COLUMBIA, S.C. – Greetings from Williams-Brice Stadium. If you’re reading this on your iPhone and are sitting in traffic somewhere in this city, forget it. You’ll never make it.
Mark Bradley, Tim Tucker and I agree, this is the worst venue in the SEC as far as game day traffic. And if you’ve traveled anywhere in this league, that’s saying something.
Georgia hopes it can create some traffic jams today for South Carolina and Marcus Lattimore. The junior running back has killed them the past two seasons, rushing for 358 yards and three touchdowns in two Gamecocks’ victories. Most of his good work has been in the fourth quarter of tight games. The Bulldogs can’t let that happen again tonight.
Here’s some more about tonight’s matchup between No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 South Carolina.
1. Can Bulldogs overcome loss of leading receiver? Losing wide receiver Michael Bennett to a knee injury this week was untimely and potentially costly. While he leads the Bulldogs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, his loss is tempered by the return of Malcolm Mitchell full time to the receiving corps. Mitchell arguably was the Dogs’ most explosive wideout before agreeing to fill in at cornerback the first part of this season. Look for Mitchell’s offensive role to increase significantly.
2. Can Georgia play “Grown Man Defense?” It hasn’t so far. The Bulldogs enter this game ranked 10th in the SEC in total defense and ninth against the run. That’s well below expectations this season, multiple suspensions or not. Now at full strength, Georgia will face a no-nonsense Gamecocks offense that relies on the running of tailback Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Connor Shaw. The Dogs need to show they can stuff the run and force South Carolina to throw the football.
3. Is this an Eastern Division playoff game? South Carolina’s 45-42 win over Georgia last year — and 10 consecutive victories over SEC East opponents — prove that you can be perfect in the division and still not win it. But for all practical purposes this would appear to be an elimination game on the road to Atlanta. Both teams still have to play Florida, and the Gators play host to LSU on Saturday. But the Georgia-South Carolina winner clearly will be in the driver’s seat to reach the SEC Championship game.
A win for Georgia would …
Give the Bulldogs their first 6-0 record since 2005, when they reached 7-0
A win for South Carolina …
Would mean three consecutive wins over Georgia for the first time ever
Matchup to watch
Georgia’s tackles versus South Carolina’s ends. The Bulldogs’ ability to protect quarterback Aaron Murray and establish some semblance of a running game will be paramount for success on offense. Georgia leads the SEC in total offense (536 ypg) and points scored (48.2 per game), but also allowed quarterback Aaron Murray to be sacked seven times. The Gamecocks feature star defensive ends in 6-foot-6 sophomore Jadeveon Clowney and 6-8 senior Devin Taylor. So the Bulldogs’ first-year starting tackles Kenarious Gates and John Theus will have their hands full keeping those guys at bay.
Tweet of the week
“I am so pumped to see how God helps me rebound from this!”
UGA WR Michael Bennett (aka MBennett_82)
Jeff Schultz predicts
Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree returned from suspensions last week, and somehow the Georgia defense got worse against Tennessee. How does that happen? This prediction assumes everybody knows where they’re supposed to be this week. I have more confidence in Murray’s ability to make a play in the fourth quarter than in Shaw, but this game could go down to the last possession. Prediction: Georgia wins.
Each week, the fan who chooses the winners of the most college games could win great prizes. Plus, you get the chance to compete against the AJC’s Jeff Schultz for gridiron bragging rights. Play each week at ajc.com/go/sackschutz2012.