The Georgia Bulldogs lost key players on both sides of the ball, but the defensive group took the biggest hit. After losing key contributors to the side that made the 2017 Georgia team so tough to beat, the Bulldogs have had to rebuild their team.
The biggest loss is that of All-American Roquan Smith. Smith anchored the Georgia defense and brought a tenacity and fire that made the Bulldogs the No. 6 defense in all of college football. Add in the departures of key contributors Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Trenton Thompson and John Atkins, and the 2018 Georgia defense will look a lot different than that of the 2017 SEC champions'.
However, there are a number of standout defensive players to watch during the Bulldogs' season. That list is headlined by Deandre Baker, the senior cornerback who decided to return to Athens despite being projected as an early round pick in this past year’s NFL draft.
Baker has the size and coverage ability to blanket any receiver that lines up against him. He proved this in the national title game when he held the Alabama quarterbacks to a 3.1 passer rating while they targeting him and managed to come up with an interception as well. Baker leads a secondary that is young and inexperienced but overflowing with raw talent.
Another name to watch on the Georgia defense is that of true freshman outside linebacker Brenton Cox. The former five-star recruit has all the potential to make impact plays in the backfield in pass rush situations given his speed off the snap and the power to catch any blocker in sight off guard. Cox may not have the level of impact this season that Roquan Smith had for the Bulldogs, but he will still be a force to be reckoned with in combination with the other 10 players to suit up alongside him for the Dawgs on Saturdays.
How the Gamecocks match up:
The Gamecocks offense and Bulldogs defense will be in two opposite situations when they take field. Where the Bulldogs defense could show inexperience due to the loss of multiple players, the Gamecocks’ veteran offense should show cohesion and understanding. The Gamecocks will have the advantage here as the the majority of their impact offensive players on the field have already been in SEC play before.
The Gamecocks’ offense will look mostly the same as the one that took the field in Athens a season ago in a 24 -10 victory for the Dawgs.
Jake Bentley will be the X-factor in this game. Exploiting the inexperience of Georgia’s secondary and getting the ball into the hands of the many playmakers available in garnet and black will be vital to outmatching the offense of the Bulldogs.
As important as Deebo Samuel is to the Gamecock’s plans on offense, using him as a decoy to draw attention from players like Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith, and Ortre Smith will be of greater benefit in order to exploit the matchups further down the depth chart. Conversely, Shi Smith can be used to take the top off of the defense to find ways to put Samuel into open space where he is the most electric.
Expect a high scoring game between these two SEC East rivals. Both of these teams know how big this game is in terms of SEC aspirations and will look to use it to spark big seasons in a competitive SEC race.
A win for the Gamecocks will offer a huge boost in the outlook of the season with arguably its toughest match out of the way by the second week. The same can be said for the Bulldogs as they face higher expectations to run through the SEC East and into Atlanta for the SEC Championship for the second year in a row.
Home field advantage should play a part in this matchup as Gamecock fans know the magnitude of this game. It iss looking to be a perfect storm brewing in Columbia for the early season upset.
That being said, Georgia will have all reason in the world to spoil the day for the Gamecocks for the fourth consecutive year. The Bulldogs will be fighting to keep the ship sailing for their shot at a national title redemption down the line. This should fall in line with previous games between the two SEC East rivals: a physical, ground-it-out game that should be fairly evenly matched if both teams play up to their capabilities.