Thursday, September 6, 2007

SEC Game of the Week

A Humbled Giant
South Carolina at Georgia

by Bob Epling

Beware a humbled giant.

Steve Spurrier, a true giant in SEC coaching circles, limps into Sanford Stadium with his South Carolina Gamecocks for a showdown with impressive Georgia.

Spurrier limps literally.

The limp comes from too many scrambling runs on his way to a Heisman trophy winning season at Florida in 1966. From too many years spent as a tackling dummy while backing up John Brodie for the San Francisco 49ers, after the team made him the 3rd overall choice in the 1967 NFL draft. From too many sacks and smacks as the starting quarterback of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only team to go winless in an NFL season (0-14).

Spurrier limps figuratively too.

The limp comes from seeing his South Carolina squad hit with the suspensions or ineligibility of at least a half-dozen players before the start of the season, including senior quarterback Blake Mitchell. From watching his beloved Fun n’ Gun offense of days gone by turn to a strain n’ struggle unit that rarely strikes fear into opponents. From failing (so far) to lead his Gamecocks through the minefield that is the SEC East division to the conference title game.

Beware a humbled giant.

And Steve Spurrier is truly a giant in the SEC.

Remember the Heisman Trophy winning playing career. Remember the dazzling dozen years as Florida head coach that included a record of 122-27-1, a national championship in 1996, and a winning percentage (.817) that ranks in the top three in conference history. Remember the swagger that was far more glitz than gimp as rival fans reviled him and Gator fans revered him.

Should the SEC ever build a Mt. Rushmore of coaches, you’d find Spurrier up there with Bryant, Dooley, and Neyland.

The humbled giant visits one of his favorite rivals this Saturday.

During his Florida tenure, Spurrier enjoyed humiliating one foe more than all the others – Georgia. He compiled an 11-1 record against the Dogs while at Florida, with a 23 point average margin of victory in the eleven wins. Like a cruel dog-owner, he also went out of his way to rub the Dogs’ noses in the mess that was the rivalry, often tweaking them with a sarcastic wit. In 1995, he tacked on a late touchdown in a 52-17 blowout at Athens just to brag about leading the first squad to post 50 points against the Dogs in Sanford Stadium.

Since Spurrier took the Carolina job, Georgia has forced the giant to taste a bit of humble pie.

In 2005, the Dogs handed Spurrier his first loss as Gamecock coach, a close 17-15 victory a long decade after that 1995 rout. In 2006, Georgia took it a step further by shutting out the old ball coach and his SC squad by an 18-0 count (becoming only the second team to blank a Spurrier-coached offense). That game was particularly sweet for Georgia faithful, coming a day after the death of legendary Erk Russell, famed defensive coordinator of the Junkyard Dogs from 1964 to 1980.

The 2007 game may provide a bit more humility for the man Georgia fans refer to as the Evil Genius.

Georgia boasts the hot-shot quarterback, sophomore Matthew Stafford, arm strong enough to throw the ball through a door, but accurate enough to put it through the key hole. Georgia boasts the youthful coach with the fancy resume, Mark Richt, smooth enough to do a backflip from a 10 meter board during a “practice” and smart enough to win an SEC title his second year (something Spurrier could not do at SC).

Georgia opened the season by growling past Oklahoma State with a convincing 35-14 victory. South Carolina limped past Louisiana-Lafayette with a lackluster 28-14 win that Spurrier claimed proved his team to be “just a bunch of average stiffs.”

The giant is humbled.

Georgia should win.

But, beware a humbled giant.

Game Ball: Georgia