South Carolina @ Georgia – September 7 – 4:30 – ESPN
In the most highly anticipated matchup of the college football weekend, sixth ranked South Carolina travels to Athens, Georgia to take on the 12th ranked Bulldogs between the Hedges. The Gamecocks will be looking to win two straight in Athens for the first time since joining the SEC in 1992 (won 45-42 in 2011) and will be looking for their fourth straight win over Georgia after last year’s strong performance that resulted in a 35-7 win in Columbia.
The Bulldogs, coming off a season in which they were five yards away from a trip to play for the National Championship, are coming off a week 1 loss at Clemson in which their defense failed to ever stop Tajh Boyd and the Tiger’s high-powered offense. The Bulldogs must improve in a variety of areas if they hope to claim an early spot in the competitive SEC East.
Senior quarterback Aaron Murray has been criticized for his poor play in big games (other than last year’s SEC Championship in Atlanta) and last week’s performance against Clemson did nothing to improve that image. Although he completed 69 percent of his passes against a young Clemson defense, Murray seemed off for the majority of the night as the Georgia offense only converted 4 of 14 third downs.
The running game, led by Todd Gurley, is what Georgia is going to continue to rely on against a USC defense that held North Carolina to only 99 yards on the ground and 2.8 yards/rush. Gurley was Georgia’s shining light against Clemson, rushing for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 75 yard TD run. Gurley, along with sophomore Keith Marshall, will look for some sort of revenge after being held to 76 yards combined last year in Columbia.
Defensively, the return of safety Josh Harvey-Clemons should boost a secondary that allowed Tajh Boyd to throw 277 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. The defensive unit most improve drastically against the run as well after giving up nearly 200 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Tigers.
What South Carolina will have to do to win
In their season opener, the Gamecocks were never in doubt against North Carolina, opening up an early 17 point lead and never looking back. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw, while not playing great, played well enough to lead the offense to 27 points, including an early 65-yard-touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Shaq Roland.
South Carolina should be able to run the ball with consistency behind their large offensive line, although they will most likely be without starting center Cody Waldrop. Waldrop sprained his foot in last week’s win against North Carolina and has not been able to practice all week, meaning redshirt freshman Clayton Stadnik will most likely see his first career start. A consistent running game behind back Mike Davis and the mobility of Shaw will be key if the Gamecocks hope to start the year 2-0.
Defensively, the Gamecocks will be able to get pressure on Murray all game. Jadeveon Clowney has listened to the national media talk about how he took plays off and didn’t play well against the Tarheels, and he will be ready to go full force Saturday. In the secondary, Victor Hampton should be good to go after getting banged up in week one, which bodes well for a defense that held NC to 10 points.
How it will end up
The odds are against the Gamecocks for the mere fact that it is difficult to beat anyone in the SEC four times in a row. Yet the talent is with them, and it will show up between the hedges. The Gamecocks will be able to control the clock by keeping the ball on the ground, which will be able to open up plays downfield for Shaw. Georgia will have its big plays, but it will be difficult for Murray to ever feel comfortable with the pressure from the Gamecock’s defensive line. South Carolina will move to 2-0 on the year and take an early stronghold on the SEC East.
Final: South Carolina 24, Georgia 14