Notebook: Gamecocks try to reverse heartbreak

With less than 1:30 remaining in the 2001 South Carolina - Georgia game, the Gamecocks faced a 3rd-and-10 from the Bulldog 17-yard-line trailing 9-7. With everybody in the stadium expecting a run play to set up a go-ahead field goal attempt, it was Phil Petty throwing a pass that wide receiver Brian Scott stole from cornerback Bruce Thornton to give the Gamecocks a 14-9 victory in Athens.

Bulldog fans, who just minutes before were celebrating a field goal that gave the Dawgs the 9-7 lead, sat in heart-broken silence. Many Gamecock fans left Sanford Stadium that night thinking that the Gamecocks had finally surpassed their SEC East rival. After all, in the 2000 game the Gamecock defense forced then-Heisman hopeful Quincy Carter to throw five interceptions as Carolina thumped #10 Georgia 21-10.

Nine years later it's the Gamecock fans that have felt the heartbreak as the Dawgs have regained series dominance and enter Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday afternoon having won seven of the last eight games.

"Rehashing those games doesn't do any good," Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said in his weekly press conference. "But we've not been successful – we know that. So, we're not going to dwell on that this week."

Rehashing those games certainly doesn't do much good for the Gamecocks, but it's hard to ignore the developing trend in the 2000s.

In the 2002 match-up, it was one of the wildest college football plays you will ever see that doomed the Gamecocks. With Carolina down 3-0 early in the 4th quarter, the Gamecocks faced a 2nd-and-7 from their own 6-yard-line. Quarterback Corey Jenkins rolled to the right where he met Georgia defensive end David Pollack. As Jenkins was throwing, Pollack hit his arm and somehow had the ball fall right into his arms as he fell to the ground in the end zone and Georgia led 10-0.

The Gamecocks still had a chance to win the game late. Trailing 13-7, Carolina faced a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard-line, Jenkins ran the option with bruising running back Andrew Pinnock. Pinnock appeared to have an open lane to the end zone, but couldn't handle the pitch. Georgia's Thomas Davis recovered the fumbled to seal the victory for the #9 Dawgs and end Carolina's 2-game winning streak in the series.

After a 31-7 thumping in the 2003 game in Athens, the 2004 meeting was another nail-biter. The Gamecocks, donning all black uniforms, had dominated the No. 3 Bulldogs for most of the game. After a Gamecock safety, quarterback Dondrial Pinkins found receiver Troy Williamson on a slant. Williamson broke two tackles and took it 65 yards to give the Gamecocks a 9-0 lead. On the following Bulldog series Ko Simpson would pick off a David Greene pass and take it 57 yards for a score and give the Gamecocks a seemingly commanding 16-0 lead.

Georgia stormed right back and took the lead, 20-16, early in the 4th quarter. Facing a 4th-and-1 from the Dawg 7-yard-line in the final minutes, Pinkins rolled right on a naked bootleg and set up a one-on-one meeting with Georgia defensive back Demario Minter. Instead of using the field to elude Minter, Pinkins tried to run through him. Minter was up for the challenge and stopped Pinkins short of the first down to give the Dawgs the win.

South Carolina had new hope as Spurrier entered into the border-rivalry in 2005. However, the final result was still the same. After a Johnathon Joseph pick-6, Josh Brown missed the extra point. That would prove costly for the Gamecocks. After a Sidney Rice touchdown late in the 4th quarter, Carolina trailed 17-15. Because of that missed extra point the Gamecocks were forced to go for the two point conversion, which failed.

The Gamecocks still had a chance to win. On the following Georgia possession, the Gamecock defense forced the Dawgs inside their 10-yard line where they faced a 3rd-and-22. With the Gamecocks playing a weak prevent defense, Georgia quarterback DJ Shockley found an open Bryan McClendon for a 27-yard gain to move the chains. The Gamecocks would get the ball back with just over a minute left, but could not get anything going as the No. 9 Dawgs held on for the win.

