Spurrier and Richt get defensive
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- When offensive gurus Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt have squared off recently, it has been the defenses that have shined for South Carolina and Georgia.
In the past three games between the teams, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs each have just two touchdowns. And don't expect anything different Saturday. Both coaches are trying to jump start offenses that struggled during the opener without changing things too radically.
The offenses for No. 21 Georgia and South Carolina struggled in their openers, combining for 17 points. The Gamecocks (1-0) gained just 256 yards in a 7-3 win over North Carolina State, while the Bulldogs (0-1) had just one more yard in a 24-10 loss to fifth-ranked Oklahoma State.
"As I look at this game I'm seeing two defenses that played pretty darn good and two offenses that are trying to find their way," said Richt, whose assessment of this weekend's game could sum up the series since Spurrier started coaching the Gamecocks in 2005.
Georgia's 18-0 win in 2006 is the only shutout of Spurrier since he arrived at South Carolina (the only other came at Duke in 1987). The 2007 Gamecocks are the only squad to keep a Richt-coached Bulldogs team out of the end zone.
"The last couple of years, it's turned into a big rivalry. It's just a physically fought game, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Georgia safety Bryan Evans said.
The game has been decided by a touchdown or less six of the eight times Richt has been on the sidelines. It has often been a costly mistake that turned the tide.
Last season, Gamecocks quarterback Chris Smelley threw an interception inside the Georgia 10 with 13 seconds left in a 14-7 South Carolina loss. In 2002, Bulldogs defensive end David Pollack batted down and intercepted a pass in the end zone, while South Carolina running back Andrew Pinnock fumbled twice inside the Georgia 5, including on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard-line with 12 seconds left.
"As we know, it's a team that we have always had great battles with and very, very close games. We have won six of the last eight and just about every time we play, the score is within a touchdown," Richt said. "Rarely has anybody scored more than 20 points on either side. The way it's shaping up, it looks like another one of those, quite frankly."
Spurrier pointed out Tuesday the most either team has scored since he arrived is 18 points. But he is at a loss to explain why beyond suggestions that the teams traditionally open the Southeastern Conference season with each other and tend to play closer to the vest when the game appears to be going down to the wire.
"You sort of get conservative if you don't have confidence your guys can really take care of the ball when you're in a close game like that," Spurrier said. "But at some point, we've got to let our guys go play."
It wasn't always like this for Spurrier.
His Florida teams averaged 36 points a game against the Bulldogs, going 11-1 as a coach against the team who beat him in his senior year with the Gators, denying the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback what would have been the school's first SEC title.
But with the Gamecocks he's gone 1-3 against Georgia, his team scoring less than 10 points a game and tallying just three offensive touchdowns in four contests. In 1995, Spurrier's Gators threw seven touchdowns in a 52-17 win over the Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium, which remains the most points an opponent has scored between the hedges.
"There's a fine line there between playing wide open and smart," Spurrier said. "Whatever it takes to win the game is obviously what we ought to try to do."
Spurrier promises his team won't play as conservative this weekend. He even threw passes to his receivers at practice Saturday as he tried to find the balance between nurturing a running game that finished last in the SEC in 2008 and barely cracked 100 yards in the season opener and finding the right time to throw the ball down the field with a team that led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 27 interceptions thrown in 2008.
"We know we need to put points on the board to win games," freshman wide receiver Tori Gurley said. "Coach wouldn't mind if we win 2-0, but with him being an offensive genius, he wants us to put points on the board."