Head coach Mark Richt, brought to the attention of his ‘Dawgs that scoring in Williams-Brice stadium is not and has not been easy. Even with a 45-21 win against Clemson, the Dawgs still remain focused and determined – not letting that victory, a week off and the jump in AP Poll standings to no. 6 get to their heads.
With only one game in the books, talk has already begun about Georgia being a surprise favorite to break into the initial four-team championship playoff. Georgia football needs to prove that they are deserving with a win against the Gamecocks Saturday.
South Carolina has two games under their belt, a blowout loss and a “close call” in contrast to UGA’s HUGE win against cross-state rival and USC enemy, Clemson followed by an off week; the obvious feeling is rested and confident. However, the Dawgs have not won in Williams-Brice stadium in six years. In fact, the last time Georgia beat both Clemson and South Carolina in the same season was in 2003.
Here’s the breakdown for Georgia to win on Saturday:
There was no ambiguity against Clemson; Georgia utilized their running game and excellent special teams. Additionally, Georgia did show a glimpse of the short passing game. Mason threw mostly mid-range and check down throws against the Tigers, but if the Dawgs are planning on leaving Williams-Brice stadium with a win, they will need to add the long ball as well.
South Carolina allowed 511 passing yards against Texas A&M, compared to 169 rushing yards. Georgia, like A&M, is loaded at the skill positions, and it’ll be up to Mason to take advantage of South Carolina’s weak pass-defense. Expect to see more of a short passing game this Saturday to complement the run attack and set up the trifecta with the long ball . In particular, look for quick plays from freshmen Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie to make big gains out of relatively short passes. Also, expect to see a lot from Reggie Davis and his receiving game.
With Justin Scott Wesley, Malcolm Mitchell, and now, Jonathan Rumph, out for the game this week’s game in Columbia, Georgia’s wide receiver position is depleted. However, no fears, the Dawgs still have deep experience with Michael Bennett and Chris Conley healthy and ready to go. The Dawgs would be crazy not to exploit South Carolina’s coverage faults.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, also said he expects to see Isaiah McKenzie go long and anticipates playing time for walk-on wide receivers Charlie Hegedus, Michael Erdman, and Kenneth Towns.
Don’t worry though; Georgia won’t forget about its talent-rich, ground assault running game led by Todd Gurley. Even Spurrier admits, “He’s going to get his yards, there’s no question about that. He’s going to get his yards against everybody.” Gurley will still be Gurley on Saturday.
As new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt continues to develop his youthful defensive backfield, Georgia’s pressure on QB Dylan Thompson, must be paramount. For Georgia, putting pressure on the quarterback must remain a point of emphasis. Although Thompson is an experienced passer and won’t go down easily, Georgia’s linebackers, Amarlo Herrera and Leonard Floyd, will make sure he gets the run-around, leaving Gamecock receivers Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper, and Damiere Byrd empty handed. If Thompson is shaken up early and struggles to complete passes, the secondary will acquit itself and adjust effectively. However, we’ll need to see big plays from safety Corey Moore, cornerbacks Devon Bowman and Damian Swann if the Gamecock offense is going deep. Our young secondary is key in this game as Dylan Thompson tries to throw long.
It is also crucial that they hold the line of scrimmage early on. South Carolina wore down East Carolina in a drive lasting in excess of ten minutes in the final period. Carolina backs, Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, ran the ball twelve times; nine times consecutively at one point.
Handling the Crowd
For many Dawgs, this is their first time playing in Williams-Brice stadium, or playing in an away game at all. The atmosphere in Columbia can be crippling to opponents. With the scorching heat and thick humidity that come with the state of South Carolina and the time rich conditions like the sandstorm song, the school can be pretty unforgiving.
For the players who were there in 2012, they still have a bitter taste in their mouth about the way things went down. In speaking with Todd Gurley, he said, “yeah we’re just ready to get back out there and do us. Play ball the way we know how [and] hopefully come out with a win.”
To prepare for this crowd, the Dawgs have been blasting Sandstorm on repeat at practice all week. Kicker Marshall Morgan, said “that song is so ingrained in my brain at this point, I can play the game Saturday and it won’t affect me.”
Georgia needs to have a powerful offense to knock Carolina down and slow the crowd.
USC Players to Watch:
Dylan Thompson: No need to underestimate Thompson’s skillset. He is an experienced passer who has amassed five touchdowns and over 630 yards in the first two games of the season. With the right protection, his ability to distribute the ball can be incredible. Just this season, eleven different targets have hauled in passes. Although he may not be the most accurate, Thompson can get the ball across the field to a number of different Gamecock threats.
Mike Davis: Although Davis is no Todd Gurley; he can put up some numbers. He ran 16 times for 149 yards against the Dawgs last year and in their last game against East Carolina, he ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Now that Davis is cleared of his injury, the Gamecock’s strong running game could deflate the tough front of Georgia’s new defense (much the way Gurley destroyed Clemson) and open up the passing game for Thompson. As said earlier, against East Carolina last week, Davis was one of the backs who ran for nine consecutive plays. There is no question that the Gamecocks plan to feed him.
In 2012 when the Dawgs lost miserably in Williams-Brice stadium, they still went on the win the SEC East and almost defeat Alabama at the SEC championship. So, even against the best of the Georgia teams, South Carolina can still find a way to win.
On Monday, Richt confessed, “You’re probably never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss.” With Spurrier barking for two weeks about their poor showing against Texas A&M and an easy opponent in between, have they really accomplished the preparation and readiness they need for UGA?
You can find the game on CBS at 3:30 PM this Saturday, September 13.
*Section Photo credit to Savannah Morning News; Featured Photo (above) credit to A.J. Reynolds, Athens Banner-Herald