Rivalry games bring enough stress. Throw in year after year of stomach-churning, down-to-the-wire finishes, and they can become downright unbearable.
To the dismay of fans, and the delight of cardiologists, South Carolina and Georgia have played impossibly close games in recent history. Eight of their last 11 meetings have been decided by 7 points or less, including last year's 45-42 Gamecock victory in Athens.
With numbers like that, it suggests another wild, nerve-shredding ending at Williams-Brice Stadium.
But if Saturday's game stays true to form, will Georgia have an answer for one of the SEC's ultimate closers?
Most fans know Marcus Lattimore as a warhorse running back who gets better as others grow tired. Still, it's startling just how much Lattimore's numbers back that assertion. The junior from Duncan, S.C., has played in 8 career SEC games where South Carolina has either led or trailed by seven points or less entering the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter of those games, Lattimore has run for 347 yards on 54 carries - an average of 6.4 yards per carry. That easily surpasses his career average of 4.9 yards per carry.
Marcus Lattimore - 4th quarter of SEC games, leading or trailing by 7 pts./less
Average: 43.4 yards
(Games: '10 - vs. Georgia, @ Auburn, vs. Tennessee; '11 - @ Georgia, vs. Auburn, @ Mississippi State; '12 - @ Vanderbilt, @ Kentucky)
Lattimore strapped the Gamecocks onto his broad shoulders last season, grinding for 93 yards on 13 fourth-quarter carries in Athens. In 2010, Lattimore salted away Carolina's win over Georgia with a 9-carry, 56-yard final period, prompting Steve Spurrier to call it "one of the most amazing days I've seen a running back have."
Georgia may finally have the numbers to challenge that dominance. In the last three fourth quarters, the Bulldogs have only allowed 14 points, a fact not lost on Spurrier.
"They've stopped people in the fourth quarter. They remind me a little bit of Auburn two years ago when their defense wasn't ranked very good, but in the fourth quarter they stopped people. They won every game somehow doing that," Spurrier said.
Marcus Lattimore: The Closer.
Said Spurrier: "Right now, Georgia's defense has played very well in the fourth quarter, when most close games anyway are pretty much decided in the fourth quarter.
We've been a pretty good 2nd-half, 4th-quarter team also. Hopefully that will continue."
And if another close game unfolds at Williams-Brice, will the Gamecocks' "closer" take center stage?
On Georgia: Big XII and Pac-12 teams may only look like they're playing against air, but even their impulse-control offenses can't match the Bulldogs'. Georgia leads the nation with 43 plays of 20+ yards, an average of almost 9 per game. No other SEC team has more than 28.
South Carolina suffered a string of broken tackles in the 1st half against Kentucky, a problem which helped the Wildcats to a 17-7 lead. A failure to wrap up Georgia's playmakers, namely freshman running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley and possession receiver Michael Bennett, could prove fatal.
Georgia freshman running backs Todd Gurley (left) and Keith Marshall (right).
Gurley and Marshall - a two-headed monster nicknamed "Gurshall," like Herschel - combined for 294 rushing yards in a 51-44 win over Tennessee. Marshall has incredible top-end speed and an ability to change directions on a dime. Gurley, the SEC's rushing leader at 107.2 yards per game, thrives between the tackles, bringing a ramrod, Lattimore-like thirst for contact.
The Gamecocks may rank 6th in the nation in rush defense, but if they lag in one area, it's preventing the big running play - they rank 54th in the nation in runs of 10+ yards allowed (20). Limiting Gurley and Marshall's "explosion" plays will be at a premium.
South Carolina vs. the Run Category NCAA Rank Rush Defense 6th Runs of 10+ yds. Allowed 54th Steve Spurrier admonished that in the SEC, the team that runs better usually wins. What the running backs do Saturday could determine whether we're headed for another white-knuckle finish - and which team walks out of Williams-Brice undefeated. Join us Friday for our "Pre-Snap Reads" before the Bulldogs and Gamecocks clash in Columbia. --AD--
South Carolina vs. the Run
Category NCAA Rank
Rush Defense 6th
Runs of 10+ yds. Allowed 54th
Steve Spurrier admonished that in the SEC, the team that runs better usually wins. What the running backs do Saturday could determine whether we're headed for another white-knuckle finish - and which team walks out of Williams-Brice undefeated.
Join us Friday for our "Pre-Snap Reads" before the Bulldogs and Gamecocks clash in Columbia. --AD--