The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Georgia can break your spirit. Just look at South Carolina’s empty stands.

A brave South Carolina fan hung around after Georgia went up 45-0 in the fourth quarter. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)
6 min

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A study of the football human condition took place Saturday in the giant football lab of Williams-Brice Stadium, revealing how some people go ahead and exit home stadiums when it’s 24-0 at halftime, while others choose 31-0 at 13:21 of the third quarter, while still others reckon it’s enough at 38-0 six minutes later, while still others wait for an interception at 38-0, while still others wait for 45-0. That last group may or may not include the guy 20 rows up behind the end zone who remained lonely and supine on the metal bleacher, his knees bent upward and a small towel mercifully covering his face in the heat.

Even the zaniest of football fans, those in the SEC, are more devotees than connoisseurs.

Were they connoisseurs, they would have stayed to witness some of the smartest, most beautiful college football played anyplace in any year: that of the moment of No. 1 Georgia, whose apparent 48-0 win became officially 48-7 with 53 seconds left on a South Carolina touchdown the conference should overrule on review — not because it wasn’t legit but because it didn’t fit.

“I feel like everyone is really taking their jobs seriously,” Georgia offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran said.


Eight months after the proud program got its first national title in 41 years, and five months after it sent a 15-man drove toward the NFL on draft weekend, the Bulldogs stand 3-0 and look really, really, really-really-really good. They’ve outscored Oregon, Samford and South Carolina 130-10. In an alleged road SEC game, the customary rooster call from the Gamecocks’ stadium public address on third down began to sound like a cry for help on the verge of strangulation.

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Roger Goodell called names of five Georgia defenders in the first round in April, and Coach Kirby Smart frets a bit about the green defensive line that needs time and practice reps, and Smart guarantees there won’t be 15 draftees this time, but the defense still reserves the right to keep your offense from running free or to chase you down and foil your giddiness if you do.

And the offense. Gracious. Smart called it “explosive,” a word not overused in his seven-season tenure. They’ve got the ball going all over the lot and they’ve got coordinator Todd Monken calling reverses and flea flickers, which must delight fans who want every other play to be a reverse or a flea flicker.

They’ve got a sophomore tight end from Napa who not only got to grow up in Napa but also runs around looking not completely unlike Hercules. Said this Brock Bowers, “It’s always hard matching up with some tight ends,” as tight ends can be both “big” (6-foot-4, 230 pounds, like Bowers) and “fast” (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, like Bowers). Said wide receiver Ladd McConkey, “Just whenever he gets the ball in his hands, people are bouncing off of him.”

Said Smart: “I don’t even know his numbers. I know he looked fast running down that field” — not to mention “the amount of attention that he draws.”

Here were those numbers: one rush for five yards and a touchdown on a reverse; five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, one in a wrestling-match catch in the corner of the end zone, one on a 78-yard score on a short toss to an empty middle. For that one, Georgia’s selfless attention to detail shone in Darnell Washington’s downfield block, which Smart extolled and said, “Holes are created through displacement, not just blocking.”

They’ve got a national champion starting quarterback, Stetson Bennett, once so-so like all of us yet getting better and better and better. He’s flipping a pass over a guessing defender to McConkey to roam in a space as wide as the beach at Kiawah Island for a 28-yard gain on the opening march. He’s dodging two defenders and running for chunks. He’s vomiting from over-hydration while continuing a drive, even insisting upon holding for the extra point, a full-time job for Georgia these days. Said Smart, “It’s hard to defend a quarterback that can check things, make throws, has weapons, and then he can run on top of it.”

Then they’re all going around talking about practice — practice this and practice that. “Every single week, that’s our goal: to make practice harder than the game,” said defensive back Kelee Ringo, eternally famous for the 79-yard interception return that clinched the championship in January. He pegged Georgia’s wildly detailed practices as where they’re “put in every situation” and “always get somebody’s best,” where the somebodys are mighty. He spoke of the evident horror of feeling “complacent,” and Smart spoke of “the standard created last year and the legacy,” which “lingers around our building — not the championship but the way they practiced.”

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So the home fans fled early, a scene Ringo said would count among Georgia’s goals because of what it meant, rather like Smart saying, “I thought we challenged our guys to come on the road in the SEC and play really physical, attack from the get-go, and not be treading water.” He called the trip a chance to flex Georgia’s composure muscle, such as after the successful fake punt South Carolina Coach Shane Beamer ordered in the first quarter, something you might even call “Beamerball.”

“Gave up a fake punt,” Smart said, “[and] nobody panics; everybody’s happy they get to go out and play some more.” Soon came a fourth and nine when an open Jalen Brooks caught a short pass and Ringo chased him down from behind.

Georgia’s season turnover total remains zero.

Then the halftime exit came in thin but steady streams of Gamecocks garnet, out through the nearby parking lot past the tailgate porta-potties and over toward the RVs, out through the crosswalks and down the street near the BP and the sprawling building marked “Budweiser of Columbia,” out the other way toward Bojangles and Waffle House — out, out, out. The home majority of the 78,212 proved more football fans than football aesthetes, and by the third quarter, the six sections of bleachers behind the end zone, filled at the outset, had rough fan counts of 16, 40, 76, about 96, 46 and 17, while the sections around the bend from there boasted three, 17, 17, 24 and 51.

The wee gathering who remained and waved towels for the unfitting touchdown qualified as devoted.

The supine guy eventually did get up.