Spurrier, No. 6 South Carolina upended by rival Georgia

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 foreign 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
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, though, 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
havent 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. They found their power in running back
Mike Davis (198 total yards, one touchdown), the explosive heir
apparent to Marcus Lattimore, solid QB play in Connor Shaw (16-for-25,
228 yards, 2 TD) and their efficiency by averaging 7.4 yards per play
and turning the ball over just once.

The problem, of course, was that Aaron Murray & Co., wouldn’t let the South Carolina offense on the field.

“We
haven’t had a turnover on defense in two games,” Spurrier said. “We are
struggling a little bit on defense … 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 ran up 536 total yards and committed zero turnovers.

Behind
one of Murray’s career-best efforts (17-of-23, 309 yards and four
touchdowns) and the slowly building 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 on defense. They 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 bigger 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 walked away with
bragging rights. The vast majority of the running plays to Gurley and
Keith Marshall went away from Clowney, who was hampered by an apparent
ankle 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.

 
Video: Highlights: (6) South Carolina vs (11)
Georgia

“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.

If it wasn’t
the outright rout South Carolina enjoyed in Columbia, 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, 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 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, his motivated offensive
line and their sophomore running back tandem.

All of this was
evident on Spurrier’s face as he walked off Sanford Stadium’s field for
the fifth time in his illustrious career, as all things frustrating or
painful always are.

The Head Ball Coach and his staff have some
coaching to do if South Carolina is going to follow their rivals’ lead
and bounce back from this sobering loss. 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.”