- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Steve Spurrier spent part of this week downplaying the intensity of the Georgia-South Carolina rivalry.
His rationale: Georgia has too many other rivals for South Carolina to fall into the Bulldogs' circle of hate.
That's classic Spurrier.
He's a master at calling plays. He's a master at seeing things during games that most of us don't see, and he's a master at subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle gamesmanship.
Consider this gem: "They almost had a fight with Vanderbilt a couple years ago, some of their coaches at least," Spurrier said. "So anyway, it's hard for them to have too many enemies. We still haven't beaten them enough for them to sort of circle South Carolina."
As one of Spurrier's closest confidants noted this week, there's nothing that comes out of his mouth that isn't premeditated.
He knows unequivocally how much Georgia fans would like to beat his brains in, and it wouldn't matter if he were coaching at Florida, South Carolina or Science Hill (his high school alma mater in Johnson City, Tenn.).
That's what happens when you dole out as much pain during a career as Spurrier has to Georgia.
Nobody in college football has reveled in beating up on Georgia more or done it any better than Spurrier, who's 15-5 all-time against the Bulldogs.
If South Carolina can make it four in a row over Georgia on Saturday in Sanford Stadium, Spurrier would become the top Dawg catcher in college football history. No coach has ever beaten Georgia 16 times during a career.
Bear Bryant didn't do it. Neither did Bobby Dodd, Robert Neyland, Phillip Fulmer, John Vaught, Charlie McClendon nor Dan McGugin.
Former Auburn coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan was 15-10 against Georgia during his Hall of Fame career. Spurrier could be the first to get to 16 wins against the Bulldogs.
And you know how Spurrier feels about doing things for the first time.
So don't believe for a minute Spurrier's "aw shucks, we're just South Carolina" spin on the rivalry this week.
He loves rivalries, loves playing in them and loves rubbing salt in the wound when he wins, which is most of the time.
His distaste for Georgia goes back to his senior season at Florida in 1966, when the Bulldogs pinned a 27-10 whipping on Spurrier and the Gators, costing them a share of what would have been their first SEC championship.
Needless to say, the Head Ball Coach still hasn't forgotten.
In 1995, one of the two years the Florida-Georgia game was played on the two campuses while the stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., was being renovated, the Gators thrashed the Bulldogs 52-17 and punctuated the rout with a late touchdown pass.
At the time, nobody had ever scored 50 points on Georgia in Sanford Stadium, and you can bet Spurrier made note of that afterward.
"We knew coming in that no one had ever scored 50 up here. It was something we wanted to do," Spurrier said that day. "You always want to try to do something that no one else has done."
Of course, only minutes earlier, he narrowly escaped being doused with a cup full of tobacco spit thrown in his direction by an irate Georgia fan from the stands as Spurrier was leaving the field.
Rarely has Spurrier missed any opportunities to needle the Bulldogs.
Once, a caller on his Florida coaches' show in the early 1990s was grumbling about having to live among Florida State fans and hear all their crowing about beating the Gators, who were just 1-4-1 against the Seminoles in Spurrier's first five seasons at Florida.
Spurrier suggested to the fan that he go live in Georgia.
Spurrier just has a way of getting into the heads of the teams he has to beat. He certainly did it to Georgia when he was at Florida, winning 11 of 12 against the Bulldogs and completely turning the tide in that rivalry. Before Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990, Georgia had won 15 of the last 19 against Florida.
He also did it to Tennessee in the 1990s and is well on his way to doing it to Clemson after winning four in a row over the Tigers.
Remember Dabo Swinney's rant about something that Spurrier supposedly said, but really didn't?
It's close to getting there with Georgia again, and there won't be any end to it if the Gamecocks win a fourth in a row.
South Carolina won last year's game by four touchdowns, the Gamecocks' largest margin of victory ever in the series, and they also managed to win during their last trip to Athens in 2011 when they probably didn't deserve to. They scored three nonoffensive touchdowns that day and somehow escaped.
So you wonder if things go poorly early Saturday for the Dawgs if there's a tinge of "Here we go again" that sets in.
One of the things that eats at Spurrier is that South Carolina has been able to cash in and get to the SEC championship game only once (2010) during its three-game winning streak over Georgia.
