UGA-SC rivalry becoming as important as ever

Heading into this weekend's pivotal showdown, there is little debate that the Georgia-South Carolina rivalry is as monumental as it's ever been.

For the first time in the 118-year history of the state border-clash, both teams will take the field ranked among the top half-dozen in the nation, with the Bulldogs coming in at No. 5 and the Gamecocks just behind at No. 6.

That's somewhat staggering, seeing that South Carolina has only recently moved to the forefront of Georgia opposition.

"Really whoever wins that game has the best chance of having momentum in the east," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "It's huge. It seems like South Carolina and Georgia have gotten stronger."

Offensive lineman Chris Burnette added, "You really want to take this win because you never know what's going to happen with the rest of [the SEC]. South Carolina has played at the top of the conference for the past couple of years and it shows how talented they are."

Since the birth of the Georgia football program in 1892, it's been largely understood that the top three Bulldog foes hail from Auburn, Florida and Georgia Tech in no particular order. But that's quickly changing. Steve Spurrier's arrival in Columbia seven years ago marked a proverbial turning of the page on the annual match- up, as it has arguably given Georgia more fits than any in recent years.

The Gamecocks, after all, have defeated the Bulldogs in back-to-back seasons. A win on Saturday would mark three in a row, which is something Georgia coach Mark Richt is quite aware of.

"We don't like to make history in a negative way and it would be the first time in the history of the school that's happened," he said. "We definitely don't want to be on that end of a historical event."

If recent play is any indication, the game will be close regardless of a Bulldog victory or defeat. Only once during Spurrier's tenure has the match been decided by more than 10 points and that was an 18-0 Bulldog shutout in 2006. Take away that game and the average margin of victory has been just less than five points (4.8).

Perhaps the wildest duel during that span came in Athens last fall. Both squads combined to score 87 points in a 45-42 shootout that yielded a South Carolina victory in the final moments.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the crushing loss "gave us a little spark offensively to start that run last year."

The "run" is a reference to the ten straight wins Georgia churned out after the loss, which was enough to secure the eastern division. It marked the first time in SEC history that the loser of the Georgia-South Carolina game went on to play for the conference title.

That being said, has this rivalry truly eclipsed the magnitude that the Gators and Tigers bring?

"It's spread out a lot more than it's used to, where it was mainly Florida," Robinson said. "For me, [South Carolina] has always been the biggest rivalry."

Turnovers could cost Bulldogs

Many factors will determine the outcome of Saturday night's showdown between Georgia and South Carolina, but one thing that will almost assuredly play a role is the turnover battle.

No. 5 Georgia nearly package-wrapped Tennessee with a win last Saturday by giving the Volunteers the ball inside Bulldog territory three times following turnovers, including a pick-six.

Additionally, Georgia's loss to South Carolina a year ago was decided by Gamecock takeaways, with the most pivotal being a fumble by quarterback Aaron Murray in the final moments of the game.

Bobo noted that Murray's confidence has soared since last year's match-up, noting that the redshirt junior recovered quickly after his pick-six on Saturday.

"There better not be [any worries]," Bobo said. "You're going to have turnovers; it's going to happen. You've just got to do your best to limit those things and correct them fundamentally."

But will turnovers judge the outcome of Saturday's game?

"They always do," Robinson said. "Whoever forces more turnovers has more opportunities to win. If it's an even game and you're playing back and forth, when you fumble the ball, that's extra field position for them. It really comes down to controlling the ball, field position and big plays."

Richt agrees with Robinson in the sense that "you lessen your chance of victory" when giving the opposition the ball. However, Richt believes that if the Bulldogs bounce back the way they did against the Vols, Georgia will be in good shape.

"I don't think it would sink our boat," he said. "Even the Tennessee game, we could've gotten stops without getting turnovers and still won the game while losing the turnover ratio."

Did Spurrier spur any bad blood?

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier stirred up some mild controversy this spring when he called out Georgia for consistently having players suspended during their annual match-up.

"I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended," he said to ESPN last March.

Spurrier was referencing the schedule change that shifted the Georgia-South Carolina game to the sixth week of the season opposed to the second, which it had been since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992.

Richt, who has an even 4-4 record against Spurrier, casually brushed off the comments during spring practice, saying, "How ‘bout that. I think that's funny. That sounds like Steve."

Robinson actually says that Spurrier had a point when making the claims, whether they were harsh or not.

"I'd say that he might be right, at least in recent history," Robinson said. "But I'm not going to fight fire with fire. It's nothing like ‘Old Man Football'. I don't have any signs to hold up this time."

Quick Hits

– Murray will look to earn his first victory against South Carolina this Saturday. The junior quarterback is 0-2 versus the Gamecocks.

– With two scoring passes on Saturday, Murray will surpass former Bulldog David Greene for most touchdowns in school history.

– ESPN College GameDay will conduct its weekly broadcast at 9 a.m. from Columbia, S.C. The last time the show was there was in 2010 and South Carolina upset Alabama to secure its first victory against a No. 1 ranked opponent.

– Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall – who were both heavily recruited by South Carolina – only need a combined eight yards on Saturday to collectively pass the 1,000-yard mark.

– Richt says that despite the injury to receiver Michael Bennett, the plans for Malcolm Mitchell have not changed. The sophomore will still see some defensive snaps this year, though most of his plays will be on offense from here on out.

– Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham confirmed that linebacker Amarlo Herrera will get the start at inside linebacker "because of the way he's played in the first few games." Herrera will move from his initial spot at outside linebacker after the return of Alec Ogletree.

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