2017 marks the tenth anniversary of what’s hailed by college football nerds as the greatest season in the sport’s history: 2007.
I still don’t know if we have a name for it yet. “The year of the upset” or “Curse of the No. 2” both come to mind, but if simply bring up the year “2007” any college football fan worth his or her salt will immediately know what you’re talking about.
If you still don’t know about the greatness of 2007, you can read all about it here. All you really need to know is Kansas was the only P-5 team to finish with one loss and didn’t win the national title. But I digress.
2007 also marks the strangest entry in the South Carolina-Georgia rivalry game. No. 11 Georgia had no reason to think South Carolina was going to pop up for a surprise in Athens — they’d beaten the Gamecocks the previous five seasons as a top-15 team.
But keeping in theme for what would be a crazy year, South Carolina held a Georgia offense armed with Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi to zero touchdowns and pulled off an improbable 16-12 upset. Cory Boyd and Kenny McKinley accounted for half of South Carolina’s offensive yardage, with Boyd scoring the game’s lone touchdown.
That game would ultimately keep Georgia out of the title game that season. By all accounts, had South Carolina not beaten Georgia in what was the second game of the year the Bulldogs would have represented the East against a flawed LSU team. That flawed LSU team went on to beat Ohio State in the title game.
Georgia finished the year No. 2 in the country after eviscerating an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl. Did South Carolina keep Mark Richt out of his best shot at a national title at Georgia? You can’t say it for certain, but it’s hard to find another year in the Richt era where Georgia had a better shot at winning it all.
Fast forward ten years and here we are right back in a very similar situation. Georgia, now ranked No. 1 in the country, plays host to an unranked South Carolina team in Athens. On a weekend being dubbed “separation Saturday”, is it possible the Gamecocks can repeat history and knock Georgia out of the title picture again?
On paper, no. This 8-0 Georgia team is rightfully No. 1 in the country. Outside of Notre Dame, they’ve beaten every team by at least 21 points and have held three conference opponents to single-digit scoring outputs.
While the offense does have the tendency to get behind the chains and suffer the occasional three-and-out, Georgia will bail themselves out with explosive runs by Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift. Don’t count out the big passing plays too — Jake Fromm can kill you deep with big bombs to Terry Godwin and Javon Wims.
But where Georgia really beats you down is their head coach’s specialty: defense. Other than an surprising inability to create havoc with their interior defensive lineman and create sacks — Georgia’s defense has been elite with a capital “E”. They will stuff the run and can still shut down the pass without an elite rush.
Then the script flips over to South Carolina, who somehow has tip-toed their way to a 6-2 record this season. Not that I can’t appreciate a 6-2 record as a fan, but when within those six games are a one-point win over Louisiana Tech, two late red zone stands to NC State and Tennessee combined with another late defensive stand against Vanderbilt — there is some concern to be had over just how good the Gamecocks actually are.
Here’s what we know about South Carolina: the run defense is good and have been helped along by an improved front four led by DJ Wonnum. That bodes well for a Georgia team who loves to run the ball. South Carolina is also good at preventing big pass plays, also good when you’re defending a Georgia team who loves to throw deep off play-action passes.
Here’s what’s not good for South Carolina: the offense has yet to demonstrate any level of consistency week-to-week. The run game still hasn’t found a consistent option, though one would hope AJ Turner could carry over what he did the last two weeks on the ground against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Jake Bentley has led an average passing game along behind a banged up offensive line. The few big plays South Carolina can generate come in the passing game because the Gamecocks simply can’t generate big gains on the ground. And when your offensive blueprint shapes up like that, Georgia’s defense is the last thing you want to see.
Did South Carolina match up well with Georgia ten years ago? Probably not. But it didn’t matter then and it might not matter now either. Crazy things have happened in this rivalry, but an upset of a No. 1 team will top 2007 as the craziest thing to happen in a long series between these two teams.
How to watch South Carolina vs. Georgia today
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Place: Samford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson
Online: CBS All Access
Dawg Sports (SBN Georgia Blog)