Georgia Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. South Carolina
The Georgia Bulldogs travel to Columbia Saturday to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks for the latest installment of what is quickly become a heated rivalry between these two teams.
This is the SEC's—if not the nation’s—game of the year so far. This game has a little bit of everything, including a visit from ESPN’s College Gameday broadcast. Both teams come into the game ranked in the Top 10 in the polls. Both teams come into the game undefeated. And, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC East title and will keep their BCS title hopes alive.
Let’s take a look at five keys to victory for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Offensive Line Has to Hold Up
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The offensive line was a question mark coming into the season, but it has performed better than expected so far this season. Still, the unit will face its hardest test by far this Saturday against South Carolina.
Bookended by two huge, talented athletes in Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, the defensive line for South Carolina is fierce. In fact, the entire front seven for South Carolina is going challenge the Bulldog line all night.
Of particular interest is how freshman John Theus will hold up at the right tackle position. In pass protection, Theus has struggled to keep up with some of the quicker ends coming around the edge. The Bulldogs will probably line up in more tight end sets with Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome to help out blocking Clowney and Taylor.
The key here will be for the offensive line to start strong with run blocking and opening some holes for running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. If the Bulldogs can establish their rushing game, the Gamecock defense will have to respect the play-action, and that should slow down the pass rush enough to give Murray some time to find his wide receivers.
Mike Bobo Needs to Get Creative
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As stated before, this South Carolina defense is going to be the best the high-powered Georgia offense has seen this season. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is going to have to call a great game for the Bulldogs to continue to put points up on the board.
Bobo needs to game-plan around this talented, aggressive SC defense with some plays designed to get the ball to Georgia’s playmakers in space.
Georgia will, of course, have to try to pound the ball up the middle to set up the play-action pass.
Still, the Dawgs should also look to employ some quick screens to the running backs and wide receivers and dump off passes to the tight ends to exploit the aggressiveness of the South Carolina pass rush.
The Dawgs Can’t Afford Turnovers
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Of course, this seems like a no-brainer, but Georgia absolutely cannot give the football away and expect to win this game.
Last week against Tennessee, Georgia twice surrendered multiple-score leads due in no small part to costly turnovers. Fortunately, the Bulldogs were able to overcome those mistakes, force some turnovers of their own and escape with a seven-point victory.
Don’t expect that the Dawgs would be so lucky again this week against South Carolina. If Georgia starts giving away points because of turnovers, or giving South Carolina a short field, it could be a very long night for the Bulldogs.
Sloppy play and turnovers almost assuredly cost the Bulldogs the game against the Gamecocks last season, and no one in the Bulldog Nation wants to see a repeat of that debacle.
Georgia Has to Stop Marcus Lattimore
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Junior running back Marcus Lattimore has absolutely gashed the Georgia defense two years in a row. In the last two matchups, Lattimore has rushed for 358 yards and three touchdowns combined against the Dawgs.
Even scarier is the fact that Lattimore seems to pick up steam in the fourth quarter, just when most players are starting to tire out. Now, the Georgia defense has played its best in the fourth quarter so far this season, so that will be interesting to see if it can contain Lattimore at the end of the game.
One thing is for sure, the Bulldogs are going to have to lay the wood on Lattimore early and often in this game. Every time he touches the ball, Georgia defenders need to swarm to Lattimore. Much like Todd Gurley, Lattimore is rarely brought down by the first defender to hit him. The Dawgs need to team up and gang tackle him to limit his production and physically wear him down in this game.
Georgia Must Limit Big Plays
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Georgia’s defense has yet to live up to expectations after finishing in the top five in the nation in total defense a season ago. One of the big issues with UGA’s defense has been a tendency to give up big plays. This trend will have to stop in Columbia if the Dawgs are going to have a chance in this game.
Assuming the defense can at least slow down Marcus Lattimore, it will have to play disciplined assignment football to stop Connor Shaw from taking off and making plays with his legs.
Against Buffalo in the season opener, quarterback Alex Zordich had multiple big scrambles when the Georgia defense got caught out of position. Georgia looked better containing Missouri’s James Franklin and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers. That trend will have to continue against South Carolina as Shaw is almost certainly the best running quarterback the Dawgs will have seen this season.
As far as the Gamecock passing attack goes, Shaw has been almost unconscious completing passes the past two weeks. He doesn’t pass often, but Shaw is deadly accurate when he does and can throw well on the run. The Georgia secondary is going to have to keep plays in front of them and take advantage of the size difference against the shorter Gamecock receivers.
Having safety Bacarri Rambo back from suspension in his second game should help, though he does have a tendency to give up big plays by taking chances jumping routes. Often this leads to interceptions—Rambo led the SEC last season with eight—but he is susceptible to getting burned when the gamble doesn’t pay off.