In my defense, I correctly predicted that Georgia's first two games would produce one blowout and one nailbiter.
I just happened to get them backwards, forecasting a tight ball game with Boise State and a thumping of South Carolina.
I should have known better.
It seems as though the Bulldogs always get the Gamecocks' best shot. Of the 58 series meetings between the border rivals, 23 have been decided by a touchdown or less, including four of the five Georgia-South Carolina games to have been played in the Mark Richt era.
Even allowing for the typical closeness of the contest, there was a lot not to like about this game from the perspective of a Red and Black partisan.
The Georgia pass defense surrendered 236 yards and a touchdown to Blake Mitchell, who came into the 2005 campaign with a career quarterback rating hovering somewhere between mine and that of the Lady Dogs basketball player who threw three T-shirts on frozen ropes into the student section at halftime.
D.J. Shockley connected on less than half of his pass attempts, managing just 112 aerial yards, no touchdown tosses, and a pair of interceptions in his first conference game as a starter.
The Bulldogs were penalized nine times for 90 yards.
It was a sloppily played football game that wasn't helped by some highly suspect Georgia play calling that sometimes made me wonder whether legalizing the forward pass might rank right up there with imposing a page limit on media guides as the dumbest decision the N.C.A.A. ever made.
As if that wasn't cause enough for concern, there was bad mojo breaking out all over the place in Athens on Saturday night.
On more than one occasion, the Georgia band struck up the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black." When you're wearing red jerseys and the other team is wearing black britches, you don't play a song about how you want to take a bunch of red things and paint them black. That's as bad as when the L.S.U. and Auburn bands play a song featuring the line, "Hold that Tiger!"---which is what the other team's band ought to be playing.
That wasn't the worst of it, though. Prior to kickoff, snippets of whatever game was on E.S.P.N. were played on the scoreboard. That was all well and good, until the halftime report of that particular contest came on and the cameras turned to E.S.P.N. college football analyst Jim Donnan.
Jim Donnan?!?! Steve Spurrier is in Sanford Stadium and someone in the control room is putting a hex on the home team by putting Jim Donnan up on the scoreboard? You don't tempt fate like that; it's like agreeing to do a series of commercials about losing your mojo right before you get bounced in the first round of a tennis tournament you're supposed to win.
On the other hand, a win is a win. Georgia found a way to get the victory, gutting it out, converting a crucial third down to keep the game-winning drive going, and doing so against a Gamecock defense that has been good consistently for the last several years, even when they were losing ten or eleven games a season.
The Bulldog D limited South Carolina to 13 first downs, 43 rushing yards, and nine points. The 'Dawgs tallied more rushing yards (238) than the 'Cocks gained passing yards (236) and Thomas Brown had a career day, gaining 144 yards on 20 carries and scoring the game-clinching touchdown.
Tra Battle and Paul Oliver each intercepted South Carolina passes and the Bulldogs recorded four sacks. The Red and Black clearly outperformed the opposition in every facet of the kicking game, setting up what wound up being an old-style S.E.C. showdown.
D.J. Shockley played with heart and guts, rushing ten times for 30 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs have won four straight over South Carolina, giving Georgia its longest winning streak in the series since the period from 1980 to 1983. The Red and Black are now 15-6-2 all-time against the Gamecocks in contests decided by seven or fewer points.
Even with all the problems the 'Dawgs encountered, they missed a blowout by that much. Had three plays gone differently---the gutsy fourth down call that almost resulted in a touchdown, the interception at the end of the first half, and the atrocious officiating call that transformed a fumble recovery into a 15-yard penalty---the final score would have looked a lot like the shellacking I predicted.
Georgia is 2-0 and no other S.E.C. team with two wins has faced a quality of opposition equal to that the Bulldogs have defeated.
Among 2-0 squads in the Southeastern Conference, the only other team that comes close to matching the Red and Black's strength of schedule is Vanderbilt, so the Bulldogs' October 15 date in Nashville now looms large on the conference slate.
