The South Carolina football team is aiming for a strong start to SEC play when it travels to Athens, Ga., this Saturday to face the defending national champions and the nation's No. 1 team, the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Gamecocks will try to carry the momentum from its win against Furman last week into the matchup, but the odds are stacked in the other direction. The Bulldogs started the week as 27.5-point favorites, according to Caesar’s Sportsbook.
Head coach Shane Beamer is searching for his first win against his former boss, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. Beamer is 0-2 in games against Georgia, both losses having been blowouts, and served as an assistant during Smart's first two years with the Bulldogs.
“Everyone knows, or should know, the respect I have for Kirby Smart and his coaching staff and the way they do things,” Beamer said. “He made me a better coach in my two years in Athens. Obviously, we know they have great talent and great players, but they're so well-coached as well, in all three phases.”
Georgia comes into the game undefeated after two lopsided victories against UT Martin and Ball State, where the Bulldogs held opponents to just one score in each game.
Beamer said that the Bulldogs' new quarterback, junior Carson Beck, has looked impressive since taking over for former quarterback Stetson Bennett during the offseason. In two starts this season, Beck has thrown for 577 yards and three touchdowns.
South Carolina got a small preview of Beck in last season's matchup, when he subbed in for Bennett and threw six passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. However, the two lopsided victories this season have made it difficult for Beamer and his staff to get a feel for Beck and Georgia’s current offense.
“They haven't had to do much offensively, from a schematic standpoint,” Beamer said. “You look back at last year, (at) the schemes they ran and the concepts of the run game and pass game, and you prepare for those. But then you also know that they've had a whole offseason, too.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs' defense has been dominant. It has forced four turnovers in two games and gotten its opponents off the field early and often, holding the competition to just six conversions on 29 third downs this season. The team also kept both its opponents under 300 yards of total offense.
“The whole team plays with great effort, really dominant up front,” Beamer said. “The linebackers have played a lot of football for them. They’ve got size and athleticism in the secondary.”
To be successful against the No. 1 team in the nation, Beamer said that the Gamecocks need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. South Carolina saw some success against Furman up front, recording three sacks, four tackles for loss and five pass deflections in addition to freshman defensive lineman Xzavier McLeod's late interception, but the team struggled to just one tackle for loss and no sacks in its season-opening loss to North Carolina.
“We've got to be more disruptive up front, and that's creating negative plays,” Beamer said. “It wasn't good enough — offense or defense — against UNC, and the discrepancy was the negative play differential between the two teams.”
Starting the game strong could be another key factor in Gamecocks’ success in Athens. The team is 7-9 under Beamer in conference games and has trailed at halftime in six of the eight SEC road games. The two games that South Carolina did not trail after 30 minutes, it won.
“Everybody talks about starting fast, and that's easier said than done against these guys,” Beamer said. “It'll be loud and hostile, but we need to make sure that what we're doing from a call standpoint, offensively, defensively and special teams, has given our guys the best chance to be successful early in the game.”
In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Beamer updated the status of of several injured Gamecock players and said they were all "questionable" at the time, including fifth-year wide receiver Ahmarean Brown, who had yet to practice this week.
A win would improve South Carolina's record to 2-1 and give Beamer his fourth win against an AP top-25 team and his third against a top-10 opponent.
The two teams will kick off in Athens on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., with the game airing on CBS as its major SEC game of week three.
"(This is the) first CBS 3:30 (p.m.) game we've had since I've been the head coach here, so it will be exciting,” Beamer said. “That means you're doing something right when you're playing in those games.”