History says Georgia will struggle at South Carolina

Athens, Ga.—No. 3 Georgia, the runner-up for college football’s national championship last season, is 10-point favorite to win Saturday’s huge SEC game at South Carolina (3:30 p.m., CBS).

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So if you believe the boys in Vegas, it will be a relatively easy afternoon for the Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium. History, however, tells a much different story.

There is a long tradition of Georgia going to South Carolina with what appears to be a significantly better team only to lose or have to fight like crazy to get out of town with a victory.

Ask Vince Dooley, Georgia’s Hall of Fame coach.

Almost 50 years ago--Oct. 5, 1968 to be exact--Dooley took his undefeated team to Columbia. That team would go on to win the SEC Championship and would be named national champions by the Litkenhous Poll. That South Carolina team—coached by Paul Dietzel—would eventually finish 4-6. On paper it was a mismatch.

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But on that day the Bulldogs threw five interceptions in the first half and trailed 20-7 at the intermission. Georgia rallied in the second half and escaped with a 21-20 victory.

“Brutal. Just brutal,” said Mike Cavan, the quarterback of that team. “We were lucky to get out of there alive.”

Dooley won six SEC championships in his 25 years as head coach (1964-88) and the 1968 team--which included Hall of Famers Bill Stanfill and Jake Scott plus a pretty good defensive end named Billy Payne--is considered to be one of his best. But it didn’t look like it that day in Columbia.

In fact, Dooley’s first SEC championship team in 1966 went 10-1, the only loss coming 7-6 to Miami. But the Bulldogs barely survived a trip to South Carolina, winning 7-0. That South Carolina team went 1-9.

“After Clemson, we were South Carolina’s biggest rival,” said Dooley, who celebrated his 86th birthday on Tuesday. “And we would always play them early and they were excited to see us—especially up there.”

Georgia has a huge lead (50-18-2) in the overall series with South Carolina. But going to Columbia, even with a demonstrably the better team, has been problematic for the Bulldogs, especially in recent history.

In its last nine trips to South Carolina, Georgia has a record of 5-4. In its last four trips to Williams-Brice Stadium, Georgia is 1-3, and the lone win (28-14 on 2016) had to be played on a Sunday because of Hurricane Matthew. No player on the current Georgia roster played in the 2014 game, which was the last time the Bulldogs saw Williams-Brice at full force.

Here are some other examples of Georgia going to South Carolina with the better team and struggling:

1959: Led by quarterback future Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, Georgia went 10-1 and won the SEC Championship. The only game Georgia lost that season was 30-14 at South Carolina, a 6-4 team.

“They just beat the hell out of us and no one could explain why,” Tarkenton told me several years ago. “It was a wake-up call for that team and we played well the rest of the year.

GEORGIA'S LAST T NINE TRIPS TO SOUTH CAROLINA

Year…………………………………………..Result

2000………………………………….………..L, 21-10

2002……………………………………………W, 13-7

2004……………………………………………W, 20-14

2006…………………………………………….W, 18-0

2008…………………………………………….W 14-7

2010…………………………………………..…L, 17-6

2012……………………………………………..L, 35-7

2014……………………………………..………L, 38-35

2016…………………………………………….W, 28-14

2002: Georgia went 13-1, won the SEC championship, and finished No. 3 in the final polls. But the Bulldogs struggled on the road against a South Carolina team, coached by Lou Holtz, that would eventually finish 5-7. Georgia won 13-7, its only touchdown coming when All-American David Pollack stripped the ball from South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins in the end zone. South Carolina had a chance to steal the game at the end, inside the Georgia five-yard line only to fumble it away with only 15 seconds left.

2004: Georgia was ranked No. 3 and was favored to win at South Carolina. But the Bulldogs had to rally from a 16-0 deficit to win 20-16. Georgia finished 10-2 and the Gamecocks finished 6-5.

“It just seemed like every time we went up there it was a slug fest because they were always pretty good on defense,” said David Greene, who was the quarterback on both the 2002 and 2004 Georgia teams. “That crowd gets jacked up and it’s always hotter than Hades up there. We found a way to win both years we went up there but it’s just tough.”

2012: Mark Richt fielded what many believe was his best team in 15 seasons at Georgia. But on Oct. 7 the 5-0 Bulldogs, ranked No. 5, just got destroyed at South Carolina, 35-7. Georgia went on to win the rest of its regular-season games and met Alabama in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs drove to the Alabama five-yard line with seconds left but could not score and lost 32-28. Had Georgia won that game the Bulldogs would have advanced to the BCS championship game, where they would have likely beaten Notre Dame for the national title.

2014: Georgia was 1-0 and ranked No. 6 when it went to South Carolina, which was given little chance to win after getting destroyed by Texas A&M 52-28 the week before. Georgia had a chance to tie the game with a chip shot field goal (28 yards) with 4:24 left. But the kick sailed wide right and South Carolina hung on to win 38-35. That Georgia team finished 10-3. South Carolina, coached by Steve Spurrier, went 7-6.

And so it goes.

“It’s a challenge and it’s going to be something different for our guys,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who went to South Carolina twice (lost in 1996, won in 1998) as a player and several times as an assistant coach, including a 35-21 loss to the Gamecocks in 2010 when Alabama was ranked No. 1. “The place really rocks when they are playing well. And since Will (Muschamp) got there they are playing well.”

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