It’s Saturday, in Athens!!! The Dawgs return home after a tough loss on the road at Oklahoma State to face Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Plenty has been written this week about what went wrong in Stillwater, but the time for second guessing is over. This Saturday night, it is time to tee it up Between the Hedges for the first time in 2009.
Who Are These Guys?
Now in his fifth season in Columbia, Steve Spurrier leads South Carolina back to Athens. Georgia won a defensive struggle last season 14-7, and the all time record sits at 45-14-2 in favor of the Dawgs (What a rivalry!).
Thursday Night Pros, much like Boise State. Last week Georgia faced an opponent in Oklahoma State known primarily for its powerful offense. This week, the Dawgs will face a team that in many ways is the opposite. The defense, lead by linebacker Eric Norwood, shined in the Gamecocks’ 7-3 win over N.C. State, allowing only 133 yards of total offense. Norwood had two sacks and was a force disrupting Wolfpack QB Russell Wilson, who couldn’t test South Carolina’s young, talented defensive backfield.
As good as the defense was last week, the South Carolina offense struggled. QB Stephen Garcia, continuing a theme from last year, struggled, completing 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards. Garcia also threw a key interception that led to N.C. State’s only score of the game. Garcia’s targets aren’t as reliable as former WR Kenny McKinley and former TE Jared Cook as this year’s stable is very young with freshmen WRs Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley. WR Moe Brown, who scored the lone TD against Georgia last year, is the veteran of the group.
Against N.C. State, RB Brian Maddox led the rushing attack, running for 66 yards and a touchdown, but averaging just under 3 yards a carry. The offense totaled only 256 yards of offense. Spurrier also had a tough time replacing kicker Ryan Succop (now in the NFL). New kicker Spencer Lanning missed a chip shot 27 yarder and a botched snap on another attempt cost Carolina at least 6 points.
All in all, it was an ugly game against a bad team for the Gamecocks last week. The defense was strong but Garcia remains unproven as a quarterback in the SEC and will need help from his running game if the Cocks hope to have better success against a Georgia D that held Zac Robinson under 200 yards passing last week.
Expect to see the Gamecocks use Jarvis Giles a little more at running back on Saturday. He’s young, but he’s South Carolina’s future at the position. Also expect to see the use of the Wildcat formation with true freshman CB Stephon Gilmore taking the snaps. Gilmore won a starting CB position three days into fall camp and the Gamecocks want to showcase him on both sides of the ball. He leads a young defensive backfield that features some talent but was untested last Thursday night.
What are the Dawgs going to do?
The Dawgs come home licking some major wounds left by the loss at Oklahoma State. After an impressive 80-yard drive to open the game, the Georgia offense went cold and could only muster a field goal the rest of the way. To get the offense back on track, I expect Georgia to come out with a more traditional look on its opening drive this week. Look for a heavy dose of rushing from the combination of Richard Samuel and either Caleb King or Carlton Thomas. Also look for the return of screen passes to the backs and quick outs to the receivers early in the game to help Cox get into a throwing rhythm. Also expect to see the debut of Marlon Brown and Rontavious Wooten at receiver.
On defense, look for the Dawgs to try and bring more pressure on Garcia this week than they did against Oklahoma State. Garcia has proven to be erratic under pressure and does not have the weapons around him that Zac Robinson did last week. Despite the roughing call against Reshad Jones last week, I also expect the safeties to continue to play tough and hit receivers coming over the middle. If the defense is to regain its swagger from years past, it must get strong play from the linebackers and safeties to keep the gains short.
On special teams, it doesn’t look like there will be much change this year on kickoff coverage philosophy as Georgia continued to corner kick the football and give up big returns. In the return game, hopefully Branden Smith has shaken off his first game jitters and will be willing to take a knee. Blair Walsh had a tremendous game last week and if the offense struggles again, his leg may be the difference between a win and a loss.
What is going to happen?
The recent history between Georgia and South Carolina reads almost like a book. The two teams play a close game that is ultimately decided by a mistake made by one team in the second half. Rankings, previous years, and star power matter little in the outcome. The offenses for both teams played horribly in their respective openers, so expect another low scoring affair between these two. I expect that the Georgia offense will not play quite as bad as it did against Oklahoma State and that the South Carolina defense will not fair quite as well as it did against N.C. State (At least I hope). This means that Georgia will score more points than the 10 points it put up in Stillwater last week. The only question is whether Carolina can find a way to create turnovers and help its offense. This game will be close, but I like the Dawgs at home to put the game out of reach in the 4th quarter.
Georgia 24, South Carolina 13 and hopefully a lot of this...