Sunday, August 24, 2008

South Carolina: If we would have only...

2005 at Georgia

The Gamecocks have consistently been on the outside looking in for the Eastern division championship since they joined the SEC in 1992. They've had more overall success than Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but still have the same number of appearances in Atlanta as they do: zero. The fact remains that the Cocks have always been the kid brother to the big three in the East.

There have been times when SC fans thought they were about to get over the hump in the East. They started playing respectful football in 2000, as opposed to whatever it was they were doing the few years before. That year, Holtz and crew were only a win over Florida away from reaching the SEC Championship Game. The problem was they fell in a not-so-close 41-21 outing in Gainesville.

The Cocks started strong again in 2001, as they had a top-ten ranking and a 5-0 record in mid-October. However, they dropped close games at Arkansas and Tennessee before getting blown out at home by Florida. The Cocks would have been left out of Atlanta even if they could have pulled out one of the two games against the Vols or Gators.

In 2005, Steve Spurrier took over a mediocre Gamecock squad and brought high expectations. Even so, the Cocks weren't expected to beat Georgia in Athens the second week of the season. South Carolina lost a close one between the hedges to start SEC play, and it ended up keeping the Cocks out of the SEC Championshp Game. This is the one game they need back since the start of the BCS.

Both teams started slowly that evening, and they entered the 2nd quarter tied at zero. The Bulldogs scored early in the 2nd on a 15-yard touchdown run by D.J. Shockley, but didn't hold the lead for long. Jonathan Joseph returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown three minutes later. Gamecocks kicker then Josh Brown missed the extra point.

As they would say on Sportscenter, remember that kick.

Brown added a short field goal just before halftime, and the Cocks took a lead over the #9 ranked Bulldogs into the locker room. It could have been bigger than 9-7, however, if a touchdown pass to Sidney Rice hadn't been called back on account of an illegal shift.

Georgia took charge in the second half, as they took a 17-9 lead early in the 4th quarter. The difference in the game turned out to be Georgia's ability to run the ball effectively, while the Gamecocks struggled to find any yards on the ground the entire night.

The Gamecocks weren't without chances, though, and had a shot to tie the game with about seven minutes left in the 4th quarter. Blake Mitchell led a 65-yard drive for a touchdown, but he overthrew Rice on the two-point conversion. This left the score 17-15, which proved to be the final margin.

Georgia bled the clock down to about one minute before Spurrier's offense got the ball again, and the Cocks didn't manage a first down even then.

The two-point loss was tough for Gamecocks fans to swallow at the time, but became even harder by mid-November. South Carolina followed the Georgia game with blowout losses to Alabama and Auburn, but then won their last five SEC contests.

If the Gamecocks would have had a little better fortune in Athens, they would have finished 6-2 and held any tiebreakers over the rest of the East. Actually, they wouldn't have even needed the tiebreaker to get into Atlanta; they would have won the division outright.

Instead, they watched Georgia destroy LSU in Atlanta to finish the season. And just as they have every other year since joining the SEC, they watched from the couch.