SCOTT: Gamecocks post ugly, but great win

Just a week before, Steve Spurrier was calling his South Carolina Gamecocks "just a bunch of average stiffs" who didn't "need to think we're any good" after opening the season with a 28-14 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

One week later, he was describing his team's performance against Georgia as "ugly," but Spurrier wasn't about to complain about opening the Gamecocks' SEC season with a 16-12 win over the 11th-ranked Bulldogs.

 

The Gamecocks made ugly beautiful, winning in a manner that hardly supposed Spurrier's reputation as an offensive genius but spoke volumes for his overall ability to coach to his team's strengths.

 

"First one like that we've won since I've been here, where the defense pretty much won the game for us," Spurrier said. "We came here thinking we matched up with Georgia pretty good. We thought we could play defense like we played tonight. Last week we didn't do it very well.

 

"But this was not a shock to us to win this game. All you people that watch point spreads, you know it wasn't any big spread. If you listen to (ESPN analyst Lee) Corso and them guys, you might think it was supposed to be a lopsided game. But this was two even teams."

 

The difference between the two even teams came in the factors that used to win games before Spurrier took over as Florida's head coach in 1990 and transformed a conference built on running, defense, and special teams into a conference willing and able to unleash its playmaking passers and receivers.

 

South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell completed 20 of 31 passes for 174 safe-but-smart yards. He didn't throw for any touchdowns, but he didn't throw any interceptions, either.

 

Tailback Cory Boyd ran for 5.4 yards per carry, and backup Mike Davis added 6.2 yards per carry. More important, when the game was on the line and the Gamecocks needed to get physical, they were able to run over Georgia's front seven and kill chunks of time off the clock.

 

The defense also did its job, harassing quarterback Matthew Stafford throughout the game, sacking him three times and holding him to just 19 completions on 44 attempts.

 

The Gamecocks only forced one turnover, but it was a big one with linebacker Jasper Brinkley intercepting Stafford's pass at the South Carolina 15-yard line with 6 seconds left.

 

Kicker Ryan Succop kicked three field goals from 41, 35 and 34 yards. Add it all together with the fact that the game was played between the hedges at Georgia's Sanford Stadium and it was so ugly it was beautiful for the Gamecocks.

 

"This win is a step forward for this program," Spurrier said. "I'm proud of our guys. We hung in there. We didn't play very well offensively at times. The defense stepped up and won the game. I think it was a good, solid, ugly win. I haven't had too many of those in my career."

 

Considering what the win represents, this could be the biggest win in Spurrier's three seasons at South Carolina.

 

His wins over Tennessee and Florida in 2005 gave the Gamecocks much-needed credibility and momentum, but the Vols and Gators were both down that season.

Last year's win over Clemson helped the Gamecocks finish the season with three consecutive wins, but it didn't get the program any closer to winning an SEC East Division title.

 

On the other hand, the win over Georgia is a big step in the right direction for the Gamecocks. They've got a long way to go, but it puts them on the right track toward seriously contending in the East.

 

We'll all know a lot more about Tennessee and Florida when they play on Saturday, but both the Vols and Gators have plenty of questions to answer at this point.

 

The same is true of the Gamecocks, who have to do a better job in the passing game and cut back on penalties and mistakes, but their opportunity to win the East has never been better following the win at Georgia.

 

As Mitchell said, "it showed us we can win the big ones."

 

There will be bigger ones to come, starting with a game at LSU on Sept. 22.  But in the meantime, as Spurrier said, "we are 1-0 in the SEC."

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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