Stop me if you've heard this one before.
South Carolina and Georgia are set to play a football game many observers expect to define each team's season. One group of fans expect to win, but are wary of their neighbor's hostile crowd. The other hopes to win, but recognizes a loss is likely. The underdogs get several opportunities early, though they fail to convert them to touchdowns. The home crowd gets excited over thoughts of a big upset of a top-ranked foe, while announcers caution their team may later lament the failure to capitalize. Sure enough, the favorite's star players make a couple of big plays to take the lead going into the half, and the crowd quickly becomes nervous. Though the underdogs fight valiantly and arguably play a better game, they are ultimately undone by key mistakes and big (or fluke) plays from an opponent whose roster is filled with superstars capable of creating a victory even when the team is not firing on all cylinders. Afterwards, the losers take consolation in a moral victory and signs of progress, while the victors worry if the narrow win proves their team isn't ready for the bigger hurdles down the road.
This could describe any of a half dozen Carolina-Georgia games over the past decade or so. However, this is the first time in my lifetime South Carolina was the team with more high-end talent capable of manufacturing a victory on a day the team was being outplayed. If you are like me, it is the first win over Georgia that resulted not in exultation, but relief that we did not screw it up.
South Carolina just won in Athens with a C+ effort. There are plenty of things to work on before
out our next test, but we may just have a greater margin for error than expected this season.
Many fans feared Stephen Garcia would have one or two games where he quarterbacks us out of a victory. He scuffled worse in Athens than in any regular season outing in recent memory, and we still won. I would not be surprised if Saturday's effort is the best game Georgia plays all year, and we still won. An opportunistic defense came up with big plays from future NFL players Melvin Ingram, Antonio Allen, Stephon Gilmore, and Jadeveon Clowney. Marcus Lattimore was quiet for most of the first three quarters, yet Marcus finished with 176 yards and kept moving the chains in the 4th. We can still accomplish all of our goals this year, and we may have survived our only "What's Stephen Thinking?!" game.
I can think of no better sign of where Steve Spurrier has led our program than a South Carolina win Between the Hedges that leads Dawg Nation to collectively sigh and say, 'That wasn't nearly as bad as I expected.'