It has all the trappings of a mega-game: two undefeated teams that are among the nation’s top half-dozen in the polls, a team that has scored 48.2 points per game vs. a team that has allowed 11.2, the early lead in the SEC East at stake.
The countdown is on for No. 5 Georgia, the offensive juggernaut, vs. No. 6 South Carolina, the defensive juggernaut, Saturday night in Columbia, S.C. Both teams are 5-0 (3-0 SEC).
“It’s a huge game,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday. “We all know it.”
“It’s a big, big game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, “when you’re playing this deep into the conference season and you’ve got two undefeateds.”
Validating the game’s marquee status, ESPN announced that its “College GameDay” show – the popular three-hour preview program – will air from the South Carolina campus Saturday morning.
“The last time they were here [was when] we played Alabama two years ago,” Spurrier said. “Obviously that was one of the best days in Carolina football history, first time we had ever beat a No. 1 team.
“So [the show] adds to the importance of the game. It sort of lets the world know, the country know, ‘Hey, South Carolina football is pretty good.’ We’re not quite where we want to be yet, but we’re up there amongst them, and hopefully we can keep pushing on.”
Depending on the outcome of Saturday’s Florida-LSU game, the Georgia-South Carolina winner will lead the SEC East outright or be tied with the Gators for first place.
The Gamecocks opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite, according to vegasinsider.com.
Defensively, the game will feature two of the SEC’s more acclaimed players, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney. Offensively, it will feature three of the SEC’s top seven rushers: Georgia freshman Todd Gurley, who leads the league with 107.2 yards per game; South Carolina junior Marcus Lattimore, sixth in the league at 88 yards per game; and Georgia freshman Keith Marshall, seventh at 85.6.
Lattimore has gained 358 yards on 64 carries against Georgia the past two seasons – 182 yards on 37 carries as a freshman in 2010, 176 yards on 27 carries last season. Lattimore returned this season after missing the final six games last year with a knee injury.
Asked Sunday if Lattimore is back to pre-injury form, Spurrier said: “I hope he’s where he was when he ran against Georgia two years ago. That’s where I hope he is because that was sort of his coming-out day here at Williams-Brice [Stadium]. … I think he’s close to being just as good as he has ever been. I think he tells people, ‘Not quite where I was, but I’ll get there real soon.’”
Georgia is coming off a wild 51-44 victory over Tennessee. The Bulldogs’ offense piled up 560 yards but committed three turnovers, while their defense gave up 478 yards but forced four turnovers, including three in the final six minutes. Spurrier’s impression after watching highlights of the game: “A lot of long runs by those Bulldog freshmen.”
South Carolina, meanwhile, is coming off a 38-17 victory at Kentucky. The Gamecocks trailed 17-7 at halftime but dominated the second half behind stellar defense and Lattimore’s running.
“They’ve beaten us the last two years,” Richt said, “so we’ve got something to prove.”
On his Sunday evening teleconference, Richt said he was happy with the defensive plays the Bulldogs made near the end of the Tennessee game but unhappy about the offense’s inability to “knock out a first down when we needed it the most to try to take [the] drama out of it at the very end.” Said Richt: “One thing we’ve got to improve on is our ability to get a couple of first downs at the end of a ballgame, force people to use some timeouts and run some clock. We just really haven’t done a good job of that in recent memory.” … Richt on Lattimore: “He does seem to play even better as the game wears on.” … Richt on South Carolina defensive ends Clowney and Devin Taylor: “They’re super tall [6-6 and 6-8, respectively] and athletic; they have outstanding technique; they are much more physical against the run than they were a year ago. They’re really complete players now, and there are two of them.” … This is the first season since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992 that the Gamecocks were not the Bulldogs’ opening league opponent. “I think the biggest difference [in facing the Gamecocks later] is that we’ll be watching this year’s film instead of last year’s film,” Richt said.