COLUMBIA -- Steve Spurrier, the 65-year-old dean of Southeastern Conference head coaches, looked like a freshman fresh from professorial praise.
"I think it's the first time ever that I shook hands with the opposing coach and he said, 'Steve, you got a heck of a team,' " Spurrier nearly gushed Saturday after South Carolina's 17-6 victory over Georgia. "I don't think anybody's ever told us that."
Not in Spurrier's six seasons in Columbia.
But Georgia head coach Mark Richt knows his way around the jagged SEC and saw convincing
evidence during a lopsided loss at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The No. 24 Gamecocks, 2-0 and improving, uncharacteristically controlled the line of scrimmage on offense and defense and played well on special teams.
Freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore is a Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 182 yards on 37 carries in his very first SEC game.
The last time Georgia scored fewer than six points against the Gamecocks?
That 2-0 South Carolina victory back in '04.
Spurrier's response to Richt: "I said, 'We may have a heck of a team. We don't know yet. We've only played two games.' "
Well, yeah. So maybe hold off on those Sugar Bowl travel packages just a bit longer.
But things set up relatively nicely for the Gamecocks going into their next two SEC games.
Two weeks twice
South Carolina essentially has two weeks to prepare for a Sept. 25 game at No. 21 Auburn (Furman is due at Williams-Brice Stadium next week).
And then two more weeks to get ready for an Oct. 9 home game against No. 1 Alabama (including an actual bye week).
Lattimore showed Saturday the Gamecocks have an offense that will travel, or torment foes at Williams-Brice.
The "Lat-ti-more" chant thundered out of the South Carolina student section in the fourth quarter as the 6-0, 218-pound rivalry-changer put the game away with more simply inside play calls turned into first down runs.
"Yeah, I heard them," Lattimore said. "I heard them chanting my name. I was real tired but that got me up. I was running off adrenaline on that drive because I was dead."
Lattimore seems plenty focused and humble enough. Just in case, South Carolina's leadership is coming through as unseen during the Spurrier years. Asked what he thought of Lattimore's performance, versatile sophomore cornerback Stephon Gilmore said, "He had a good game and now he has to put it behind him and get ready for next week."
Captains, my captains
It's leadership by example, too.
As the third quarter ended with South Carolina's offense on the field, defensive captains Cliff Matthews and Ladi Ajiboye held up four fingers -- the fourth-quarter salute -- from their garnet chairs on the sideline.
Then they helped hold the desperate Bulldogs to only 31 yards in the fourth quarter.
"I just think the players have a better commitment level," Spurrier said.
That showed in the lack of post-game satisfaction among players and staff, including Lattimore and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
"We know we have a lot to improve on," strong safety DeVonte Holloman said. "Coach Johnson will be on us Monday just like he was last Monday."
The South Carolina offensive line, with senior left guard Garrett Chisolm (West Ashley High School) playing as well as anyone, knocked Bulldogs off the ball before Lattimore started breaking tackles.
"Our offensive line was in better shape than their defensive line," Lattimore said.
Georgia didn't have All-America wide receiver A.J. Green, the Summerville High School graduate suspended by the NCAA for selling a jersey. Of course, No. 8 would have made a difference.
With Green, the Bulldogs might have scored a touchdown.
But one heck of a player probably would not have been enough to defeat a heck of a team.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or (843) 937-5593.