COLUMBIA, S.C. – Back Steve Spurrier and No. 14 South Carolina into a corner and you probably won't like the result.
The Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) showed again how dangerous they can be with their season on the line, avoiding an 0-2 SEC start and regaining their footing in the Eastern Division with a 38-35 victory over No. 13 Georgia on Saturday night.
Such wins aren't unique to Spurrier's Gamecocks in recent seasons. When rumblings began in 2010 that an aging Spurrier had lost his edge, his players responded with a victory over then-No. 1 Alabama that jump-started a run to the SEC Eastern Division.
In 2012, when consecutive mid-season road defeats to LSU and Florida derailed a 6-0 start, the Gamecocks won their final five games for a second straight 11-win season.
And last year when South Carolina was reeling after a stunning loss to Tennessee, Spurrier's team pulled off a just-as-surprising double overtime win at Missouri that started a six-game win streak to finish 11-2.
For Spurrier, such bounce backs are no mystery, just a belief in the players recruited and in getting better week after week.
"Our teams try and improve as the season goes along," Spurrier said Sunday. "I think we have done that."
The Gamecocks certainly have early this season. They were routed at home 52-28 by No. 6 Texas A&M as the prime attraction on the recently launched SEC Network two games ago. Their defense allowed a program-worst 680 yards to the Aggies as their rebuilt defensive line looked feeble and overmatched.
Georgia figured to present just as big a test, led by Heisman Trophy favorite Todd Gurley in the backfield. Gurley got his yards, but South Carolina's defense made the stops when it counted most. The Gamecocks forced the Bulldogs to field goal tries on three first-half series after Georgia drove inside South Carolina's 30.
The biggest stop came with under six minutes left. After Damian Swann's interception set the Bulldogs up with a first-and-goal on the Gamecocks' 4, Georgia ended up with no points. Marshall Morgan missed what would've been a tying 28-yard field goal.
The head-scratching moment came on first down when, instead of handing the ball to Gurley, Georgia tried to pass and Hutson Mason was hit with intentional grounding trying to avoid a sack.
"I think we all were surprised" when Gurley's number wasn't called, Spurrier said. He was stopped for a 3-yard gain on second and goal from the 14 and defensive tackle J.T. Surratt tipped Mason's incomplete pass before Morgan's miss.
"There was some very good fortune for us," Spurrier said.
Good fortune seems to have followed Spurrier and the Gamecocks in recent years. Instead of picking up the pieces of a crumbling season, South Carolina can push full speed into the SEC East race with the edge over rival Georgia.
"Our goals are still set," South Carolina tailback Mike Davis said. "One loss does not define a team."
Georgia coach Mark Richt hopes that's true and pointed to the Gamecocks as the example to follow.
After the Texas A&M loss, South Carolina regrouped to beat East Carolina — a win that looks better given the Pirates victory over then 17th-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday. And now the Gamecocks beat Georgia.
The Gamecocks "beat us and I think we're a pretty good team," Richt said. "They didn't get down to the point they couldn't fight back and that's what we have to do, fight back."
Spurrier's win moved him into a tie for second place all time with Georgia great Vince Dooley with 201 victories as an SEC coach. Spurrier also broke a tie with Auburn's Shug Jordan to become the career leader with 16 victories against Georgia.
But Spurrier's putting the brakes on the bandwagon that's filled with fans once again believing an SEC title is ahead. "We've only played three, it's early. It's early for everyone," he says. "And we've just got to keep pushing,"