The date: November 1, 1980
The matchup: No. 14 South Carolina (6-1) at No. 4 Georgia (7-0)
The stakes: To continue an unlikely national title push, Herschel Walker and Georgia must get past Heisman contender George Rogers and maybe the best South Carolina team in 20 years.
The back story: Vince Dooley won the most important recruiting battle of his life when he secured the services of Johnson County (Ga.) High School’s Herschel Walker, an all-world prospect from rural Georgia. He fended off most of the country’s powers to win Walker, and within 12 months he had also won a national title.
We didn’t know that on the first day of November, however. Walker’s star turn had come in the season opener, a one-point win over Tennessee, and the Dawgs just eked by in wins over unranked Clemson (20-16) and Ole Miss (28-21 with an injured Walker). South Carolina was their first ranked opponent of the year, and it was a chance for Walker to ply his trade against maybe the second-best running back in the country, the Gamecocks’ Rogers.
Walker came into the game with 877 rushing yards at 6.2 yards per carry; Rogers came in with 1,089 yards at 6.4. South Carolina had lost only at No. 4 USC but followed that up with a win at No. 17 Michigan. They beat Duke and Cincinnati by a combined 69-14 before heading to Athens.
This was a massive game, and it lived up to the hype.
The game: From 50 Best*:
South Carolina came to Athens on a roll. Behind eventual Heisman winner (and Georgia native) George Rogers, the Gamecocks were 6-1. Rogers had rushed for 142 yards in a 17-14 upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and their No. 14 ranking was their highest since 1959.
Against Georgia, Rogers was good, rushing 35 times for 168 yards. But the game was mainly remembered for two plays. On the third play of the third quarter, with Georgia leading by just a 3-0 margin, Walker exploded down the right sideline. Three different Gamecock defenders looked like they had an angle to catch him, and none did. The 76-yard score made it 10-0. It showcased Walker’s speed in the same way that his harvesting of Bates showed his power.
Walker finished with 219 yards on 43 carries, but Georgia’s lead shrank to 13-10, and South Carolina was driving with five minutes left. Once again, the resourceful Georgia defense, the Junkyard Dawgs, saved the day. Rogers powered what could have been a game-winning drive, but he was shaken up on a run inside the 20. On his final carry of the day, the ball was stripped and flew into the air. Tim Parks fell on it, and after a roughing the punter penalty gave Georgia one last break, Walker plowed away at the rest of the clock.
Rogers would go on to win the Heisman, in part because Heisman voters just couldn’t fathom giving it to a freshman.
The short version of the game:
The long version:
The box score: Via Newspapers.com:
(The box is a bit backwards there — SC went 2-for-13 passing, not UGA.)
This was about the fourth dramatic finish of the year for this blessed Dawgs team. The most dramatic finish would come a week later, when they beat Florida via long Lindsay Scott catch and run. Wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech brought UGA to the brink of the national title, and a gutty performance by Walker (who dislocated his shoulder early in the game) powered a title-clinching 17-10 win over Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, South Carolina ran out of gas down the stretch. The Gamecocks barely got by Wake Forest by one point at home, then got rocked by Clemson on the road and by No. 3 Pitt in the Gator Bowl. After climbing as high as 14th in the AP poll — and getting to the brink of a top-5 upset on the road that would have bumped them much higher — they finished 8-4 and unranked. Carlen’s tenure would end the next year after a 6-6 campaign.