Wild times at Williams-Brice Stadium for Georgia Bulldogs

ATHENS – There are a lot of tough places to play in the SEC, and Georgia has lost many more games at other places than the nine at Williams-Brice Stadium over the years. But for sheer agony and frustration, there probably hasn’t been a more maddening place for the Bulldogs to play than South Carolina’s home field.

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Situated on a flat plain that includes the State Fairgrounds, it’s typically 100 degrees in and around Williams-Brice, or at least it feels like it when Georgia and the Gamecocks traditionally face off early in the season. And while the Bulldogs have a much more regal football history, the South Carolinians occasionally flex superior. When they don’t, they revel in ruining the plans of their snooty neighbors to the west.

Such is the scenario this year. The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) already have lost one game, to Arkansas 44-30 in their SEC opener Saturday in Fayetteville. Now, here come the 2-0 Bulldogs, flashing their 2021 national championship rings as well as their newly bestowed No. 1 ranking. They’ve won their first two games by the aggregate score of 82-3 and are favored by four touchdowns over South Carolina.

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Yet there sit the Gamecocks, just as confident for this one as they were for the season opener against Georgia State.

“Our guys have a lot of belief,” second-year coach Shane Beamer declared. “There is great belief in our program. I don’t have to rally them to make them believe. They believe. They have confidence, and they should.”

Their young coach’s self-assured sensibility plays perfectly to an ever-optimistic fan base. Though their team has won one conference championship in its 130-year, football-playing existence (and that one occurred more than a half-century ago while in the ACC) all the Gamecocks faithful needs is the tiniest reason to believe.

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And when it comes to facing the Bulldogs, those sprouts of belief have grown into mighty upsets. Some of Georgia’s finest teams have lost in Columbia.

  • The Bulldogs’ No. 6-ranked team of 2014 went down 38-35 in a storm-interrupted contest best remembered for Todd Gurley not getting the football on first-and-goal inside the Gamecocks’ 5-yard line.
  • Georgia’s 2012 team that would challenge Alabama for the SEC championship and a national-title game berth went down 35-7 in Columbia early that season.
  • The 10th-ranked Bulldogs of 2000 saw Quincy Carter throw five interceptions on the way to an 11-point loss.

And so on. Georgia leads the South Carolina series 53-19-2 and is 20-9-2 in Columbia. But even some of Bulldogs’ greatest teams had to fight like mad to get out of there with a ‘W.’

This year is the 20th anniversary of David Pollack’s famous bat-and-grab interception TD of 2002. That collection of Bulldogs, which limped out of Columbia as 13-7 winners, went 13-1 and won the SEC championship. South Carolina finished 5-7.

Two years later, the No. 3-ranked Georgia team of 2004 fell behind 16-0 before rallying for a 20-16 victory. The Bulldogs would go 10-2 that season, while that Gamecocks team went 6-5.

Georgia’s powerful teams of the late-1970s and early-’80s likewise struggled with the Gamecocks. Former quarterback Buck Belue remembers his first trip to Columbia, when the “Wonder Dogs” of 1978 came home on the wrong end of 27-10 final score. They jumped to an early lead on an 81-yard Willie McClendon touchdown run and thought they were in for a cruise.

“The deeper we got into the game, the harder it got and the louder it got,” Belue recalled. “It was one of those slow-death kind of things. The more they hung around, the more they believed.”

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Unfettered belief is what South Carolina fans are known for. Regardless of the expectation for their Gamecocks, they delight in their team and all the program’s quirky traditions.

The players run out onto the field before games through smoke machines to the dramatic sounds of the song of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” White towels are distributed throughout the stadium and, right before kickoff, the crowd twirls them wildly above their heads while jumping up and down in frenzied orchestration with the electronic dance tune “Sandstorm.” The rickety old, two-deck stadium, built in 1934, actually shakes and sways from all the movement.

And that’s before anything happens in the game. Should the Gamecocks make a positive play of any sort, the place really goes bonkers.

“Loud,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of playing there. “It’s one of the league’s most impressive stadiums. It seems so vertical, and they get after it when ‘Sandstorm’ starts playing and their fans get into it. … All SEC stadiums are loud and passionate. It just means more in the SEC, and that definitely carries over to Williams-Brice.”

Smart was 1-1 at South Carolina while playing safety for the Bulldogs in the late 1990s. He was defensive coordinator for Alabama in 2010 when the Gamecocks beat them in Columbia 35-21.

That’s the only time South Carolina has defeated the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. It’s 0-5 the other times.

Still, the Gamecocks remain incredibly optimistic.

“The No. 1 defense in the country, too,” South Carolina tight end Austin Stogner said of the Bulldogs. “They’re good, but we line up on Saturday, so we’ll see then.”

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The Gamecocks believe they possess the one weapon necessary for slaying dragons such as the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs – a highly skilled quarterback. Spencer Rattler, once the nation’s top quarterback prospect, transferred to South Carolina from Oklahoma during the offseason.

Rattler’s game remains flawed, which brought him the ire of the Sooner Nation while residing in Norman, Okla. At South Carolina, he’s been sacked an SEC-high eight times and has thrown two touchdowns to three interceptions.

But Rattler still possesses the rocket-right arm that allows him to hurl a football 70 yards down the field on a line. Along with a fleet-footed receiver corps, which will be going against an extremely young Georgia secondary, that is the only matchup that might even slightly tilt South Carolina’s way in Saturday’s game.

But that’s all they need. Like the scene from the satirical comedy “Dumb and Dumber,” to this the Gamecock Nation would surely say, “so you’re saying we’ve got a chance!”

They do. And South Carolina is pulling out all the stops Saturday.

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On his Thursday night call-in show, Beamer revealed that ESPN is delaying the scheduled noon kickoff for 12 minutes. The reason, he said, is so the network can televise the Gamecocks’ dramatic field entrance and pregame festivities.

You know, Space Odyssey, “Sandstorm,” all that.

“They want to show the atmosphere and environment in Williams-Brice Stadium,” Beamer told his listeners. “That is a credit to our fan base and the way they make Williams-Brice special. They are going to spend 12 extra minutes to show ‘2001′ and show scenes from the Gamecock Walk when our team arrives. We need to do our part to make it worth their while. …

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“It needs to be rocking, and I know it will be.”

No doubt, it will. The Bulldogs would expect nothing less.

WILD TIMES AT WILLIAMS-BRICE

Crazy things happen when the Georgia Bulldogs play South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. To wit:

1978: L, 27-10 -- Early Georgia lead is wasted as No. 15 Bulldogs go down

1984: L, 17-10 -- Gamecocks’ “Fire Ant Defense” stings No. 12 Georgia

1986: W, 31-26 -- QB James Jackson inexplicably drops ball at end but Dogs hold on

1988: L, 23-10 -- Gamecocks suffocate No. 6 Georgia’s ballyhooed backs

2000: L, 21-10 -- QB Quincy Carter throws 5 INTs as No. 10 Dogs are upset

2002: W, 13-7 -- David Pollack’s bat-and-grab interception TD saves No. 9 Georgia

2004: W, 20-16 -- No. 3 Dogs overcome 16-0 deficit to beat unranked Carolina

2008: W, 14-7 -- No. 2 Georgia needs two fourth-quarter goal-line stands to survive

2012: L, 35-7 -- Bulldogs, eventual East champs, are pummeled in raucous night game

2014: L, 38-35 -- Todd Gurley is passed over and No. 6 Dogs miss 28-yard FG