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The Rivalry
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Statement Game

USC defense keeps Georgia out of end zone on way to upset

Published on 09/09/07
The Post and Courier

ATHENS, GA. — Steve Spurrier's earned a lot of nicknames over the years. Add "The Possum" to the growing list.

After downplaying his South Carolina team all week, at one point calling the players "average stiffs," the Gamecocks showed up Saturday to defend themselves.

Behind its criticized defense, South Carolina outplayed No. 11 Georgia to hold on for a physical 16-12 upset in front of 92,746 fans at Sanford Stadium.

"We were average last week," Spurrier said. "Now, we're a little better."

More than a little. Going back to when they began league play in 1992, the Gamecocks had never beaten an SEC team ranked higher than 14th. It snapped UGA's five-game win streak in the series.

Not that it didn't, predictably, come without a fight.

Up four points, the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) were forced to punt away to the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1), who needed to go 80 yards in 80 seconds to stave off the loss.

They didn't. South Carolina's defense simply would not let them.

It was an anti-Spurrier win, with the defense trumping the offense in a big victory.

"Our defense pretty much won the game for us," said Spurrier, known for decades as one of the brightest offensive minds in football. "It's a step for this team, to win a game where our defense pretty much played better than the offense. They stepped up and won the game for us."

Georgia began its attempt at a dramatic, game-winning drive successfully, getting to the USC 46-yard line before a block-in-the-back penalty forced the Bulldogs back to their own 44. A false start

South Carolina makes a statement

pushed them back 5 more yards to the 39.

Then, facing third-and-25, sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford, erratic much of the day, winged a pass down the right side of the field. It was tipped by USC corner Captain Munnerlyn and intercepted by standout linebacker Jasper Brinkley, a native of nearby Thomson, Ga. Brinkley sprinted down the sideline and sparked the Gamecocks' celebration.

"This was a statement," Brinkley said.

Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno (102 yards) and senior Thomas Brown (52 yards) ran well for UGA, but yards were extremely tough to come by between the tackles.

That's something that wasn't the case a week ago when USC surrendered 252 yards to Louisiana-Lafayette in an uninspiring 28-14 victory — one that earned a lot of the chiding from Spurrier.

"Coach challenged us," said USC sophomore safety Darian Stewart, who made his first career start Saturday. "Everybody's talking about our defense being the same. We had to prove everyone wrong. ... We manned up. We found a way to win."

Brinkley's game-sealing pick, the game's only turnover, meant Georgia would not score a touchdown for the first time since USC's 14-9 victory here in 2001.

Georgia fans were muttering that coach Mark Richt shouldn't have settled for Brandon Coutu's fourth field goal of the night, a 34-yarder that cut the lead to four with 4:42 remaining.

UGA would've been up against a fourth-and-15 from the 16.

Georgia had failed on a fourth-and-3 from the USC 36 earlier when it tried a trick play, a deep-drop, play-action fake that once worked for Richt as an offensive coordinator at Florida State. Stafford was sacked by USC's Eric Norwood for a 12-yard loss on the play.

Georgia also failed on a third-down wide receiver screen pass. Additional screen passes to

receivers and backs were dropped or botched by the Dawgs.

"There were coaching decisions as well that could have changed the outcome of the game," Richt said. "But we're all in this together. I'm not pointing any fingers. We had opportunities that we didn't take. And South Carolina did enough to win."

Gamecocks back Cory Boyd, who finished with a team-high 76 yards and a score, said earlier in the week he thought USC would win and "shock the world." Spurrier disagreed, saying the result should surprise precisely no one, including those inside the locker room.

"This wasn't a shock, now," Spurrier said. "We came here thinking we matched up with Georgia pretty good. We thought we could play defense like we did tonight. But this was not a shock."

USC had been here before and lost, both literally and figuratively. Spurrier reflected about the 17-15 loss at Sanford Stadium two years ago that he thought just as easily could have gone the other way.

Boyd, a fifth-year senior, said Saturday was the start of "a new tradition" by closing tight games out. Saturday, USC did it with


"We finished. That's the best part about it," Boyd said. "There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong in those last two minutes or so. We just found a to win; we didn't find a way to defeat


Reach Travis Haney at

"We were average last week.  Now, we're a little better."  ~Steve Spurrier