Lead Football Writer Ryan Black answers The Daily Gamecock's questions about the game
1. How big of a conference rivalry is South Carolina for Bulldogs’ fans? For USC fans, this is about as big as it gets in the SEC.
Right now, the rivalry with South Carolina would rank fourth among Georgia’s Southeastern Conference foes. Florida is and always will be Numero Uno, while Tennessee and Auburn follow close behind in no particular order. The biggest reason the rivalry with the Gamecocks ranks fourth is that for many years, it hasn’t been much of a rivalry — not when the series record stands at 46-16-2 overall in the Bulldogs’ favor. But with the Gamecocks winning the last two years along with the fact Steve Spurrier (a thorn in Georgia’s side ever since his Florida days) is their head coach means this rivalry continues to grow in magnitude each season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pass Tennessee in the minds of Georgia fans in the near future.
2. Are there a lot of questions surrounding the defense after surrendering 44 points to Tennessee? What have players and coaches said about that?
People were surprised Tennessee was able to put up 40 points on Georgia’s defense, especially since last week marked the return of both linebacker Alec Ogletree and All-American free safety Bacarri Rambo from their four-game suspensions. Neither the players nor defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were worried, though. Grantham said Tuesday his unit is still trying to find the right timing and chemistry with each other. The Bulldogs have had to work not only Rambo and Ogletree back into the fold last week, but cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser also joined late after both served two-game suspensions to begin the season.
3. Does Georgia take Steve Spurrier’s jabs about suspended players and such in jest, or is it added motivation?
If the players take the Ol’ Ball Coach’s jab as any “dig,” they didn’t let Georgia’s media members know they felt that way. To wit, here’s what linebacker Christian Robinson told Dawgpost.com about Spurrier’s comments: “I’d say that he might be right, at least in recent history. But I’m not going to fight fire with fire.” Do I actually believe the players haven’t used it as bulletin-board material? No. Do I have proof to back my previous statement? No, again.
4. What in-game matchup must Georgia win to beat the Gamecocks?
To come back to Athens with their unblemished record intact, the play of the Bulldogs’ offensive line is key. Georgia has given up only seven sacks this season, which is tied for third in the SEC. But they haven’t seen a defensive unit like the Gamecocks yet, who led the league in quarterback takedowns with 22. If Georgia can keep Aaron Murray upright, it stands a good chance of winning. If the pocket collapses, Murray has a tendency to get loose with the football, leading to one of two outcomes: forcing passes into spots he shouldn’t and throwing interceptions, or, feeling the pressure, not securing the football and fumbling it away to the opponent.
5. Prediction time — who ya got?
This is the second season in a row I’ve been a beat writer for the Bulldogs, and I can safely say this is the biggest game I’ve ever covered. I can also safely say this is the best Georgia’s offense has looked over an extended period of time: more than 40 points in five straight games, averaging 48.2 points per contest. And that’s not even mentioning the incredible freshman running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Yes, the loss of Michael Bennett to a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury on Tuesday hurts, but the Bulldogs have more than enough weapons at receiver to make up for his absence. While I don’t see Georgia keeping its 40-point streak alive, I think they will be able to eke out a tough, hard-fought victory on the road. Give me the Bulldogs over the Gamecocks, 28-24.