I try to be conscious of, and sensitive to, opposing fans’ reactions to games against Georgia, particularly when those opposing fans aren’t boosters of a program I despise as a rival in the truest sense of the word. Accordingly, I must confess to finding myself baffled by the responses of what I know to be reasonable fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the aftermath of last Saturday’s game.
I happened to be seated near several University of South Carolina undergraduates who made the wise decision to drive over to Athens,
scalp purchase tickets on the unregulated free market, and attend a thrilling contest in which everyone present got his money’s worth. Once the outcome was decided, we all shook hands and said, "Good game," and it was clear that they were as all right as it is possible to be with a loss. This was the correct reaction.
As I indicated in comments left in response to each of these postings, Stephen Garcia proved on Saturday why Steve Spurrier was right to stick with him through all of his past shenanigans; had any other South Carolina quarterback of the Steve Spurrier era been lining up in the Gamecock backfield that night, it wouldn’t have been close. Garcia extended plays, squirted out of danger when a sack seemed inevitable, and found the seams. He played a great game, and the USC faithful ought to find that very encouraging.
In a podcast interview with C&F before the season started, I predicted that Georgia would start 1-1; either the Bulldogs would win in Stillwater, be jacked up over the big victory, and (much as Georgia did after beating the Oklahoma St. Cowboys in 2007, or as Oklahoma State did in this weekend’s game against the Houston Cougars) lose the next one, or Georgia would lose on the road, have its back against the wall, and get the win against South Carolina. The latter is what happened.
There have been plenty of Georgia-South Carolina games that ought to cause a Gamecock fan to wonder, "What if?" This was not one of them.
This time, the "What if?"s more than balanced out for both teams. What if Roderick Battle had not been hurt? What if Justin Houston had not been suspended? What if Branden Smith had downed the kickoff in the end zone instead of bringing it out and fumbling? What if Joe Cox hadn’t telegraphed his throw by locking onto the receiver on the interception? What if Stephen Garcia hadn’t had by leaps and bounds the best game of his collegiate career so far? What if Spencer Lanning hadn’t had by leaps and bounds the best game of his collegiate career so far? What if the fake punt hadn’t worked? What if the long snapper hadn’t sent the ball over the punter’s head and out the back of the end zone?
What if Georgia had only turned the ball over twice as often as South Carolina instead of three times more often? What if South Carolina had held only an eight-minute time of possession advantage instead of almost a ten-minute time of possession advantage? What if Georgia had gained more yards on running plays than the Bulldogs lost on penalties? What if South Carolina had outgained Georgia by only 100 yards? What if the ‘Cocks had gained only nine more first downs than the ‘Dawgs?
Yes, the South Carolina faithful can list very nearly as many "What if?"s going the other way, but there were several points in this ballgame where it easily could have gotten completely away from the Gamecocks. Without a couple or three unforced Georgia errors, this game wouldn’t have been close and the blocked---not missed, blocked; it was a Bulldog success, not a Gamecock failure---extra point would have been utterly inconsequential. (We will never know this, but it may have been inconsequential anyway. Had the point after try been successful, South Carolina would have kicked a field goal on fourth down, the game would have gone to overtime, and, given how gassed both defenses were, it likely would have come down to a two-point conversion. Had the Gamecocks lost under such circumstances, the wailing and gnashing of teeth would have included wondering what would have happened had the Evil Genius elected to go for it on fourth down instead of playing for extra innings.)
If the stat sheet had been even close to balanced---if any statistic (time of possession, turnover margin, total offense, first downs) had been anywhere close to even---it would have been a runaway for the home team. It is to South Carolina’s considerable credit that the Gamecocks hung around after it threatened to get away from them and, for once, took advantage of as many Bulldog miscues as Georgia took advantage of South Carolina mistakes.
The Palmetto State Poultry played arguably the best game they have ever played in Sanford Stadium, but it still wasn’t enough. When a team scores (quite literally) more points on a longtime rival than it has ever before scored in its history, and that team still loses, its fans have no reason to hang their heads.
The better team won and it reflects extremely well on Steve Spurrier’s squad that the visitors made a real game of it. South Carolina fans should feel proud of this game, not dejected by it. Fans should feel badly when their team lets one get away, as the Gamecocks so often have against the Bulldogs. That isn’t what happened on Saturday, though.
The South Carolina students sitting in my section knew the correct way to react. Fans should feel badly when their team lets one get away, but they should take heart when their team almost steals one. On Saturday night, the Gamecocks almost stole one. There is no need for second-guessing and certainly no need for climbing out onto ledges. No matter which way you were rooting on Saturday night, you have cause to view in a positive light the performance of your team.