You never know what's going to happen when two teams go into a game with both of them facing enormous pressure to win it. The game can turn into an entertaining classic, with both willing to scratch and claw and show every ounce of talent they have in an effort to pull out the win. Or the glare can cause both teams to crumble and turn into a sloppy affair.
Make no mistake about it: South Carolina and Georgia were both in a must-win situation tonight. South Carolina needed a win to prove that its bid for a second SEC East title was more than just the dreams of its always-optimistic fan base. Georgia needed a victory to help quiet the rumors that Mark Richt is on the way out, even if that silence would have only lasted until the next high-profile loss.
Maybe the play wasn't always crisp in the Gamecocks' three-point win, but it was certainly entertaining. The game seesawed back and forth, producing seven lead changes, as neither team seemed willing to give an inch. Georgia would threaten on two early drives? The South Carolina defense would lock down at the last possible moment and force field goals. South Carolina would score twice to turn a 20-14 deficit into a 28-20 lead? Fine. Georgia would score a touchdown and two-point conversion, then answer a Gamecocks field goal with a touchdown to take a 35-31 lead.
The one thing became as the night wore on is that neither of these teams are ready to defeat an SEC West team in Atlanta right now. South Carolina had more mistakes, perhaps, but also made more big plays. And Steve Spurrier showed he still has a feel for the well-timed gambit -- backing off of a fourth-down attempt that could have essentially ended the game early only to call for a fake punt that went for a touchdown not long afterward.
Oh, and there's the little complication that this isn't actually the SEC East Championship Game that it had been made out to be. Florida and Tennessee have both looked strong so far, though you can question the competition in both cases. One thing's for sure, though -- they've looked better than either South Carolina or Georgia over their first two games.
Should this loss cause a new round of speculation about Mark Richt's future? No. Slopping around or not, the Gamecocks were still a Top 15 team coming into this game. Being in that game until the end and losing by just a field goal after a game with wild momentum swings shouldn't be diminished because the name of that team is South Carolina. But we all know how the world actually works. Georgia has lost too many games in recent years, and many Georgia fans have come to see defeating South Carolina as a sort of birthright -- sure, the Dawgs lose once in a while, but not regularly. If the Boise loss moved the murmurs about Richt's future into audible conversations, the South Carolina loss could very well turn them into a shout.
Georgia still has a window in which to turn this season around and win or at least compete once again for the SEC East title. But the window is closing, and there's no telling how much longer it will be open.
There's a season still to be played, and both teams would do well to remember it. A must-win game in September means nothing if you start losing them in November.