Back in the offseason, a lot of fans on both sides of the Georgia-South Carolina rivalry fantasized about how great it would be if the two teams met undefeated in their new midseason slot on the schedule. Saturday, we get our wish in a nationally televised game that will mark the first time in the history of the series that both teams are ranked in the top 10.
Dawgs fans are anxious that Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks not get a third consecutive win in the SEC showdown and would love nothing better than to see Mark Richt’s team in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. But they also recognize that while both teams still have the Florida Gators to deal with, South Carolina also must face LSU.
As Spurrier noted this week, “This isn’t the end of the year no matter what happens, win, lose or draw.”
In other words, the same scenario that gave the division title to the Dawgs last year, despite a loss to the Gamecocks, is still very much in play this season as well.
How do Carolina fans feel about this game? For that viewpoint, I enlisted Atlanta Gamecocks fan Corey Broman-Fulks. Here’s what he has to say about Georgia-South Carolina:
Last season’s game was a demoralizing loss for the Bulldogs to start them 0-2 and set up the perfect path to a second-straight SEC East title for the Gamecocks. We all know that didn’t happen, thanks to a ridiculous loss by SC to Auburn and Georgia’s 10-game win streak.
Since that game, both teams have only lost twice, are undefeated this season and ranked in the top six. Comparing similar opponents this year, both teams beat Mizzou by 21 and Georgia destroyed Vandy while Carolina barely beat them in the season opener. So, what do I take away from that? Nothing. South Carolina rarely plays well in openers and has been dominant since (minus the first half of the Kentucky game).
Georgia’s offense is dangerous. With Aaron Murray, all those wideouts (the loss of Bennett will hurt) and Gurshall averaging something like 50 yards per carry, there’s a lot to cover for South Carolina’s D. Carolina hasn’t faced an offense like this yet this season, but Georgia’s O is in that same boat. Georgia’s defense has been spotty so far, but they’ve only had one week of the full group. I expect them to come out stronger than they did against Tennessee.
In the end, South Carolina’s defense is going to be just too stout for the Bulldogs. The defensive line is a deep group led by Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor, Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau. With these boys, there isn’t much room to run and not a lot of time to drop back. Behind them are some big hitters with Shaq Wilson, D.J. Swearinger and Devonte Holloman. Clowney, Taylor and Sutton will rough up Murray, SC’s DBs won’t give up too many big plays and the front will do just enough to slow Gurshall down. Georgia will score and probably put together several nice drives, but it won’t be enough.
Georgia will probably start out crowding the box on D asking for USC QB Connor Shaw to beat them with his arm, which he can. Shaw is back healthy and has thrown for an 89 percent completion rate the last two games. The last two years, UGA has seen a lot of running back Marcus Lattimore wearing them out. They’ll get a lot again this year, too, but they haven’t had to face the added dimension of Shaw’s feet and accuracy. The receiving corps looks vastly different without Alshon Jeffery, but this group can fly and Shaw loves to spread it around.
So, I give the slight overall edge to the Gamecocks, unsurprisingly. With the game in Columbia, an offense that can control the ball, and a very stingy defense, the Gamecocks take down the Dawgs for the third year in a row. GO COCKS!
(And yes, I’m afraid I just jinxed them.)
He’s right that Georgia hasn’t faced a defense as good as South Carolina’s so far this season, and after seeing a couple of Aaron Murray’s passes tipped last week against the Vols (one resulting in a pick-6), I’m worried how Georgia’s quarterback will fare throwing to the outside over the Gamecocks’ two very tall defensive ends, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor (who measure 6-6 and 6-8). And the Gamecocks rank second in the nation in sacks, too. Ball security must be a top priority for Murray this week.
But I think Corey underplays slightly the other side of the coin: South Carolina hasn’t faced an offense as balanced and as explosive as Georgia’s league-leading unit.
I know some observers look at this game and only see the flying feet of Marcus Lattimore, who has gashed the Dawgs the past couple of years. But the freshman tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall adds a dimension to Georgia’s offense that the Gamecocks didn’t see last year, and even then the Dawgs scored 42 points against the tough Carolina defense.
Plus, there’s the Georgia passing attack, which will face a less imposing Gamecock secondary than last year. Even without Michael Bennett, Murray has a lot of folks capable of making big catches, and he’s already spread the ball around impressively this season.
Of course, there’s more to the South Carolina offense than just Lattimore, and while the Gamecocks’ receivers aren’t on the same level as last season, the running capability of dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw, who is Carolina’s second-leading rusher this season, concerns a lot of Georgia fans. I expect that, as was the case in the Missouri game, Todd Grantham will load the box and try to contain the Carolina running game as best he can while making Shaw use his arm to win.
Which, of course, Shaw can do. He’s completed 78 percent of his passes so far this season. Basically, the ability of Jarvis Jones and company to put pressure on Shaw will determine how effective Georgia’s defense will be.
A fast start would be a big help for Georgia because if, as is likely, the outcome is still up for grabs in the fourth quarter, the edge goes to the Gamecocks, as Lattimore seems to just get stronger as the game progresses, as was the case last year.
Still, despite Lattimore’s success on the ground and Carolina playing stout defense Georgia would have won last year’s game if not for special teams errors and turnovers, and those are likely to be the keys again this year. If the Dawgs can hold on to the ball and play heads-up football on punts and kicks, their offense is capable of outscoring South Carolina’s.
Of course, gamesmanship from the Evil Genius and a killer pass rush from Carolina could have something to say about that.
If Georgia’s defense turns in another disappointing outing, it will be tough for the Dawgs to win in Columbia. But if the Dawgs’ D finally puts it all together and is able to contain Shaw, Georgia’s high-octane mix of pass and run could spell the difference.
Either way, it should be a fight to the finish.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg