Spurrier Back On Top

Look who's first in the Southeastern Conference. Yep, it's the ol' ball coach.
Steve Spurrier has South Carolina on top of the East Division standings and may be ready to contend for an SEC title after winning all those championships at Florida.

Of course, the season is only 2 weeks old. The Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) still have plenty of tough games left, including the defending national champion Gators - the very team that Spurrier led to six conference titles in a dozen years before his ill-fated move to the NFL.

But this much sounds familiar: a Spurrier-coached team knocking off Georgia, the victim of a 16-12 upset Saturday night that sets an early tone in the conference race.

With the win, South Carolina surged into The Associated Press rankings, claiming the 17th spot. Georgia (1-1, 0-1) tumbled 12 spots to No. 23 and must dig out of an early hole to contend for its third SEC title in six years.

``We came out and showed what we could do,'' Gamecocks safety Darian Stewart said. ``This was a very big game. We have more on the way.''

Spurrier tried to downplay his latest win over Georgia. Of course, he couldn't resist one little dig at the Bulldogs.

``I guess I have won two out of three here,'' he said, clearly savoring another victory between the hedges.

While at Florida, Spurrier defeated the Bulldogs 11 times in 12 years, becoming Public Enemy No. 1 in Athens. In 1995, the Gators won 52-17 at Sanford Stadium, a game that still rankles Georgia fans who felt Spurrier ran up the score.

If his sideline gyrations were any indication, Spurrier still loves to beat the Bulldogs. He covered his eyes. He crossed his legs. He waved his arms this way and that. One time, he threw down his playcard over a dropped pass. On another incompletion, he ripped off his headset in disgust.

``I'm sure he doesn't like Georgia,'' Bulldogs receiver Sean Bailey said. ``But, no, Spurrier doesn't get any special attention from us. It's just another SEC team.''

Besides, the Bulldogs gained a measure of redemption by beating Spurrier in his first two years at South Carolina, including a 17-15 win at Athens in 2005. A year ago, they blanked the Gamecocks 18-0 in Columbia, only the second time a Spurrier-coached team has been shut out.

This was another defensive struggle. Cory Boyd scored the game's only touchdown with a 9-yard run in the first quarter. Otherwise, it was a battle of field goals, with Ryan Succop kicking three for the Gamecocks and Brandon Coutu accounting for all the Georgia points on four kicks.

Spurrier has clearly shown he can adapt in his second SEC tenure. The Gamecocks don't have the same offensive weapons as ``Fun 'n' Gun'' Florida, which ran up some truly outrageous offensive numbers during his 12 years as coach. This team is willing to win with defense and a strong running game.

Blake Mitchell, a fifth-year senior, completed 20-of-31 but many of them were short, safe passes. He finished with 174 yards through the air, connecting on just one throw longer than 20 yards.
South Carolina turned to its running game at the end, ripping off three straight double-digit gains that helped erase all but the final 1:20. Georgia got the ball back one more time, but Matthew Stafford's desperation pass was intercepted by Jasper Brinkley.

``This was supposed to be one-sided,'' Spurrier crowed. ``We thought this was two even teams. We kept them out of the end zone and we scored one touchdown. That was the difference.''
Spurrier was poor-mouthing his defense after the Gamecocks surrendered 252 yards rushing to Louisiana-Lafayette in the season opener. But they clearly had their eyes on the Bulldogs, who were held to 128.

``They focused probably the last two weeks on just Georgia alone,'' said Bulldogs running back Thomas Brown. ``They didn't play as well against Louisiana-Lafayette. But watching that film, we understood they would not play us like that. That always play us hard. All they were talking about was Georgia, Georgia, Georgia.''

The Bulldogs have never won an SEC title after losing their first conference game. It won't be easy to recover in a brutal division that is usually a three-team race featuring Florida, Georgia and Tennessee - and may have another legitimate contender in the Gamecocks.

Coach Mark Richt knew his young team could struggle in the early going. The Bulldogs have two freshmen starting on the offensive line, and only two defensive players with at least 10 starts a year ago.

``I figured that as the season went on, we would get better and better,'' Richt said. ``I was hoping we could play good enough early on to stay in contention until we hit our stride.''

by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us

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