This Saturday marks the 65th all-time meeting between Georgia and South Carolina in a series that the Bulldogs lead 46-16-2. But despite the lopsided record, there have been a multitude of great games played in this series. Many contend that it has been the most hotly contested yearly matchup in the SEC. And the numbers back it up. Since 2000, a span in which Georgia leads the series 7-5, only twice has the margin of victory exceeded 11 points for either team. Nearly every game is a defensive battle, with the winner rarely exceeding 21 points.
But the great games go back much farther than just the turn of the century. Even when the teams weren’t SEC rivals, they played nearly every season. I’ve gone back and found as many notable moments as I can from the classic Carolina-Georgia matchups since 1980. In a rivalry with so much history, it should come as no surprise that it’s filled with great moments.
1980: South Carolina, ranked 14th and boasting a 6-1 record, traveled to Athens to take on undefeated #4 Georgia in a year that the Bulldogs would go on to win the national championship. The game featured two future Heisman Trophy-winning running backs, as George Rogers, who would win the award in 1980, faced off against Georgia’s Herschel Walker, the eventual 1982 winner. ABC televised the game nationally in a time when the NCAA restricted the number of times a team could appear on TV, adding to the unprecedented hype surrounding the game.
While it’s hard to find video from 1980, a Georgia blogger named Patrick Garbin has a great synopsis of the game. Georgia was clinging to a 13-10 lead as South Carolina mounted a late drive to try to tie or win. But Rogers, who finished with 168 yards on 35 carries, uncharacteristically fumbled with five minutes remaining, and the Bulldogs were able to salt the game away and keep their national championship hopes alive.
Walker, a freshman at the time, outshone Rogers on the day, carrying the ball 43 times for an eye-popping 219 yards. It was this game that, in the words of Georgia coach Vince Dooley, “took Walker from being a regional attraction to a national superstar.”
1984: 74,325 fans, the second-largest crowd in its history, crammed into Williams-Brice Stadium to see the 2-0 Gamecocks face off against #12 Georgia. South Carolina was still unranked at the time, but this would prove to be the first in a series of signature wins for the 1984 “Black Magic” squad.
With the score tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Mike Hold entered the game for Carolina and found Ira Hillary with a 62-yard bomb. He then rushed for a short touchdown to give the Gamecocks the lead. The defense held off the Bulldogs for the final 8:04 to give South Carolina the win.
1986: The 1986 contest between the two schools lacked much of the hype of previous years. Neither team was ranked at the time of the matchup, and South Carolina was destined for a 3-6-2 season. But the end of the game was certainly memorable. At the time, the NCAA rulebook stated that a fumble could not be advanced, meaning that the recovering team would gain possession wherever the fumble was picked up. Georgia quarterback James Jackson ran the final seconds off the clock, then laid the ball on the turf. The play was a fumble, but time had run out and the Gamecocks weren’t allowed to advance the ball due to the rule.
1988: #6 Georgia came to Columbia to face off against the #14 Gamecocks in a game tied for third all-time in Williams-Brice Stadium history for highest combined ranking. The Gamecocks would go on to win 23-10 for their 12th consecutive home win dating back to the final game of the 1986 season. The play of the game was unquestionably freshman receiver Robert Brooks’ one-handed touchdown grab from quarterback Todd Ellis.
1993: This matchup, the 1993 season opener and second game between the schools as SEC rivals, is considered the best moment of the Carolina-Georgia series by most Gamecock fans. The Gamecocks trailed, but had driven inside Georgia’s five-yard line as the final seconds ticked away. They had no timeouts remaining and time for two final plays to get into the end zone. Running back Brandon Bennett tried to leap over the pile, but was corralled around the ankles and stopped short of the goal line. Legendary Georgia radio commentator Larry Munson implored the defense to “lay down, you guys!” to waste precious seconds off the clock. But the Gamecocks would get another opportunity, and Bennett went “over the top” to give the Gamecocks the win.
The video actually has both Munson and Gamecock commentator Bob Fulton’s calls of the final play. Munson, the man with the gruff voice on the video once known as college football’s most biased announcer, exclaims that Bennett “broke our hearts with two seconds to go.” Fulton’s smooth delivery and calm demeanor is overpowered by the color commentator’s excitement. But it’s Munson’s call that most Gamecock fans remember with a smile.
1996: This game was pretty uneventful as far as Carolina-Georgia matchups go, with the Gamecocks winning 23-14 in a game in which neither team was ranked. But it did feature a jaw-dropping 51-yard touchdown run by Duce Staley, who would go on to star in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles.