After a pitiful performance in an 18-0 loss in 2006, the Gamecocks finally found the win column in 2007. The Gamecocks used an early Cory Boyd touchdown, three Ryan Succop field goals, and a defense that kept the #11 Bulldogs out of the end zone all night to win 16-12.

Georgia had opportunities to get the ball in the end zone, but good defense and a few lucky breaks forced the Dawgs to settle for four Brandon Coutu field goals. An interception by Jasper Brinkley sealed the victory as Bulldog fans blamed the Gamecocks for keeping the Dawgs out of the national championship game that season.

In the 2008 game, the No. 2 Dawgs survived a scrappy Gamecock team in a 14-7 victory. Again, the Gamecocks had two opportunities to possibly win the game. Early in the 4th quarter, Carolina's Mike Davis attempted to leap over the pile and stretch toward the end zone. Georgia's Rennie Curran knocked the ball away and Georgia recovered for a touchback. The Gamecocks again had a chance to tie it on the final drive of the game, but Chris Smelley was intercepted by Reshad Jones inside the Bulldog 10-yard-line to seal the game.

Last season was the exception to the rule in this series that has always been dominated by defense. The result was still the same: a Bulldog win and stunned Gamecock fanbase. Another blocked extra point following an Eric Norwood touchdown, a 100-yard kickoff return for Georgia, and several costly special team miscues doomed the Gamecocks.

"The one thing that concerns us this week is our special teams play," Spurrier said. "As you guys might have known, Georgia basically won their bowl game against Texas A&M with a whole bunch of returns. And they actually were one of the teams that got one on us last year, so we've got to cover kicks, punts, kickoffs – our special teams play has got to be, got to be very good this week. We need to make sure that it's pretty good."

Still, like practically every year, the Gamecocks had the ball inside the Georgia 10-yard-line with a chance to win the game. Once again, Rennie Curran came up big for the Dawgs. Curran got a hand on a Stephen Garcia 4th down pass to give Georgia a 41-37 win.

The Gamecocks will get a chance in 2010 to right the ship and beat the Bulldogs. Spurrier knows his team can play with the Dawgs, but beating them will take a little more.

"If we play well and play our best, we know we can play with Georgia," Spurrier said. "That's all we know is we can play with them. But certainly to beat them we've got to play better. We can't have touchdowns called back. We can't hopefully have those mistakes that have cost us in prior games. So, we're going to just try to play the game. Play the game and concentrate on what we need to do, and hopefully that'll give us the best chance to compete at the highest level - the best chance to win the game. We've just got to go play. The prior games have no bearing on this one. The team that wins it, the team that prepared the best through the week, and played the best on game day – got to go make plays. So, we're going to try to make more plays than Georgia here Saturday."

LeCorn to Defense

As was reported yesterday, Dion LeCorn has moved to defense. Due to his pre-season injuries that forced him down the depth chart at receiver, LeCorn approached the coaches to play defense.

The coaches will allow him to do so.

"Dion was third or fourth at wide receiver," Spurrier said. "Some of those young guys have come on very well – Ace Sanders and so forth. And he actually made the suggestion he wanted to try to play and help the team. So, Coach Beamer has got him over there at the SPUR position, and hopefully he will really be committed to learning our defense and helping us play over there. We're a little thin at that position."

Carolina's New 'Ace'

One of Thursday night's eye-opening performances was freshman wide-out Ace Sanders. Sanders had a 53-yard run on a reverse to set up a Gamecock touchdown and also had 2 catches for 47 yards. Spurrier said the Gamecocks need to get the ball in his hands more often.

"Ace is a good player," Spurrier said. "He's our back-up holder. He can run punts back or kickoffs if we ask him to do that. So, we're trying to find ways to get him on the field more. And we need to utilize his talents a little bit more than we did the last game."

Garcia Using His Head a Little Too much

Spurrier has always been critical of quarterback Stephen Garcia, especially some of his decisions on the field. Spurrier has always told him to use his head. Apparently Garcia took that to heart. In both of his touchdown runs, Garcia chose to lower his head and plow into defenders. Spurrier loves the toughness, but doesn't want his starting quarterback injured.

