The Georgia Bulldogs rolled into Columbia, South Carolina on the evening of October 6, 2012 sporting a 5-0 record and ranked #5 in the nation. They rolled out after a bitter 35-7 loss to the 6th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, a loss in which the Classic City Canines' weaknesses were laid bare. About the best that can be said of the game is that it was the low point in an otherwise excellent season, the one performance which essentially all fans and players would agree they'd like to have back. This wasn't a moral victory. It wasn't a good effort spoiled by bad breaks. It was a bad performance dropped at a bad time against the wrong opponent. The 'Dawgs laid an egg, unruly "fans" followed suit, and a bad night was had by all.
Frankly, all the signs were there. The 'Dawgs came out on fire the prior week against a struggling Tennessee squad before a series of crippling turnovers, special teams gaffes, and defensive letdowns led to an absolute dogfight to the end. It was an ugly win, the kind which you can expect even the best teams to have at least one of. But in this case it wasn't so much an outlier as a harbinger of things to come.
The Gamecock faithful were amped for this one, and to their credit, the student athletes from Columbia didn't disappoint them. The 'Cocks came out clawing, and this one was over almost before it began. The vaunted Georgia offense, led by legendary strategic genius Mike "The Chessmaster" Bobo, had averaged 48.2 points and 536 yards per game in its first 5 contests. On this night, when South Carolina fans showed up early and raucous, the offense never looked in sequence. The 'Dawgs totaled only 224 yards of offense, their lowest total since 2006. Even more demoralizing, they were held scoreless until Ken Malcome plunged over the goal line with 1:55 left in the 4th quarter.
The Gamecocks on the other hand put 21 on the board in the first 10 minutes of game time en route to the largest margin of defeat ever dolled out by the Palmetto State Poultry over the good guys. The Bulldogs came in knowing that they needed to slow down All-American tailback Marcus Lattimore. Ironically, Lattimore was among the least of Todd Grantham's worries, gaining a pedestrian 109 yards on 24 carries.
It was everybody else in garnet and black who was the problem. QB Connor Shaw hit Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington on early touchdown passes against a Georgia defense that, in hindsight, was ripe for the picking. With several key contributors coming back from suspension the red and black defenders looked confused, lost, and ultimately just a little defeated. In fact it wasn't until senior Shawn Williams called them out prior to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party that things really seem to have fully turned around.
But that fine day was still weeks away as Mark Richt and crew left South Carolina's capital. At the time it seemed that their national championship hopes had been dashed. Ultimately that wasn't the case. But a small segment of the Bulldog fanbase did not know that, and reacted . . .very poorly. Oh, and it turns out that Murray's uneven performance followed his finding out that his father was about to undergo cancer treatment. It was, in a lot of ways, about as bad as things could get. Redemption was around the corner, but no one knew that at the time.
All we knew was that on this night Mark Richt's Bulldogs had managed to lose a third game in a row to the South Carolina Gamecocks for the first time in series history, and that it seemed that our shot at playing for a national title had passed once again. But it turns out that it is in fact a long season, and there were a lot of triumphs and just a little more heartbreak yet to be had. But those are other stories for other days. For now let it only be said that October 6, 2012 was perhaps the most disappointing evening in recent Dawg Sports memory.
And I shall thank you to never, ever mention it again. Until later . . .