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‘UGLY’ WIN IS ’DAWG-GONE PRETTY

South Carolina rides a ferocious defense to its first victory in Athens since 2001

By Joseph Person
The State
Published: September 9, 2007
ATHENS, Ga. — No gimmicks. No passing touchdowns. No special “ball plays” from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

No matter.

USC strutted into Sanford Stadium on Saturday and beat No. 11 Georgia at its own game, relying on a stubborn defense and a power running game for a 16-12 victory that snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs and served notice that the Gamecocks are serious about contending in the SEC.

Spurrier described the win — USC’s first against Georgia in six years — as “ugly.”

But the man hired to deliver the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 in SEC) a championship will take it.

“First one like that we’ve won since I’ve been here where the defense pretty much won the game for us,” Spurrier said.

The win was USC’s first against Georgia since a 14-9 victory in 2001, which also was the last time the Bulldogs were held without a touchdown.

Georgia (1-1, 1-1) represents the highest-ranked SEC opponent that USC has beaten on the road since joining the conference in 1992.

Spurrier called his team “a bunch of average stiffs” after its 28-14, opening-week win against Louisiana-Lafayette, in which the Gamecocks allowed 252 rushing yards.

He was much more kind Saturday.

“We came here thinking we matched up with Georgia pretty good. We thought we could play defense like we played tonight. Last we didn’t do it very well,” said Spurrier, whose team was a four-point underdog.

“But this was not a shock to us to win this game. All you people that watch point spreads, you know it wasn’t any big spread. If you listen to (ESPN analyst Lee) Corso and them guys, you might think it was supposed to be a lopsided game. But this was two even teams.”

The statistics back that up.

USC had 21 first downs to Georgia’s 20. The Bulldogs outgained USC 341-314 in total yardage. The Gamecocks held a one-minute, eight-second edge in time of possession.

But USC came up with more big plays defensively, sacking Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford three times and picking him off with six seconds left to snuff out the Bulldogs’ last hope.

USC kicker Ryan Succop booted field goals of 41, 35 and 34 yards. The last one put the Gamecocks up 16-6 with 9:19 left.

The Bulldogs responded by driving inside the Gamecocks’ 22-yard line on their next two possessions. Each time USC held, forcing Brandon Coutu to kick field goals of 39 and 34 yards to pull Georgia to 16-12 with 4:42 left.

The Gamecocks then kept the ball on the ground, letting Cory Boyd and Mike Davis run between the tackles and, in the process, run three minutes off the clock.

After taking over on its own 20-yard line with 1:20 left, Georgia moved into USC territory on a 17-yard reception by Mikey Henderson on third-and-10, one of only three third-down conversions (in 18 attempts) for the Bulldogs.

But Georgia went backward from there. A block-in-the-black penalty wiped out another long completion on third down, and a false start backed the Bulldogs to their 39 on third-and-25.

Stafford bought time in the pocket and heaved a high pass down the right sideline for Mohamed Massaquoi. But cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got a hand on the ball and it deflected to linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who grabbed it and ran about 20 yards.

After he was tackled in front of the USC bench, his teammates mobbed him and the celebration could begin.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

“But this was not a shock to us to win this game. All you people that watch point spreads, you know it wasn’t any big spread. If you listen to (ESPN analyst Lee) Corso and them guys, you might think it was supposed to be a lopsided game. But this was two even teams.”  ~Steve Spurrier