Dawgs Try to Learn from '07 Upset

ATHENS – It's not a moment Mark Richt likes to think about. When he watches film from last year's 16-12 loss to South Carolina, it's hard not to regret the opportunities missed and wonder what might have been.

So while Richt would prefer to put the moment behind him, he knows it also serves as the perfect reminder that year's Georgia team can't afford to make those same mistakes again.

"They knocked us out of the SEC championship and maybe the national championship last year," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "We did big things last year, but it could have been even better if we'd beaten those guys."

That's the big picture, Richt said, but last year's game also serves as the perfect reminder of the importance of the small things.

With less than a minute remaining in the first half and South Carolina nursing a 10-3 lead, Georgia was forced to punt from its own 42.

The Gamecocks muffed the punt, however, and Georgia recovered deep in South Carlina territory with a chance to tie the score before the half ended.

Instead, the play was called back. Georgia had two men in motion on the punt, a flag was thrown, and in the blink of an eye the momentum had shifted back in South Carolina's favor. The Bulldogs never found the end zone in the second half.

There were other mistakes in the game, Richt said, but the ripple effects of that one penalty are still being felt in Georgia's locker room, and Richt doesn't want his team to ignore the obvious lesson.

"If we'd have won that game, maybe we play for the East," Richt said. "Maybe we win. If we win the SEC, the way things went last year, maybe we play for everything. So one little, bitty 5-yard penalty is a big deal."

Those little penalties – all 20 the Bulldogs have collected in their first two games – haven't bee too big a deal so far, but Richt knows that Georgia Southern and Central Michigan didn't represent the same challenge South Carolina does.

Today's game kicks off SEC play for Georgia, and the Gamecocks always manage to provide a big hurdle on the road to a division crown.

In the seven games the two teams have played since Richt took over at Georgia, five have been decided by six points or fewer. The teams have played nearly 100 minutes of football since Georgia last found the end zone, and the Bulldogs haven't topped 20 points in a game against South Carolina since 2003.

The task won't get much easier this time against a fierce Gamecocks defense. South Carolina returns 10 starters from the unit that held Georgia to four field goals a year ago.

"They're a physical team, they've got great size and speed all over the field, and a good scheme that fits their talent really well," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who completed just 19-of-44 passes in last year's defeat.

Key to the Bulldogs' offense will be establishing the running game early. Last year, tailback Knowshon Moreno got just 14 carries, but made the most of them by tallying 104 yards rushing.

This time, Richt promises Moreno will see between 18 and 25 carries as part of a more balanced offensive attack, but Moreno said finding yards on the ground won't come easily.

"Their defensive line is very good, to the linebackers to the corners and the safeties, at every level they have some great players who run around to the football and make big hits and big plays," Moreno said.

While the Gamecocks figure to have as stout a defense as they did a year ago, their offensive attack has some big questions marks.

Leading receiver Kenny McKinley will miss the game with a strained right hamstring, and the Gamecocks spent the entire week of practice dividing first-team snaps among three quarterbacks.

The starter in the Gamecocks' first game, Tommy Beecher, threw four picks and failed to ignite the offense before being pulled in favor of Chris Smelley. Smelley led South Carolina to a big second half in its opener against North Carolina State, but struggled in a loss to Vanderbilt a week ago, throwing two interceptions.

"They haven't done anything yet," Georgia cornerback Asher Allen said of South Carolina's offense, "but you don't want to be the person they do something against."

Redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia could also see time in the game.

Further concern for Georgia is the frenzied atmosphere at South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium. This will be the Bulldogs' first road test of the season, and Richt had the team practicing under artificial crowd noise during Thursday's walkthrough to prepare his team for what he expects to be a raucous environment.

"We know they're extremely loud, they always have been," Richt said. "When that stadium gets rocking, I think you can actually see the thing sway. I've been in there enough times to know it'll be swaying."

All the preparation in the world, however, can't replace the lesson learned in last year's defeat, linebacker Darryl Gamble said.

The memories still sting, but they also provide Georgia with a necessary edge this time around.

"It helps us," Gamble said, "to remember how we felt after that game."

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