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1980: Georgia and Herschel Walker vs South Carolina and George Rogers

It was the era of the great Running Backs. In 1976, Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh won the Heisman Trophy followed by the great Earl Campbell of Texas in 1977. The following season Oklahoma’s great Billy Sims won the Heisman and then USC’s Charles White. South Carolina’s George Rogers won it in 1980 followed by USC’s Marcus Allen in 1981.

The amazing Herschel Walker of Georgia won it in 1982. Nebraska’s Mike Rozier won it in 1983, with Bo Jackson of Georgia winning in 1985.

But, there were other great Running Backs like Eric Dickerson of SMU without trophies, in that era.

George Rogers was a 6-2, 228 Running Back out of Duluth, Georgia. The Bulldogs had wanted him badly on the recruiting trail, but Rogers spurned them for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Then, to rub

salt in their wounds, the Gamecocks had almost never beaten Georgia, without Rogers. The all time series at the time of this game, in 1980, was 26-6-2 in favor of the SEC’s Bulldogs. But, with Rogers at Tailback for the Gamecocks, South Carolina had beaten the Bulldogs for 2 years in a row.

The state of Georgia puts out way more talent than South Carolina every year and the surrounding states recruit Georgia really hard. Talent leaving to play college ball elsewhere and then coming back and beating the Georgia Bulldogs does not sit well with their fans.

Rogers was a senior in 1980 and he would go on to win the Heisman Trophy. But, now, Georgia could fight back because they had a big, powerful Running Back of their own and he may be the best recruit the state of Georgia had ever produced. Herschel Walker was only a freshman in 1980, but he was a game changer. In 1979, the Bulldogs had gone 6-5 in another bad season for head coach Vince Dooley. The wolves were out in full force howling for his head. He’d gotten them off his back in the 1975 and 1976 seasons, only to have the program backslide to mediocrity.

Running Back coach Mike Cavan had been responsible for signing George Rogers and he missed. There was no way that Mike Cavan was going to miss out on the great Herschel Walker. The phenom from Wrightsville, Georgia was recruited by everybody and most coaches would have given their right arms for his signature on the first Wednesday in February. He may have been the hottest recruit in my lifetime.

Luckily, for Mike Cavan, Vince Dooley and the Georgia Bulldogs football team, Herschel Walker picked Georgia probably with Clemson as the biggest challenger. Hershel Walker changed everything for Georgia.

George Rogers was in his fourth season as a starter having taken over the job partway through his true freshman season. It didn’t take but one carry of the football for even the most average of Joe Football fan to tell that the man had some serious talent. At around 230 pounds, he even looked much bigger. He was also really fast and elusive and he brought fear to any would be tacklers.

The Gamecocks came into this game at 6-1 on the season and they were ranked 14th. This was not a conference game because South Carolina was an independent back in those years like so many schools were.

Herschel Walker took over the starting position in the Bulldogs first game. Georgia was in a struggle

with Tennessee when they inserted Walker and he was an immediate game changer. According to legend, and of course a few other reports, Walker had not been all that impressive in practice and he supposedly said he was taking it easy on teammates. Tennessee gave Georgia fits in game one, and Herschel Walker got his first shot at playing Running Back job during the game. The Dogs ended up on top when the final seconds ticked off, 16-15. Walker took over the job at that point and never looked back. The Bulldogs were unbeaten and 7-0 coming in and they were ranked 4th in the Associated Press Poll.

On November 1st, 1980 in Athens, Georgia these two teams would meet for the 35th time.

As expected, this game was a defensive battle from the opening kickoff. George Rogers had some strong runs in the first half, but Herschel Walker was mostly held in check. Georgia Quarterback Buck Belue, while not the greatest of passers, led the Bulldogs down the field and they missed an easy Field Goal. Kicker Rex Robinson missed a chip shot, but then later he hit a 51 yarder for a 3-0 lead.

Rogers and his teammates just couldn’t maintain any drives and failed to score at all before half. Gamecock Quarterback Garry Harper was unable to do much and had thrown for 54 yards in the first half. South Carolina’s defense held Georgia to 50 yards rushing in the first half with Herschel Walker getting several hats on him on any given play. But, Buck Belue was having a good day throwing the ball to targets Lindsay Scott and Amp Arnold.

Herschel Walker being held in check was all about to stop as the two teams came back out on the field after intermission.

On the 3rd play of the second half being shut down was about to come to an abrupt halt, Herschel Walker impressively hit the sidelines at full speed and took it 76 yards for a Touchdown. South Carolina defenders even with the angle on Walker, underestimated his speed and he ran right by them. That’s how it is with truly great ones, they can maybe be slowed down for a while. But, eventually, they are going to break one.

With a 10-0 lead and South Carolina’s offense unable to get anything much going, the Bulldogs looked safe. But, not so fast, South Carolina and it’s star Running Back was not finished.

Both teams kicked Field Goals to make it 13-3.

Talented sophomore Carl West was in for George Rogers and he ran it in from 39 yards to make it 13-10.

In the 4th quarter and the time is beginning to run out on South Carolina, they mount their best drive of the day with George Rogers making nice run after nice run. The Gamecocks drove inside the Bulldog

15 yard line and Rogers fumbled the ball with Georgia recovering.

There’s still fight on the South Carolina side of the ball and they still had a shot at the game when they stopped a Georgia drive and forced a punt. They went for the block and roughed the punter which mostly sealed the deal for Georgia.

The Bulldogs drove the ball to the South Carolina goal line, but on 3 attempts Walker was unable to score as the game ended.

George Rogers rushed for 168 yards on 35 carries while Herschel Walker ran for 219 yards on 43 carries and a Touchdown.

What a battle this was between 2 really good defenses and the Running Backs. Georgia Quarterback Buck Belue proved once again that he was clutch.

Rogers went on to run for 1,781 yards and 14 Touchdowns while winning college football’s most coveted trophy, the Heisman.

Walker ran for 1,616 yards and 15 Touchdowns as a true freshman that season and the Bulldogs beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title. These were the Georgia Bulldogs glory days.

Herschel won the Heisman in 1982.

Rogers was the very first player picked by the New Orleans Saints where he was rookie of the year. Rogers had some success in the NFL, but had to retire in 1987 because of constant injuries.

To this day, George Rogers thinks about that fumble and how it cost his team the game.

From the outside, this game may have seemed dull with only 23 points scored by the teams combined. But, the joy of watching two great players and strong defense made it highly worthwhile.