting us. Today, we got them."
The 11-point loss came by curious design. Much to the chagrin of the raucous Sanford crowd of 92,746, the Gamecocks' offense delivered haymaker after haymaker, running up 454 yards on 61 plays. It found its star power in running back Mike Davis (198 total yards, one touchdown), the explosive heir to Marcus Lattimore's backfield throne, solid QB play in Connor Shaw (16-for-25, 228 yards, 2 TD) and its efficiency: averaging 7.4 yards per play and turning the ball over just once.
The problem, of course, was that Aaron Murray & Co., wouldn't allow the South Carolina offense to keep pace.
"We haven't had a turnover on defense in two games," Spurrier said. "Those three-and-out days, I'm hoping they come back before the season's over."
"They just pounded us up front. No excuses," All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said.
"We got our butt beat," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "Georgia was the better football team than us today. We'll go back and look at the video and I'm sure every position on defense can improve. I, myself, gotta improve as a coordinator."
Hand it to the Gamecocks: They are a brutally honest bunch.
Georgia's offense ran up 536 total yards and played, for the most part, a mistake-free 60 minutes.
Behind one of Murray's career-best efforts (17-of-23, 309 yards and four touchdowns) and the fast-spreading All-American campaign of sophomore back Todd Gurley — the young bulldozer scored on the ground and through the air to go along with 134 rushing yards — South Carolina looked, at times, helpless defensively. It simply couldn't get off the field.
A year removed from doing little to nothing right offensively in this game, Georgia controlled the point of attack from the outset. In his postgame media scrum, nearly three quarters of Murray's answers (rough estimate) concerned the play of his offensive line, and the reasoning was obvious: the Bulldogs took on "The Story" and became the story.
Headlined by Clowney, the All-Everything pass-rusher who garnered every inch of offseason hype imaginable, Spurrier's defense was tagged as a team strength heading into 2013. The Gamecocks entered the season coming off back-to-back campaigns ranked top-15 nationally in scoring defense. Clowney logged his sack, a trademark explosive first step inside to beat the lineman and subsequently drop Murray for a loss, but the Bulldogs' O-line walked away with bragging rights. The vast majority of the running plays to Gurley and fellow sophomore Keith Marshall went away from Clowney, who was hampered by an apparent ankle/foot injury.
The 6-foot-6 junior voiced a bit of frustration in that fact after the game, saying if the defense plans to make the necessary changes, he's more than ready to move around to throw off protection schemes.
"I set the edge most of the night. I set the edge. The ball went away from me on the backside, chasing, so you know, that's just how the game went," Clowney said. "I think I'm playing in the right spot … I just can't do it by myself, you gotta depend on other guys. And I depend on those other guys. When they're running their way, I just tell them to step up, bow up and be a man."
Added Ward: "We talked about (moving Clowney around) at halftime. We put J.D. (Jadeveon) into the boundary because that's where they were running the football. But, again, we got other players on this team besides J.D. that's gotta step up and play."
Either way, whether they stand him up, put him at left or right end or move him inside, South Carolina's deficiencies stretched far beyond their superstar's utilization on Saturday. Georgia won in every phase of the game, gashing the front seven with long gains on the ground and hitting a youthful secondary with home runs through the air. The Bulldogs hit on six plays of 20-plus yards.
If it wasn't the outright rout South Carolina enjoyed in Columbia (35-7), it was as convincing a top-10 win as the Bulldogs have posted in the Murray era.
The fact that it came at the expense of the red-and-black's most notable nemesis over the past two-plus decades, knocking the Head Ball Coach's team off the inside track to the SEC title game (perhaps the national title game), makes it all the more tough to deal with. Spurrier is the all-time winningest coach against Georgia — he's one win shy of breaking a tie with Auburn's Ralph "Shug" Jordan and setting the all-time mark at 16 — but the one that could have put his Gamecocks in a formidable national driver seat, the one he needed more than ever before in his time at South Carolina, was lost behind the onslaught of a senior quarterback, a motivated offensive line and a meteoric sophomore tailback tandem.
All of this was evident on Spurrier's face, as all things frustrating or painful always are, as he walked off Sanford Stadium's field and into the visitor's tunnel for the fifth time in his illustrious career.
The Head Ball Coach and his staff have some coaching to do if South Carolina is going to follow in its rivals' footsteps and bounce back from this sobering defeat. Time to get back to work.
"Sometimes when you lose one, you re-group. All the pressure's off," Spurrier said. "Guys go to class and everybody's not telling them how great they are now. And so hopefully these boys will start finding out what kind of team you got and who your ballplayers are."