2000: South Carolina won its first game of 1998. It did not win again until its first game of 2000, a span of 21 consecutive losses. After tearing down the goalposts following the 31-0 victory over New Mexico State, the Gamecocks faced the unpleasant task of welcoming ninth-ranked Georgia and Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Quincy Carter to Williams-Brice in the season’s second week. What happened next is legendary in Gamecock lore and led to the goalposts being ripped down for the second time in seven days.
2001: #21 South Carolina traveled to Athens to face a revenge-minded #25 Georgia squad the next season. Carolina scored on its opening drive, but the Bulldogs added three field goals to take a 9-7 lead deep into the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks put together another long drive, and with 1:22 remaining made another legendary play in the history of this series.
2002: Just like Brandon Bennett “over the top” is the defining moment of this rivalry for Gamecock fans, David Pollack’s interception of Carolina’s Corey Jenkins in 2002 is the biggest play in series history in the minds of Georgia fans. The play defies explanation…heck, it even defies physics. There’s no way for me to explain it. Take a look.
Despite the crazy interception/fumble/touchdown thingy by Pollack (who’s currently an ESPN GameDay analyst), Carolina had a chance to win the game at the end. The Gamecocks faced a fourth-and-1 from the Georgia two-yard line with half a minute to play. The ensuing fumble on a questionable play call still makes me sick to my stomach to this day. Carolina missed an opportunity to win three in a row against the Bulldogs. The defense also held Georiga without an offensive touchdown for two consecutive years, only to go 1-1 in those games. Sad. Georgia would go on to win the SEC championship, while Carolina would finish 5-7.
2004: ESPN College GameDay made its second appearance in Columbia for this matchup between the Gamecocks (who wore strange uniforms during the 2004 season, including all black in this game) and #3 Georgia. A safety, an unbelievable touchdown grab by Troy Williamson, and a pick-six by Ko Simpson put the Gamecocks up 16-0 early in this contest. But Georgia fought back for a big 20-16 win.
2007: 2007 was an intensely forgettable year for the Gamecocks. Carolina started the year unranked, climbed as high as #6 in the polls, then lost its last five games and missed a bowl bid. But nonetheless, the 16-12 win over #11 Georgia in Athens was a highlight. My personal favorite play from this game was in the third quarter. On fourth-and-one, Matthew Stafford tried to be sneaky. He faked a handoff then walked nonchalantly away with the ball tucked beside his waist. The plan was for a streaking receiver to be wide open. Eric Norwood had other plans. (Excuse the sound quality on the video–it was the only one I could find of this play). Carolina took a 16-12 lead, but the Bulldogs were driving for a potential winning score. Stafford let one fly down the sidelines that was kicked up by Captain Munnerlyn and picked off by Jasper Brinkley (alternate view seen here), setting off one of the wildest in-stadium celebrations I’ve ever been a part of.
Particularly sickening for Bulldog fans was the fact that this loss essentially kept Georgia out of the national championship game. The South Carolina loss gave Georgia a 1-1 record. The Bulldogs won three consecutive games before falling 35-14 at #12 Tennessee. They then won their final six games, including wins over Florida in Jacksonville, Auburn at home, and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. They were 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the conference, but Tennessee’s identical 6-2 record and head-to-head win over the Bulldogs sent them to the SEC Championship game to face LSU. Georgia, despite a #4 national ranking, was relegated to the Sugar Bowl, where it put a 41-10 drubbing on Hawaii. LSU defeated Ohio State in the national championship game, and the AP voted Georgia its #2 team. Had the Bulldogs beaten South Carolina, they would have gotten their chance at LSU in a de facto national semifinal in the SEC Championship game. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they never got that opportunity.
2009: Remember how most Carolina-Georgia matchups are low-scoring, defensive affairs? This was not one of them. #21 Georgia won 41-37. There were many memorable plays in this game, like Brandon Boykin’s 100-yard kickoff return for the Bulldogs, a 61-yard touchdown run by Georgia’s Branden Smith that shows his lightning quickness, and Eric Norwood’s pick-six for the Gamecocks.
2011: Who could forget last year’s 45-42 thriller in Athens? The Melvin Ingram Game requires no lengthy explanation from me. Just sit back and marvel at the athleticism of #6.
And just in case you needed one more video to get you ready for Saturday, check this song out. I agree with every word.