What a difference a year makes.
Or eight quarters.
It took a year — two full games — for Georgia to completely turn the tables on South Carolina. But by the end of Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs were every bit as dominant as the Gamecocks were in the first quarter a year ago.
You remember last year’s encounter, won by Carolina, 35-7. You may have forgotten the frightful first ten minutes. Georgia had run six offensive plays and trailed, 14-0. Carolina had reeled off 16 plays, gained 145 yards, scored two touchdowns, and held the ball for over seven minutes.
Then Ace Sanders returned a punt 70 yards, meandering through the entire Georgia punt team, for the coup-de-grace touchdown which made it 21-zip. “They built a whole lot of momentum, and it’s hard when a team like that is rolling,” said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray at the time.
That’s the same Murray who turned in the worst performance of his college career. A performance so putrid that Carolina’s former Heisman candidate Jadeveon Clowney assured all who would listen at SEC Media Days that Murray was scared of him.
Now fast-forward to the final ten minutes of this year’s contest. Carolina trailed Georgia, 41-30, but was driving deep into Georgia territory.
Georgia’s two-score margin had just been provided by the formerly maligned Murray. Spinning away from the futile clutch of Clowney, Murray rolled to the left. Looking downfield, he found a receiver open along the sideline.
Not any receiver, but Justin Scott-Wesley, a four-time state sprint champion. The fastest Bulldog in the house. Proving that there’s no substitute for speed, Scott-Wesley hauled in the pass and then hauled down the sideline, turning a third-and-13 into an 85-yard touchdown; a 34-30 nail biter into a more comfortable margin.
It was Murray’s penultimate pass of the day. He’d finish 17 of 23 for 309 yards, with four touchdowns and not a single turnover. No, Aaron Murray didn’t play scared on this day.
But he could only watch as his counterpart, Connor Shaw, drove Carolina down the field. All the way down the field, to Georgia’s one-yard-line.
From there, on fourth down, the Ol’ Ball Coach called the same play that Mike Davis had scored on five minutes earlier. This time, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson read the option and stuffed Davis for a one-yard loss.
But that was only half the battle. Georgia now had to move the ball away from its own goal line. The Dawgs would need to demonstrate toughness, grit, and cool determination; all qualities lacking during the opening ten minutes a year ago.
Eight minutes remained when Georgia’s offense took the field. 0:00 remained when they left.
Todd Gurley pounded for a yard. Then, out of the same formation, fullback Quayvon Hicks slipped into the flat, caught Murray’s soft toss, and barreled for 23 yards. From there, the Bulldogs would run the ball 11 times in a row for 57 yards, icing the game. Gurley carried five times, Hicks twice. And here came Brendan Douglas off the bench, carrying five times for 31 yards.
Georgia was on such a roll that they deployed a true freshman. A year ago, Douglas was playing class A ball at Aquinas High School in Augusta. Now, he pounded along as Georgia’s line plowed over every Gamecock in sight. The same Georgia line that couldn’t block anything wearing garnet a year ago.
Even the Ol’ Ball Coach was impressed. “It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today,” lamented coach Steve Spurrier after the game. “They kicked our tails up and down the field. We couldn’t stop them, and they made a bunch of third down conversions.
“We just couldn’t get them off the field. It was as simple as that.”
That’s Steve Spurrier talking. The man who has hated all things Georgia since the Bulldogs tarnished his 1966 Heisman Trophy season and kept his Gators from winning their first SEC title. The man who relishes beating Georgia like no one else.
Coming from him, grudging respect is high praise indeed.
Even Clowney changed his tune. After the game, he allowed, “Aaron played a pretty good game today.”
Didn’t they all. Especially over those last ten minutes.