LEASHING THE DOGS
Coaches in the Southeastern Conference era with the most success against Georgia (minimum of 10 series meetings):
Steve Spurrier (Florida/SC) 15-5
Shug Jordan (Auburn) 15-10
Bobby Dodd (Georgia Tech) 12-10
Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee) 11-6
Bear Bryant (Alabama) 9-3
Pat Dye (Auburn) 7-5
ATHENS, Ga. - There was a time not long ago in Southeastern Conference football when Steve Spurrier roamed the Florida sideline as "Darth Visor" and "The Evil Genius."
He was enemy No. 1 for the Georgia fan base, which had to suffer 11 beatings in 12 seasons against Spurrier's Gators, with nine of those setbacks by double digits. Now in his ninth season coaching the South Carolina Gamecocks, Spurrier believes the vitriol that once existed has subsided significantly.
"I don't get near the hate from the Georgia side that I used to," Spurrier said this week. "It's hard for Georgia to really get mad at South Carolina. They've got so many teams that they're mad at or are mad at them that it's hard to get another rival. They've got Georgia Tech, Florida and Auburn, and they almost had a fight with Vanderbilt a couple of years ago -- some of their coaches, that is.
"We haven't beaten them enough for them to circle South Carolina."
Though Georgia holds a commanding 46-16-2 series edge over the Gamecocks, the two teams are 4-4 against one another since Spurrier's arrival. South Carolina will enter Sanford Stadium on Saturday having won three straight over the Bulldogs for the first time ever, which has Spurrier on the doorstep of history.
Should Spurrier defeat Georgia for a 16th time, he would own more wins over the Bulldogs than any other coach. The 68-year-old is currently tied with former Auburn coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan, who went 15-10 against Georgia from 1951 to '75.
"Our guys just play a little bit better than their guys," Spurrier said. "Two years ago, we had three defensive scores and a special-teams score in that 45-42 game. That was sort of a miracle we beat them that day. We've also lost some to them where we had a real good chance of winning."
A Gamecocks win Saturday also would give Spurrier more than a 75 percent success rate against the Bullldogs. The only other coach who faced Georgia 10 or more times with such a rate is former Alabama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant, who went 9-3 in the series.
Spurrier, who played Willie Nelson's "Georgia On My Mind" during practice this week, is 5-4 against Bulldogs counterpart Mark Richt, having prevailed in 2001 during his final season at Florida and Richt's first at Georgia.
"He's got a team that's playing hard," Richt said. "He's got a big, physical football team, and they have an identity. Their identity is to play defense, run the ball real physical, take some shots down the field, and you saw it on the special teams. That's been a good formula for victory.
"It's pretty dramatic from the 'Fun-n-Gun' stuff to what he's doing now."
Almost every Georgia player was not alive when Spurrier's dominance began, and the Bulldogs are not into the historical aspect as much as reversing the trend. The only Bulldogs who have experienced success against the Gamecocks are fifth-year seniors such as quarterback Aaron Murray, guard Chris Burnette and tight end Arthur Lynch.
Georgia's "Dream Team" signing class of 2011 is 0-2 against the Gamecocks and 9-0 against the rest of the SEC East.
"Every week is special, but especially this one," junior receiver Chris Conley said. "You never want to lose to somebody repeatedly. We at Georgia want to have a winning tradition, and right now this series is not looking like that. It's something that is important to us to fix."
Said junior cornerback Damian Swann: "It's not just about the rivalry, but it's also one of those games that we need to get to where we want to go."
Georgia has been fortunate the past two seasons that South Carolina has stumbled a couple of times in conference play after defeating the Bulldogs. That has enabled the Bulldogs to win the past two SEC East titles, but Georgia has the more difficult schedule this season with a visit from LSU later this month.
Early divisional supremacy and ending a three-game series skid will be at stake Saturday when the Bulldogs face their old nemesis, whether the animosity toward Spurrier is still there or not.
"I don't know," said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs to their lone win over Spurrier's Gators in 1997. "Let us lose, our fans would probably be more upset at us."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.