The biggest question in the minds of most Georgia fans as we approach Saturday’s annual SEC grudge match with the Prince of Darkness is whether the Dogs have been able to shake off the loss to the best team on their schedule quickly enough to get ready for the second best team they’ll play this season.
Certain names on the South Carolina roster have the Bulldog Nation viewing this game with some considerable trepidation: Alshon Jeffrey, Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia.
What name on the South Carolina roster gives those of us in Red and Black some hope? Stephen Garcia.
Yes, the Gamecocks’ talented but wildly inconsistent quarterback is probably the key to the game for both teams. If he plays up to his potential and doesn’t make any boneheaded mistakes, Steve Spurrier’s team should win.
But with Garcia that’s always a mighty big “if.”
The other key to this game is whether the old Vince Dooley maxim that you make your greatest progress between the first and second games of the season proves true for the 2011 Dogs. Because based on what we saw in the Georgia Dome last week, there’s a lot of room for improvement, especially on offense.
Georgia’s offensive line will be going up against an extremely talented defensive front, and if they don’t do a better job than they did against the Broncos, Aaron Murray is in for a very long day and Isaiah Crowell won’t be much help if he doesn’t get some holes to hit. If, however, the OL can give Murray time and Georgia can muster enough of a running attack to keep the defense honest, Murray should find some favorable match-ups between Orson Charles and South Carolina’s linebackers, and the Gamecocks’ secondary is vulnerable.
I just hope we see Murray under center more than we did last week, when Mike Bobo’s new love affair with the shotgun formation consistently stalled Georgia’s progress.
On the defensive side, the Dogs did a pretty decent job against the run in the Boise game, but got eaten alive by the short-passing game and looked pretty gassed by early in the third quarter thanks to the Broncos’ hurry-up offense. I imagine Spurrier noticed.
I don’t expect Georgia to stop Lattimore, but with our DL looking a lot different from a year ago perhaps he can be slowed down a bit. And if the Dogs can generate any pressure on Garcia (unlike what they did against Kellen Moore), the odds improve drastically. Assuming Garcia isn’t allowed to take off running, that is.
If this game goes like the usual Georgia-South Carolina clash, it should be a tough but close one. If it turns into a shootout like the wild and wooly scoring fest two years ago at Sanford Stadium, Georgia could be in trouble.
Are South Carolina folks confident? To find out, I asked for some input from Leroy Chapman Jr., a fellow story desk editor at the AJC and a University of South Carolina alum and longtime follower of Gamecocks football. Here’s Leroy’s take on this year’s game:
Georgia fans can take heart in this: The South Carolina team coming to Athens won’t be nearly as efficient or polished as the Boise State team that beat the Bulldogs last week. But the Gamecocks are more talented.
More talented than Boise State. And, dare I say, more talented than the team Coach Mark Richt has assembled.
Not often is a South Carolina Gamecock fan able to write those words. But I think it’s clear the Gamecocks have a decided talent advantage over Georgia, maybe for the first time in my 40-year-old memory. That’s why I expect the Gamecocks to win in Athens. And it’s not often that I have expected — as opposed to hoping — to beat Georgia.
The Georgia-South Carolina rivalry has been fun. We’ve put on some great games over the years. But let’s be honest, the series has been a mismatch, despite how close the games have been.
The decider, typically, has been Georgia’s talent advantage. The Bulldogs have always brought to the rivalry more guys who can make the plays that decide close games.
That was the case in 2002 when defensive end David Pollack intercepted a pass and scored a touchdown all in one motion in what proved to be the winning touchdown in a defensive slugfest. It was the case in 2006 when Georgia called a freshman off the bench, some kid named Stafford, to win on the road. It was the case in 2008 when Rennie Curran forced a fumble and thwarted a game-tying touchdown at the 2-yard line. Again, on the road. And that time Carolina was threatening to upset a then No. 2 Georgia team with NFL talent all over the field.
This year, the playmakers are wearing Gamecock garnet. They are Lattimore, Jeffrey, Taylor and Clowney. The talent is tilted toward South Carolina.
Ask yourself, if you pooled the Georgia two-deep and the South Carolina two-deep and had to draft a team, which would you have more of, Gamecocks or Bulldogs? If I were choosing, I would take Georgia’s quarterback and tight end. After that …
Now, the Gamecocks aren’t good enough to win this game without playing their best. A turnover-filled opener against East Carolina showed the offense, despite its weapons, can lack focus. The stat sheet shows the defense needs to do a better job of getting off the field on third down. And if Aaron Murray is the best playmaker on the field Saturday, then the Gamecocks will probably lose.
But if South Carolina plays its best game and Georgia plays its best game, I think the Gamecocks win. Even in Athens. It’s strange writing that, given the history of this rivalry. But I could get used to it.
OK, not exactly cocky but Leroy certainly seems confident. I wish I could say the same. I think Georgia is capable of winning this game; I’m just not sure they’ll play up to their capabilities. They didn’t do so against Boise State.
Feel free to share your own views on the upcoming game.
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