Georgia copes with pressure, dispatches South Carolina to swing upward on SEC roller coaster

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

ATHENS, Ga. – There will be no crying on the call-in shows this week in Georgia.


No demands to fire Mark Richt RIGHT NOW. No vilification of quarterback Aaron Murray for failing to win the big one. No stampede to the ledges over an 0-2 start.

A week after despair gripped the Bulldog faithful following a season-opening loss to Clemson, euphoria staged a comeback between the hedges. Eleventh-ranked Georgia outscored No. 6 South Carolina, 41-30, saving the season and staving off statewide panic.

For now. There will probably be more overreactions to endure in the draining and difficult weeks to come.

[Photos: Best of college football's Week 2 action]

The emotional difference from one Saturday night to the next was remarkable, and the joy was palpable on the field at Sanford Stadium as 92,746 fans roared their approval of the 'Dogs at game's end. It was almost impossible to remember this was the first Saturday of September. This was a late-November atmosphere.

For the players and coaches in the midst of it, you wonder how they keep their sanity amid the wild mood swings. So I asked the 53-year-old Richt, who has coached at Georgia since 2001 and won 74 percent of his games, how long it took for him to get used to the bum-hero-bum roller coaster.

"I don't know if you get used to it," he said. "Every week it's a monster game, every stadium you go into is so loud. … It's the life in the SEC. It's kind of like dog years.

"But also, it's so satisfying to win. When I was at Florida State (from 1990-2000 as an assistant) we didn't celebrate many victories. The battles were a little bit different. There were maybe two or three a year that really got your blood pumping. Here, it's probably 8-10 a year. It'll wear you out."

[Also: Miami celebrates 'cathartic' win over Florida by stomping Gator floaty]

In an era when few power teams want to play a non-conference road game against a quality opponent, Georgia had the guts to go to No. 8 Clemson last week. But for a team that began the season with national championship aspirations, the risk looked like it would outweigh the reward.

"It's tough," Richt acknowledged. "You hate so early in the season to feel the pressure of all your goals being on the line. … It's just no fun to be 0-2 and 0-1 in the league and hoping somebody ahead of you gets beat."

Instead, Georgia is 1-1 and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference, with every preseason goal still attainable. And now it is South Carolina that will play catch-up in the SEC East, and will spend a week on the griddle as its fans fume.

With 33 years separating them from their last national title, Georgia fans think they've had it rough. But that's nothing compared to the angst of the Gamecock faithful, which has never celebrated a national title, an SEC title or a BCS bowl berth. Ever.

In a triumph of hope over experience, many of them declared that this was their year. And it still can be. But they are fighting uphill now, and it will be a contentious week in the Palmetto State rehashing this loss.

Start with the pedestrian play by South Carolina's best player, Jadeveon Clowney. Unanimously proclaimed as the cinch No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Clowney has clouded his draft status with two low-impact performances to start the season. He had his first sack of the year Saturday, forced Murray from the pocket a couple other times and did not appear as gassed as last week, but North Carolina and Georgia both have successfully game-planned around the chiseled defensive end.

[Related: Jadeveon Clowney rocked a Batman undershirt for Georgia game]

"Everything went away from him," coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.

Whether he was lined up on the end of the line of scrimmage or down inside, Georgia ran and passed where Clowney wasn't.

"They were just taking me right out of the game with what they did," Clowney said. "It's very frustrating. I told the coaches, 'You've got to put me somewhere else where I can make some plays, help my team.' "

The coaches might have been too busy fighting to listen. Perhaps even more troubling than the Clowney issue was the in-game fracas between a pair of defensive assistants – believed to be linebackers coach Kirk Botkin and line coach Deke Adams, with Ward and others having to break up the shoving match.

"Heat of the moment," Ward said. "Things happen. … They're good."

Said head ball coach Steve Spurrier: "At least they care."

Spurrier certainly didn't care for the performance by his defense, which was gouged for more yards (536) than it surrendered in any game last year and still has not forced a turnover in 2013.

"They ran it right down our throat," Spurrier said. "The three-and-out days, I hope they come back to us at some point this season. … Y'all watched it, they romped up and down the field on us."

Georgia romped to a victory it had to have, returning to the good graces of its fickle fan base in the process. And now it is South Carolina's turn to suffer, trying to keep calm and carry on amid the hysteria that accompanies every loss in the league of overreaction.