Originally created 09/13/03

Conference kickoff usually sets tone for interstate rivals



ATHENS, Ga. - South Carolina coach Lou Holtz seems convinced Georgia views his team as a mere speed bump on the road to glory.

That's certainly been the case traditionally. The Bulldogs are 40-13-2 all-time against the Gamecocks, so most of their efforts have usually been devoted to grappling with bigger and better game.

"They didn't put a star by us - I'm sure they didn't," Holtz said. "If they did, then any comments I made about (Georgia coach) Mark Richt being intelligent you can disregard."

If Holtz thinks Georgia has more important games to think about, he's right. If the 66-year-old South Carolina coach thinks the No. 8 Bulldogs will look past his No. 25 Gamecocks today at Sanford Stadium (3:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12), Richt has some oceanfront property he'd like to sell him in Athens.

Georgia has lost two of its past three meetings with South Carolina, and Richt considered himself lucky to get out of Columbia with a 13-7 win last year. The Gamecocks have given the Bulldogs fits recently, so there's no reason for the Bulldogs to expect they won't give them a game today.

"It's a game that's got our attention, there's no doubt about it," said Richt, in his third year at Georgia.

After beating the Gamecocks 24-9 in 1999 - Holtz's first year at South Carolina - the Bulldogs' attention had turned elsewhere. Georgia had taken three straight from its border rival and was setting its sights on the Southeastern Conference title.

A trip to Columbia in 2000 was supposed to serve as a mere tune-up for bigger games; the Gamecocks had snapped a 21-game losing streak the week before and were considered years away from competing on the same level with Georgia.

Then Quincy Carter happened. Thanks largely to five interceptions thrown by Carter, Georgia's star quarterback, South Carolina pulled off a 21-10 upset that set the stage for an 8-4 season.

The Bulldogs' 8-4 record that year wasn't viewed nearly as fondly by Georgia backers, and Jim Donnan was shown the door. The Gamecocks handed Richt the first loss of his head coaching career the next year in Athens, winning 14-9 on a late touchdown.

The Bulldogs went to Columbia last year bent on revenge and got it - but barely. Gamecocks fullback Andrew Pinnock fumbled at Georgia's 2-yard line in the waning moments, and the teams went in opposite directions thereafter.

Georgia proceeded to go 13-1 and win its first SEC title in 20 years; South Carolina fell to 5-7.

"The last couple of years we've played, the team that won this game had a great season, and the team that lost this game had probably a mediocre season," Richt said. "It's just a game that's going to set the momentum for our league play."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com.