The No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 SEC) will battle the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks (5-0, 3-0) this week for the 65th time in school history. However, it will be the first time that both schools were ranked in the top 10. The Bulldogs are trying to avenge last season's 45–42 defeat in Athens.
The Gamecocks have won the last two games of the series on the shoulders of running back Marcus Lattimore. The junior running back has rushed for 358 yards on 64 carries (5.6 YPC) and three touchdowns in his career against the Bulldogs. The most embarrassing part of Lattimore's domination of the Georgia defense was last season, when he rushed for 94 of his 176 yards against the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter.
Both South Carolina and Georgia appeared to be looking ahead last week, as they both needed strong second halves to pull ahead and win their games against Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. This will not be the case this week, as the eyes of college football will be on this showdown in Columbia.
Look for the Gamecocks to once again try to establish Lattimore early. The question is: How effective will he be? Lattimore is coming off the ACL injury last year, and he is not at 100 percent as of last week. However, it should be noted that his 85 percent still makes him one of the top running backs in college football.
South Carolina has run the ball 79 percent of the time on first downs this season and will need to net positive gains early. The offensive line has been too inconsistent to try to play catchup against the Bulldogs' explosive offense.
If the Gamecocks can get the ball to 3rd-and-medium, you will see a heavy dose of quarterback Conner Shaw running the ball. Although Shaw is completing 78.1 percent of his passes, he is only attempting 16 a game. He is, however, averaging 12.5 rushes per game. In fact, it is Shaw, not Lattimore, who rushes the ball 81 percent of all run plays on 3rd-and-medium.
If South Carolina is unable to establish the run, the Gamecocks have shown the ability to throw the ball. Most of their success in the air has been by backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, who has passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns.
The Gamecocks do not have Alshon Jeffery on their roster anymore. However, they do have three solid options in the passing game outside of Lattimore in Bruce Ellington, Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd. All three are shorter than 5'10" but can make big plays in space because of their speed and acceleration.
Ellington has been the most consistent with 12 receptions for 207 yards. Byrd, on the other hand, has been the Gamecocks' home-run threat with nine receptions for 246 yards.
Defensively, on paper, the Bulldogs match up well against South Carolina. The problem, however, is that Georgia has not met their defensive expectations on paper. Yes, they have been slowed by suspensions and injuries, but the excuses run out this week. Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree have a game under their belt, and everyone should be back in their natural position this week.
A lot of attention has been focused on Tennessee's ability to run the ball last week versus the Bulldogs. Not mentioned much in the mainstream media was the injury to defensive end Abry Jones. Jones was limited last week and the Bulldogs moved Big John Jenkins to defensive end and inserted Kwame Geathers at nose tackle. Jones is reported to be back at 100 percent.
I also like the matchup for Georgia's defensive backs against South Carolina's wide receivers. The Bulldogs have struggled against the taller receivers this season but should fare well against the smaller Gamecocks receivers.
Perhaps the biggest question mark in this game is: How will the Georgia offense do versus the South Carolina defense?
The Bulldogs enter this weekend's clash with a league-leading 536.0 yards per game and 48.2 points per game. South Carolina, on the other hand, is only giving up 288.8 yards per game and 11.2 points per game.
If South Carolina is going to win this game, they will have to have a strong showing by their defensive line. They are led by defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Both are big and gifted athletes. If they can get to Murray, it will be a long night for Bulldogs fans.
The biggest questions for Georgia fans are: Can Murray protect the football, and are freshman sensations Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall ready for the big stage? Together, they've already accounted for 964 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns
Despite the injury to the Bulldogs' leading receiver, Michael Bennett, look for the Bulldogs to continue to show four wide receiver sets. Bennett is a great offensive weapon, but you must also consider that last season's top receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, has played sparingly on offense this year. The addition of Mitchell should cover most of the production loss with the departure of Bennett.
This was a shootout that Georgia begged South Carolina to win last season with turnovers and sloppy special teams play. In my opinion, Murray has progressed mightily since that time. With the addition of “Gurshall” and a stable of receivers, Georgia is the better team.
However, the better team does not always win in this series. If Murray can protect the football, Georgia will be one game away (Florida) from an undefeated regular season. If not, they will be haunted by the “what-if's” for years to come.
UGA 31 South Carolina 24
Gurley 23 carries 118 yards and two touchdowns.