ATHENS, Ga. When it was all over, Steve Spurrier walked purposefully into the northeast tunnel of Sanford Stadium past an oversized flag, a crazed student section, a band playing "Glory, Glory" at a decibel level far past comfortable and a mascot dancing for all the wrong reasons fresh off his first loss to Georgia since 2009. Spurrier's near-trudge was one of the uncommon sights on hand after No. 6 South Carolina's 41-30 loss to Georgia, the Head Ball Coach's career-long rival, on Saturday evening in Athens.
Three straight times coming in this blossoming South Carolina-Georgia rivalry, one that has yielded the SEC East division champ each of the past three seasons, Spurrier's Gamecocks had walked away with a victory. For standout players like Jadeveon Clowney and Mike Davis and Nick Jones, losing to Georgia was as foreign as losing to Clemson.
But Saturday changed all of that as the Bulldogs came out firing on all cylinders even recovering a surprise onside kick that brought up Richt-related shades of 2007 Georgia-Florida (another first-quarter display of bravado that helped snap an ugly Georgia losing streak) and now South Carolina faces the realities of suffering an early loss in a schedule that opens rather nicely the rest of the year. The latter is now officially walking in the former's well-worn shoes. And there are many, many miles still to march.
"It was a good tail-kicking and I have to give Georgia credit, They ran it right down our throat. Vince Dooley probably has a smile on his face with the way they played tonight," said Spurrier, who fell to 15-6 all-time against the Bulldogs. "I thought we could slow them down and when we did we gave up a big play. It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today."
With a schedule that avoids SEC West powers Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M and features just two teams presently ranked the rest of the way (Florida, Clemson), the Gamecocks' streak was snapped at the most inopportune of times. Did they cost themselves a shot at the SEC title? History says no. Georgia has walked out on the wrong side of this rivalry the past two seasons and wound up in Atlanta thanks to back-to-back schedules mirroring South Carolina's 2013 schedule in terms of brutality so the future could easily see the tides turn. And yes, one- and two-loss SEC teams have made BCS-title runs in previous seasons, but never with such a lackluster schedule.
In short, South Carolina missed its shot at a national statement, and it may not get many more.
Georgia knows the feeling.
The 11-point loss came by curious design. Much to the chagrin of the raucous Sanford crowd of 92,746, the Gamecocks' oft-questioned offense delivered haymaker after haymaker, running up 454 yards on 61 plays. They found their power in running back Mike Davis (198 total yards, one touchdown), the explosive heir apparent to Marcus Lattimore, solid QB play in Connor Shaw (16-for-25, 228 yards, 2 TD) and their efficiency by averaging 7.4 yards per play and turning the ball over just once.
The problem, of course, was that Aaron Murray & Co., wouldn't let the South Carolina offense on the field.
"We haven't had a turnover on defense in two games," Spurrier said. "We are struggling a little bit on defense Those three-and-out days, I'm hoping they come back before the season's over."
"They just pounded us up front. No excuses," All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said.
Georgia ran up 536 total yards and committed zero turnovers.
Behind one of Murray's career-best efforts (17-of-23, 309 yards and four touchdowns) and the slowly building All-American campaign of sophomore back Todd Gurley the young bulldozer scored on the ground and through the air to go along with 134 rushing yards South Carolina looked, at times, helpless on defense. They simply couldn't get off the field. A year removed from doing little to nothing right offensively in this game, Georgia controlled the point of attack from the outset.
In his postgame media scrum, nearly three quarters of Murray's answers (rough estimate) concerned the play of his offensive line, and the reasoning was obvious: the bigger Bulldogs took on "The Story" and became the story.
Headlined by Clowney, the All-Everything pass-rusher who garnered every inch of offseason hype imaginable, Spurrier's defense was tagged as a team strength heading into 2013. The Gamecocks entered the season coming off back-to-back campaigns ranked top-15 nationally in scoring defense. Clowney logged his sack, a trademark explosive first step inside to beat the lineman and subsequently drop Murray for a loss, but the Bulldogs walked away with bragging rights. The vast majority of the running plays to Gurley and Keith Marshall went away from Clowney, who was hampered by an apparent ankle injury.
The 6-foot-6 junior voiced a bit of frustration in that fact after the game, saying if the defense plans to make the necessary changes, he's more than ready to move around to throw off protection schemes.
"I set the edge most of the night. I set the edge. The ball went away from me on the backside, chasing, so you know, that's just how the game went," Clowney said. "I think I'm playing in the right spot I just can't do it by myself, you gotta depend on other guys. And I depend on those other guys. When they're running their way, I just tell them to step up, bow up and be a man."
Either way, whether they stand him up, put him at left or right end or move him inside, South Carolina's deficiencies stretched far beyond their superstar's utilization on Saturday. Georgia won in every phase of the game. If it wasn't the outright rout South Carolina enjoyed in Columbia, it was as convincing a top-10 win as the Bulldogs have posted in the Murray era. The fact that it came at the expense of the red-and-black's most notable nemesis over the past two-plus decades, knocking the Head Ball Coach's team off the inside track to the SEC title game, makes it all the more tough to deal with.