COLUMBIA — When it was over for real — because it was really over long before this — South Carolina’s players sprinted over to the student section in the North end zone of Williams-Brice Stadium. They pressed up against the hedges as hands reached out toward them, fans wanting to feel every bit of this moment, unlike any that ever happened here before.
The sixth-ranked Gamecocks knew the magnitude of what they had just done Saturday night, beating fifth-ranked Georgia 35-7 in front of 85,199 people, the largest crowd ever at Williams-Brice, all of them now believers in this team and its potential, if they weren’t already. Try as they might to treat this game like any other, the Gamecocks knew its magnitude well before it was over, and before it even began.
This night was special, and if they won, they wanted to treat it accordingly and share the moment with their fans right away, by rushing over to them.
“We planned that before the game,” said tailback Marcus Lattimore.
But they didn’t plan for what they would think about how the game unfolded. USC (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) led Georgia 21-0 with 5:18 left in the first quarter, after touchdown drives of 76 and 69 yards on their first two possessions, and a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ace Sanders the next time they touched the ball.
By the time the first quarter ended, Georgia (5-1, 3-1) had 12 plays for 39 yards, South Carolina 20 for 177. Seven of USC’s plays in the first quarter covered at least 10 yards. Three of the seven were running plays — typical of a game in which USC out-gained Georgia 230-115 on the ground and got 109 yards from Lattimore.
Quarterback Connor Shaw threw for 162 yards, 53 more than counterpart Aaron Murray, despite attempting just 10 passes, 21 fewer than Murray.
“How do you score that many points and only throw 10 passes?” USC coach Steve Spurrier said.
Lattimore was equally incredulous about the early 21-0 lead.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “I was expecting for it to be a dog fight the whole game. It was a big surprise to me. I thought Georgia was going to come out with a little bit more fire. You could see it in their eyes. I don’t think some of them were ready for the attack we had for them. We came out there and hit them in the mouth early.”
Saturday was a nightmare from the start for Murray, who was sacked just twice but terrorized countless other times. If only Murray knew that he contributed to his own demise. On Georgia’s first series, Jadeveon Clowney, one of the nation’s best defensive ends, noticed Murray was tapping center David Andrews’ hip when he wanted Andrews to snap the ball, because the crowd was deafening. Now, Clowney could get a jump on every play.
“I was kind of excited,” Clowney said. “I was like, ‘Well, I know when they’re going to hike the ball every time.’”
The Gamecocks won their 10th straight game, now the nation’s longest streak and one better than their previous school record. They won a matchup of top 10 teams for the first time in five tries. They started 6-0 for the third time, and the first since 1988. They beat Georgia for the third straight meeting — another first.
And when the new college football polls come out today, they will be ranked at least third in the country — their highest since they were No. 2 in 1984.
They started 9-0 that year. And now the wins are building again, and the stakes rising, in a season that once might have seemed a pipe dream for a long-suffering program. It gets no easier, with trips to LSU and Florida the next two weeks. LSU was No. 4 on Saturday when it lost at No. 10 Florida.
“We’ll see where this leads us,” Spurrier said.
“One thing we’ll have to guard against is everybody telling us how great we are right now. When you win convincingly, that’s what happens.”
They next play at home Oct. 27 against Tennessee, and if the Gamecocks perform at LSU and Florida like it did against Georgia, they probably will continue to bury memories of the team they once were, but are no longer.
Twenty years ago, the Gamecocks hosted Georgia in their first SEC game. Before the game, USC alums hired a “witch doctor” to reverse the so-called Chicken Curse in a ceremony outside Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks lost 28-6 and didn’t reach the SEC championship game until 2010.