It's always a rivalry fueled battle when South Carolina and Georgia meet on the gridiron, but this season the matchup has bigger implications for the SEC East race.
With head coaches Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart being former teammates and both schools targeting recruits in the southeastern U.S., the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are very familiar with each other. The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) will travel to Athens to take on an undefeated Georgia squad (8-0, 5-0 SEC) that was voted as the top-ranked team in the nation on Tuesday.
The Daily Gamecock sports staff caught up with The Red and Black assistant sports editor Nathan Berg to preview Saturday's match-up between the Bulldogs and Gamecocks. Follow Berg on Twitter at @NathanxBerg and read his coverage of the Bulldogs at http://www.redandblack.com/sports.
Q: Georgia is coming off a 42-7 win over Florida, and is undefeated on the season. What were your observations from the win over the Gators? What can you credit to Georgia's impeccable start?
A: As has been the case all season, Georgia was carried offensively by a strong running game against Florida. Of the 393 scrimmage yards the team gained on the day, 363 were picked up by running backs. The trio of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Elijah Holyfield combined for four touchdowns on the ground, and three of Jake Fromm’s four completed passes went to freshman running back D’Andre Swift. It was also a big day for the Georgia offensive line, which opened up giant holes for the backs to run through all day against the Gators. Defensively, Georgia continued to roll along with a combination of a deep, athletic front seven and a secondary which has started to mesh with the emergence of J.R. Reed and Tyrique McGhee and the continued success of Dominick Sanders. Right now, Georgia is firing on all cylinders, and it’s difficult to pinpoint one reason for the success the team has been having.
Q: South Carolina faces a big test in defending Georgia's talented running back group, which accounted for 363 of the Bulldogs' 393 yards against Florida. What will the South Carolina defense have to do to be able to stop Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Co.?
A: As is usually the case, the successes or failures of Georgia’s run game boil down to a battle in the trenches. It’s a battle the Gamecocks will need to win if they want to have a chance to win this game. South Carolina’s front seven will also have to depend on its depth and conditioning if it wants to avoid getting run over late in the game. With Georgia’s rotation of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, many of the Bulldogs’ opponents have been worn down by the end of games, which is a fate South Carolina will need to avoid to have a chance at an upset.
Q: This will be South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley's first career game against Georgia. What are the keys for the Georgia defense to defend the USC offense and Bentley's slew of offensive weapons, including Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards?
A: The staple of this Georgia defense this season has been a dominant rush defense, and that’s exactly how the Bulldogs will look to slow down South Carolina’s offensive attack. Typically, teams look to run to open up the pass, and the inability of opposing teams to run on Georgia has helped to cover up a Bulldog secondary which is certainly the weakness of the defense, despite the fact that it has been playing well of late. If Georgia can continue to slow down the running game and put Bentley and company in third and long situations, it will rely on its pass rush to force three and outs and keep South Carolina’s offense off the field.
Q: The last time these two teams faced Georgia won, 28-14, at Williams-Brice Stadium. This time, the match-up has bigger implications for the SEC East race. What is your prediction for the South Carolina-Georgia match-up this season (with score) and why?
A: When Georgia plays South Carolina, the game is usually close regardless of how either team’s season is going. But this year’s Georgia team might just cause an exception to this rule. With the dominance Georgia has displayed to this point of the season defensively, I don’t think a Deebo Samuel-less South Carolina team will have the firepower to keep this one close. I’ve got Georgia running away with this one early, finishing off with a score of maybe 45-10, once again relying on defense to finish things off well before the start of the fourth quarter.