The Last Word
By Randall Stewart
Guys, it doesn’t get much better than this. This is what college football is all about, and the stage is set for South Carolina to put themselves in line for an SEC East title and a BCS bowl berth. Georgia’s no slouch, we all know that. But you couldn’t ask for a better setup for the Gamecocks. ESPN College GameDay is in town, the game is at night, and best of all, we get to play the biggest game of the season at home.
Williams-Brice might be louder tomorrow night than at any point during its 78-year history. Georgia coaches and fans have acknowledged in interviews all week that crowd noise is a major factor in Columbia, and the Bulldogs have even blared “Sandstorm” and had Aaron Murray whisper during practice this week to prepare for the rowdy environment they’ll face. The focus of the entire college football world is on Columbia this weekend, and the Gamecocks couldn’t be more ready to announce their presence on the national stage.
The matchup seems to be a push. The strength of Georgia’s running game means the Gamecock defensive line can’t sell out to get to Murray in the backfield, but playing to stop the run could prove fatal against Murray’s pinpoint accuracy. Georgia’s defense has looked surprisingly human this season, and Marcus Lattimore has a knack for making Bulldog defenders look silly. There will be holes for Connor Shaw to thread passes into. The strength of both teams is that neither has a glaring weakness for the other to exploit.
When neither team has a clear edge over the other, the intangibles of the matchup come into play. There’s one key aspect of this game working in Georgia’s favor: the schedule. The Bulldogs know that after tomorrow night, the toughest part of their season is behind them. Sure, they still have to play Florida, but that game is on a neutral field in Jacksonville. With a win, Georgia has a very clear inside track to a trip to Atlanta, and their players are certainly aware of that.
The Gamecocks have a ton of confidence heading into tomorrow night. Yeah, the Gamecocks have played Georgia 64 times and still haven’t ever defeated the Bulldogs three times in a row. But many key players on both teams weren’t even in college the last time Georgia beat Carolina way back in 2009. The crowd will also play a huge factor. There’s something to be said for playing the biggest game of your season at home under the lights. If this game was at Sanford Stadium, it’d be tough to imagine the Gamecocks walking out with a win. But the significant home-field advantage that comes with playing at Williams-Brice may be enough to push the Gamecocks over the edge in a game that seems so evenly-matched.
When these teams get together, you can typically expect a defensive battle and slim margin of victory. In the 12 games since 2000, only twice has the margin of victory been larger than 11 points. In nine of those games, neither team has scored more than 21. With the strength of both offenses, I expect the teams to break the 21-point glass ceiling. But, as always, the game will be tight. If this game were on a neutral field, I’d literally flip a coin to determine a winner. But I think the rowdy crowd at Williams-Brice is worth a few false start penalties and will cause communications issues for Georgia. I foresee a late South Carolina field goal and a final defensive stand sealing the victory on a wild night in Columbia.
Final score: Gamecocks 30-27
Photo Credit: Cherokee Tribune