The Georgia-South Carolina rivalry has quietly became one of the best in the SEC. Georgia owns the series 47-17-2 but over the last seven years, the Gamecocks have four wins. South Carolina had built a three-game win streak, its first ever in the series, before Georgia won 41-30 last year in Athens.
The big reason for the heating up of the rivalry has been Steve Spurrier. At Florida, Spurrier went 11-1 against Georgia. Since he’s been at South Carolina, he’s gone 4-5 (but that’s with losing four of his first five).
The last three seasons, the Gamecocks have finished 11-2 overall and 6-2 in the conference, but so far this year, they haven’t been themselves. It started when they were shocked by Texas A&M in week one.
The Gamecocks moved from a 4-2-5 defense to a 3-4 this offseason, but last week they mixed it up some against ECU and were able to get a lot more pressure on ECU quarterback Shane Carden in the second half, which had a huge impact on the game.
On offense, Dylan Thompson is not Connor Shaw, but he was much more consistent in week two. One reason was the use and production of Mike Davis, who has been banged up but looks like he’s returning to form. Against ECU, Davis got the ball three times as much as he did against A&M. Because of that, he delivered. Davis needs the ball in his hands and is the kind of running back that gets better the more touches he gets. The Gamecock receivers also have to catch the football. It sounds easy, but they have had more than their fair share of drops over the first two weeks of the season. Accuracy is not Thompson’s trademark, so the receivers have to help him out by catching the ones they are supposed to catch.
South Carolina started rough but it seems to be returning to form. The main question that we really can’t answer is… how good are the Bulldogs?
Georgia played a decent first half against Clemson. Then it made some adjustments and started clicking on all cylinders, raining down a fury of hellfire and brimstone on the Tigers.
For Georgia it all starts with the defense. Georgia’s front seven, especially the linebackers, have the ability to be among the best in the nation. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt must continue to put the right players in the right places. The better the front seven is, the more leeway Georgia will have with its very young and inexperienced secondary (which is also a feature of South Carolina’s defense).
On offense, Georgia has Todd Gurley, who has the ability to take a team and put it on his shoulders. What we also saw in week one is that Georgia has some new faces that own the ability to have an immediate impact on gameday: Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, and Isaiah McKenzie lead the way. Against Clemson, the Georgia offense accumulated a lot of drives in the first half that were short on plays and time. If the Gamecocks can contain the run and force Georgia to throw the ball, can they force Georgia into a situation where the Dawgs never get comfortable on offense?
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is one of the best in the nation, but he has a new quarterback and a lot of new and returning players that he’s still trying to fit comfortably into the offense. Hutson Mason was solid against Clemson (18 of 26 for 131 yards), but because of the running game he wasn’t put in a situation where he had to win the game. This game could define Mason’s tenure at Georgia. This is the first year he’s been a full-time starter, but he’s been on campus for five years. This will be his first conference test on the road, in a hostile environment. (He did orchestrate a comeback win in 2013 over Georgia Tech with a lot of help from Gurley.)
The individual battles and comparisons between Todd Gurley and Mike Davis, and also between Hutson Mason and Dylan Thompson, will be publicized in the hours leading up to kickoff. Ultimately, however, this game should come down to who wins the battles at the lines of scrimmage. Can Georgia’s front seven stuff Mike Davis (he had 149 yards on 16 carries against Georgia in 2013) and force Dylan Thompson into bad decisions? Can the South Carolina offensive line stop Leonard Floyd and the Georgia pass rush, which caused Clemson fits in the second half of their game? Can the Georgia offensive line open holes for Todd Gurley and his merry band of running backs?
A lot of questions remain for Georgia and South Carolina. From a Georgia perspective, the Dawgs can’t underestimate the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks have started off-kilter so far this season but they are coming around, and Spurrier always saves his best shot for Georgia. Mark Richt’s team needs to remember the 2012 game in this series. Both teams came in ranked in the top 10, and it was South Carolina which came out with the better game plan and executed it to perfection. Before Georgia blinked, the Gamecocks were up 28-0.
Don’t look for a repeat of that game, but I would look for a hard-fought contest that will come down to one or two plays. Six of the last seven games in this series have been decided by 11 or fewer points. Expect a war and what happens in the trenches will be the key.