"Well we tell him not to lead with his head, and I wish he would sort of duck a little bit and not lead with his head," Spurrier said. "But he's trying to get his shoulders more into it. Obviously he needs to run occasionally – not a lot – but if you're going to run the spread type offense, your quarterback's got to keep it every now and then. We encourage him to run every now and then, but we encourage him to try to find a little hole in there and to fall forward. In fact on his second touchdown the other night, we said, ‘Stephen, it was first down, all you need to do is get it back to the one yard line,' and he actually reached it across the goal line to score. They could have knocked it out of his hands – that wouldn't have been very smart on first down. Anyway, we're telling him to protect himself a little bit better as he runs."

The 12th Man

Any team that wants to take the next step in college football has to develop a dominance in their home stadium. The Gamecocks have done just that recently, going 6-1 at home last season and have won nine of ten in Williams-Brice. Spurrier says a lot of that credit goes to the 80,000+ fans that pack the stadium every home game.

"We have played better at home," Spurrier said. "I think our fans have been instrumental, they really have. Last week it was extremely loud for three quarters anyway. Our fans have been super and our players enjoy playing here. We're feeling more confident here. It's just a feeling. You've got to have a feeling that good things are going to happen for you if you play all out, play smart. We've played a little bit smarter. The one we lost here ('09 Florida) we didn't play real smart. We had one crucial play that took us out of the ball game but that's history, can't do anything about it except learn from it and we'll try to not let it happen the next time. I think we've played well the 12 o'clock games also, here especially. It seems like in the bright sunshine here we've had pretty good success over the years also. Hopefully all that will add up for the Gamecocks."

QB Shuffle Expect the Gamecocks to use up to three quarterbacks Saturday afternoon against the Dawgs.

Garcia will get the start, but expect to see freshman Connor Shaw and even some "Wild Cock" with Stephon Gilmore.

"Yeah we'll use Gilmore a little bit," Spurrier said. "And Connor, yeah he may be in there first half of the game. I don't know. Connor, he may lead the nation in passing efficiency rankings. He was at 80 percent, one touchdown, I don't know how many yards and so forth but he played pretty well in there."

One Game Does Not a Season Make

Many Gamecock and Bulldog fans have said that this game usually determines who will have the better season. While that's not always the case it is an important game. It's important to play well in your SEC opener, especially in a divisional game.

Spurrier says he hasn't put too much emphasis on this game and the loser will not be out of the SEC East race.

"No, we haven't talked about a (SEC East) race," Spurrier said. "We're just talking about playing our best against Georgia. We know the winner is in better shape than the loser. The year we won it (2007) we lost five or six in a row, something like that. The last five I guess. It's the first of hopefully a lot of big games. The more you win the bigger they get. We're believing we've got a pretty good team but we don't know what kind of team we got yet. I don't think Georgia knows yet but we're all early in our season and we're just thinking one game at a time and I'm sure they are too. We all realize whoever wins is in better shape than the other one."

Status of Culliver and King

Chris Culliver and Jarriel King both missed the Southern Miss game due to separate NCAA issues. The status of the two - along with Georgia receiver A.J. Green - is still not known.

"You'll have to ask someone else about all that," Spurrier said. "I'm not sure. They haven't been cleared, nothing's been cleared yet but to answer your question, no."

Injury Updates

Shaq Wilson and Antonio Allen missed the Southern Miss game due to hamstring injuries and D.J. Swearinger left during the 2nd quarter with a mild concussion. Spurrier says Swearinger and Allen should both be back this week.

"D.J. should be ready to play," Spurrier said. "His concussion was not all that severe although it held him out of practice until I think today's his first practice. Antonio, hopefully he can run around some today and tomorrow. He hasn't done anything in about a week now. We'd like to get him back. He's on about all the special teams and had an excellent preseason until he slightly pulled his hamstring last week. So he's still wait-and-see."

However, the news on Wilson is not good.

"Shaq had a severe pull," Spurrier said. "He's been out a little over a month now. I don't think he's been redshirted. We've even tossed that around. He may not get back this year. He pulled it badly."

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