"Give them credit," Spurrier said. "We've beaten them every year and managed to lose two, and they don't lose any more."
But whereas the Gamecocks have faced the tougher schedule of the two in the SEC West over the past two years, it will flip-flop this year. Georgia has to face LSU later in September, and South Carolina avoids Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M.
"That may play into it, or it may not," Spurrier said. "We think we can play with anybody, but we'll see."
Yes we will, and we'll also see if Spurrier has Georgia's number ... again.
• • •
Wilcox rises along with Washington
The only thing more impressive than Justin Wilcox's timing has been the job he has done in turning around Washington's defense.
The Huskies held then-No. 19 Boise State without a touchdown for the first time in 16 years last Saturday in opening their renovated palace on the shores of Lake Washington with a 38-6 whipping of the Broncos.
Boise State ran 88 offensive plays and didn't make it into the end zone, but what jumped out to Wilcox was the 17 tackles he said the Huskies had a chance to make in the game that they didn't make.
"We beat a heck of a football team, but we still have plenty to work on," Wilcox said. "I don't think any of us are sitting here thinking we've arrived by any means. I think we're going to play better and better, and we're going to need to."
Wilcox, 37, is one of the rising stars in the coaching profession. He was the defensive coordinator at Boise State for four seasons before joining Derek Dooley at Tennessee in 2010.
Texas reached out to Wilcox to be its defensive coordinator when Will Muschamp left to take the Florida head-coaching job following the 2010 season, but Wilcox stayed put.
A year later, Washington came calling, and Wilcox, who played at Oregon, couldn't resist returning to his Pacific Northwest roots.
He got out of Tennessee at just the right time. The Vols finished 28th nationally in total defense on Wilcox's watch in 2011 but were a train wreck the next season after he left. They gave up 37 or more points in eight of their 12 games, and Dooley was sent packing at season's end.
Of course, Wilcox inherited a Washington defense that gave up a school-worst 467 points in 2011, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Nick Holt and the reshaping of the Huskies' defensive staff. The Huskies gave up an average of 49.2 points in their six losses, including 40 or more in four of those games.
They made marked improved last season in Wilcox's first season on the job and kicked off this season with a bang.
Keeping Wilcox long-term in Seattle won't be easy. He has head coach written all over him, and his name came up in the San Jose State search last season.
His only focus is getting Washington's defense to a level where the Huskies can make some noise in a Pac-12 North Division that includes a pair of Top 5 teams -- Oregon and Stanford. The Huskies are off this week before traveling to Illinois on Sept. 14.
"I understand how this business works," Wilcox said. "I was fortunate to get a chance to coach at Tennessee and be a part of the SEC, and I was fortunate to get a chance to come here to Washington.
"I can assure you that it's an honor to be here at Washington. There's no sense of entitlement, and I certainly don't take anything for granted. I've never been a person to look out and see what else is out there. I learned that from all the coaches I've had a chance to coach under. You don't worry about the next job. You worry about the job you have right now.
"I truly believe that, and I believe there's a reason that it all worked out the way it did and I am where I am right now."
• • •
Shaw gets his shot at Georgia
There aren't many players in college football who are as tough, grounded and team-oriented as South Carolina senior quarterback Connor Shaw, which is why I wasn't the least bit surprised at Shaw's response this August when I asked him what needed to happen for this team to take the next step this season.
He pointed the finger squarely at himself and said he needed to step up his game on the road.
Here's his chance Saturday in Athens.
"Three years of playing on a road will help me," Shaw said. "In the past, I've struggled a little bit. But now that I've gotten comfortable and settled in, I think I'll be a lot better."
Keep in mind that Shaw is 18-3 as a starter. The only other SEC quarterback in that stratosphere is Alabama's AJ McCarron, who's 26-2.
So winning has been one of the things Shaw has done best, which rates above everything else when you're playing quarterback.
But there have been some hiccups on the road.
Shaw threw a pair of interceptions in the loss at LSU last season and was pulled from the game the next week at Florida, which capitalized on a couple of early South Carolina turnovers and hammered the Gamecocks 44-11.
Shaw, who's from Flowery Branch, Ga., grew up a Florida fan and wasn't recruited by Georgia. He didn't play the last time the Gamecocks were in Athens, so this is his one and only shot at the Bulldogs on their turf.