UGA: The New South Carolina

A troubling label has affixed itself to Georgia football lately.  It is this:

The new South Carolina.

For a century and some change, South Carolina has specialized in serving up mediocre and sub-mediocre football in heaping abundance for its fans and all the rest of us who cared to watch.  They made a very nice living out of raising fans’ hopes and expectations all the way up to the sky only to send them crashing down to the ground with a resounding thud when toe met leather at the start of any given season.  They were second to none at choking when expected to perform well, losing when expected to win, inventing ways to give away games when opportunities to win were handed to them piled high on a silver platter.

In 1992, when South Carolina first joined the SEC, they manhandled Georgia for a half but lost 28-6.  In 1994 Steve Taneyhill, an unlikely hero for the Gamecocks who had engineered a huge win in Athens the year before, had a chance to lead his team on another game-winning drive but was intercepted by Corey Johnson deep in Georgia territory.  In 1995 South Carolina provided the stage for Robert Edwards’ coming-out party; they led 17-7 in the third quarter but couldn’t keep up and lost 42-23.

In more recent memory:  There was of course David Pollack’s famous sack-and-grab in the end zone that powered a 13-7 win for Georgia in 2002.  (A couple of South Carolina fumbles at the goal line also helped Georgia that year.)  In 2004 South Carolina led 16-0 but lost 20-16.  In 2008 South Carolina outplayed a hugely overrated Georgia team for most of the game but lost 14-7.  Even as recently as 2009 South Carolina had abundant opportunities to steal a win in Athens but wound up on the short end 41-37, because of a blocked extra point and a Brandon Boykin kickoff return for a touchdown.

That has been the story of the South Carolina game.  Even if you are having an off day and/or South Carolina is on fire, just hang in there and try to stay in the game.  Eventually they will make their mistakes and the game will be yours.  That is how Georgia did it for years.

The choke trademark of South Carolina did not just apply to single games; it also applied to entire seasons.  In 1997 South Carolina was coming off a promising year and tabbed by many as primed for a serious run at the SEC championship.  But a 31-15 loss in Athens (Georgia led 31-6 at the half before letting up on the accelerator) put the kabbash on that.  In the early 00’s Lou Holtz led South Carolina to some strong finishes but couldn’t lift them into championship contention.  In 2007 South Carolina had a very strong start (which included a then-rare win over Georgia) but fell apart at the end.  And even in 2010 when South Carolina actually did win the SEC East, they made it to postseason and showed the world they were not yet ready for prime time.

But in recent years South Carolina has abandoned that mantle.  Georgia has taken it and run with it as if it were a diamond ring stolen from Jared.

Last year against Mississippi State, Georgia could not overcome a deficit of ONE MEASLY POINT!!!!!!!!!  The score remained stuck at 7-6 forever until Mississippi State pulled away in the fourth quarter.  Against Colorado they had a chance to win but Caleb King fumbled near the goal line.  Against Florida they had a chance to win but Aaron Murray threw into a throng of Florida defenders in overtime.

All of these were exactly the sort of game that South Carolina used to lose.  And exactly the sort of game that Georgia used to win.

"Yeah, let's try that play again. The one where we let them score on a fake punt. That worked GREAT!!!!!!!!!"

This week…where do I begin?  There was that onside kick that worked perfectly until Bacarri Rambo was flagged for being just a hair offside.  The fake punt where Melvin Ingram punked the entire Georgia return team for a RIDONKULOUSLY easy score.  The fumble by Isaiah Crowell at midfield when Georgia was poised to go up 27-14.  And the fumble return by Ingram for the final deciding score.

All of these were the sort of plays that South Carolina used to make.  No matter how well South Carolina played in a key game like this, their fans could always count on their team making a play like this and blowing the whole game to hell.

The worst possible play at the worst possible time.  Used to be a signature of South Carolina football.  Now it is all Georgia’s.

Georgia:  The new South Carolina.

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