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I kid about the Commodores, of course, but the S.E.C. race appears wide open because everyone looks mortal.
Georgia won ugly against South Carolina. Tennessee won ugly against U.A.B. Auburn has a loss. Florida has won but it has not beaten overmatched opposition by the expected margins. Arkansas lost to Vanderbilt. Alabama struggled with Southern Miss. Louisiana State won an emotional game but the Bayou Bengals did not display a championship-caliber defense. No one seems dominant, so the contenders all remain in contention.
Likewise, Georgia was but one among many highly-rated teams to have struggled with lower-ranked or unranked opposition this weekend. L.S.U. was taken to the wire by an Arizona State squad ranked ten spots below the Tigers in the national standings. Michigan fell to Notre Dame and Iowa State defeated Iowa, demonstrating the intensity with which an underdog approaches a heated rivalry game. It is to the Bulldogs' credit, therefore, that they took on a team with whom the Red and Black have a long history and emerged victorious, however unimpressively.
The Georgia-South Carolina game was also one of a slew of exciting games played on Saturday: Ohio State-Texas, Michigan-Notre Dame, Arkansas-Vanderbilt, Arizona State-Louisiana State, Boise State-Oregon State, and Georgia Tech-North Carolina all wound up being close contests, so at least the 'Dawgs are in good company.
Not every game this weekend was settled in the fourth quarter, however. This brings me, naturally, to my latest anti-Auburn haiku, which is, in fact, a backhanded compliment:
You beat Mississippi State.
You must be so proud.
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We turn now to the best part of every weekend, the Mark Richt Victory Watch.
Due to his relative youth and early success, Mark Richt gives every indication that he eventually will challenge Vince Dooley's school record for career victories. Accordingly, we at "The Dawg Show" began counting down to that milestone following Coach Richt's initial win as the Bulldogs' head coach.
The Bulldogs' 43rd series win over the Gamecocks gave Coach Richt his 44th career victory, placing him just 157 wins away from matching Coach Dooley's career mark.
At 44-10, Coach Richt now has sole possession of fifth place on the all-time Georgia career victories list and his record after 54 games is better than the ledger tallied by any of his predecessors after the same number of outings. At this point in their respective careers, W.A. Cunningham (35-13-6), Harry Mehre (33-18-3), Wally Butts (36-16-2), Vince Dooley (38-13-3), Ray Goff (32-22), and Jim Donnan (38-16) all had been less successful than Coach Richt.
Finally, Mark Richt's career record against Steve Spurrier now stands at 1-1.
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As a football fan, you want your team to win 'em all and you want your team to win 'em all by a lot, but, just because every dog has his day, that doesn't mean every day belongs to the 'Dawgs.
Nevertheless, it's like Hal Holbrook explained to Charlie Sheen at the end of "Wall Street": when you encounter adversity, you find your true character and that's what keeps you from giving in to the adversity. The Bulldogs didn't play with a lot of poise, but they played with a lot of character and, in the end, they got the win. They learned that they can be down at halftime against a well-coached ball club that came to play and they can still come back to earn the W.
The Bulldogs' next game, against Louisiana-Monroe, couldn't come at a better time. It will give the Red and Black the chance to work out some kinks offensively. Personally, if he feels up to the challenge, I would commit to giving Thomas Brown 30 carries next Saturday just to see what he can do; I suspect we will find that he is the sort of tailback who grows stronger in the fourth quarter if he is fed the football on a regular basis.
Defensively, the 'Dawgs did all that was expected of them. It actually is amazing how consistently the Red and Black D has played against the Gamecocks in recent years. From 1997 to 2005, Georgia surrendered 15, 3, 9, 21, 14, 7, 7, 16, and 15 points, respectively, against South Carolina. When you hold a team to 16 or fewer points eight times in nine years, you're going to get the better of that rival more often than not.
Fortunately, this was one of the more oftens rather than one of the nots. 17-15 isn't how I wanted to see Georgia win this one, but win it the 'Dawgs did and, for that, you have to tip your cap (and maybe even throw your visor) to the Red and Black.