LEXINGTON, Ky. — Since he arrived at South Carolina in 2005, coach Steve Spurrier has accomplished several firsts for the Gamecocks, and chief among them is a trip to the 2010 Southeastern Conference championship game and an 11-2 record in 2011.
Spurrier made significant progress in recruiting and, as a result, winning. Another measuring stick for his progress will come in USC’s next three games — Saturday night at home against Georgia, then trips to LSU and Florida the following two weeks.
The Gamecocks remained No. 6 in the Associated Press poll. Georgia is No. 5, LSU No. 4, Florida No. 10. If USC beats Georgia, in one of the most anticipated games in school history, it will be 4-0 in the SEC, with all the wins over East Division opponents. The Gamecocks will have taken a huge step toward Atlanta, site of the SEC title game.
A win over Georgia would also be USC’s first victory over a top 10 team when the Gamecocks are also ranked in the top 10. USC is 0-4 in such games. Its trip to Arkansas last season was its first top 10 vs. top 10 matchup since 1987.
Beating Georgia, though, will require a better start than the Gamecocks had in Saturday’s 38-17 win at Kentucky, which led 17-7 at halftime.
“Some of our guys don’t play real smart all the time, and in a close ball game, obviously that could cost you,” Spurrier said.
USC beat Georgia by three last year and by 11 in 2010. The previous two years, Georgia won by four and seven. USC won by four in 2007.
Immediately after the Kentucky game ended, USC’s players acknowledged among themselves that a better start will be critical against Georgia.
“We just said that we can’t start off sluggish in the first half against a team like Georgia,” quarterback Connor Shaw said.
Said tailback Marcus Lattimore: “We know who Georgia is. We know how tough they are. Right when we got in the locker room, we said, ‘We’ve got to get better this week. We’ve got to get way better this week and start off with the momentum.’ It’s a game of momentum, and we’ve got to have it if we’re going to beat Georgia.”
The Bulldogs are unquestionably talented. Junior quarterback Aaron Murray is a third-year starter. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones might be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were the No. 42 and 48 overall recruits in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals.com.
USC will counter with future pros like Lattimore and defensive ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney. If there is a talent advantage for either team, it is not significant.
Georgia’s offense has rolled over Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The Bulldogs are averaging 48.2 points and 536 yards. But they have not played a team as talented or a defense as strong as USC.
The Gamecocks are allowing 11.2 points and 288.8 yards per game. But they also haven’t met a team as good or an offense as prolific as Georgia.
It is a fascinating matchup, and another chance for Spurrier to see just how far USC has come.