Just like last year, the Bulldogs will have a challenging start to the 2014 season. Clemson comes to Athens, Ga., in the season opener and, if the game is like last year's matchup in Death Valley, the Bulldogs will have their hands full.
With that said, that is not the game that will likely make or break Georgia's 2014 season.
After the Bulldogs take on the Tigers, they will have a week off before they travel to Columbia, S.C. to face the Gamecocks.
Normally when these two teams play against each other, the winner goes on to win the SEC East. However, the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina in 2012 and won the SEC East whereas they took down the Gameckocks in 2013, but did not sniff the Georgia Dome in December.
Regardless, even with Missouri as the reigning SEC East champion and teams like Florida and Tennessee expected to improve, the game between the Bulldogs and Gamecocks will set the tone for the rest of the season.
The bitter rivalry between Georgia and South Carolina has been hot over the last few years and a win for either team would push it in the right direction.
When Georgia Has the Ball
The Georgia offense will be led by quarterback Hutson Mason, who has already been in big-game situations. Mason led the Bulldogs to a win at Georgia Tech last year and nearly pulled off a come-from-behind win against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Going to Williams-Brice Stadium is a different beast, as it will be Mason’s first SEC road game. The good thing is he will face a defense that is rebuilding on the line and in the secondary.
The strength of the Gamecocks defense is at linebacker, where all three starters—including Sharrod Golightly—are set to return. Because of that, the defense will not have as much growing pains as one would expect.
The key for the Bulldogs is to grind it out with Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and possibly A.J. Turman. They will have to rely heavily on the run and Mason will have to be effective on play action.
However, Mason will have to make plays with his arm as well. He will need to trust his receivers as well as his offensive line, which will have three new starters. As good as the defense is for South Carolina, Georgia’s offense will not lag behind this upcoming season.
Mason will have to execute the same way as Aaron Murray did in the last four seasons.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
The Bulldogs defense will be the key in this game because Georgia still gave up over 450 yards of offense in the win against the Gamecocks last year.
It won’t be an easy task to stop the Gamecocks offense in 2014. Despite losing quarterback Connor Shaw, South Carolina has nine starters coming back, including standout running back Mike Davis.
Dylan Thompson will be the new quarterback and, like Mason, he has a lot of experience under his belt. With the weapons he has on offense, the Gamecocks won’t have any issues scoring.
The key for the Bulldogs on defense is the secondary. According to Seth Emerson of The Telegraph, Damian Swann and Shaq Wiggins will be the starting cornerbacks while Tray Matthews and Corey Moore will be the starting safeties.
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The front seven for the Bulldogs will be solid. Other than Garrison Smith, the Bulldogs have all their starters returning, including SEC tackling champion Ramik Wilson.
The front seven will have to get after Thompson constantly to make the secondary’s life easier. It will also need to do a better job of stopping Davis, as he rushed for 149 yards and one touchdown in their meeting last year.
South Carolina and Georgia are very similar teams. Each have a new starting quarterback, the running backs are stout and each have a great set of linebackers. Very little separates these squads.
Because of that, it’s hard to say who will win the battle. It’s a vital game for the Bulldogs because they want to have that leg up in the SEC East and not chase opponents all season long.
Then again, they won the game last season and still let the SEC East lead slip away as the season progressed.