Undeniably, Week 1 was kind to the Georgia Bulldogs. A 45-21 win over the Clemson Tigers showcased a much improved defense, vaulted star running back Todd Gurley into the Heisman conversation and propelled the Dawgs up the polls.
But not all the good news came out of the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium. Texas A&M's thrashing of the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina, was also cause for optimism for Georgia.
As the Aggies proved in Week 1, South Carolina can be beaten, and here's what Georgia can learn from that game.
Conquering the Crowd
The fans in Williams-Brice Stadium are so rabid that they respond to Darude's 1999 hit "Sandstorm" like it's brand new every time it comes on. The scene is equal parts maddening and dizzying, and for opposing teams it can be downright intimidating. And that's before kickoff.
Prior to last Thursday, the Gamecocks had ridden the wave of that raucous crowd to 18 consecutive home wins, the longest such streak in the nation.
To be sure, the loss to Texas A&M won't dull the enthusiasm of the crowd when the Bulldogs come to town on September 13, and it would be a disservice to the South Carolina faithful to expect anything short of deafening volume, "Sandstorm" and all. But for a young Georgia team, it helps to know that Williams-Brice Stadium can be conquered.
The last time Georgia traveled to Columbia (in 2012), the Dawgs were overwhelmed by a ferocious defense, the magnitude of the game (both teams were ranked in the Top 10) and the hostile environment. The end result: South Carolina 35, Georgia 7.
Just knowing that South Carolina can be defeated at home—even by a team plagued with question marks early in the season, like Texas A&M—should be a confidence booster.
Spreading the Football
Watching Gurley run against Clemson was a beautiful sight. Every time he touched the ball, he was a threat. More than half of his runs resulted in first downs or touchdowns.
But Gurley is always good. What made him great on Saturday (in addition to incredible offensive line play) was offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's patience and game-planning. Those qualities may vest themselves in different ways next Saturday.
As Texas A&M and new star quarterback Kenny Hill demonstrated clearly last week, South Carolina's defensive backs and linebackers are not adept at covering one-on-one in isolated space. Hill's 511 passing yards against the Gamecocks was a testament to his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately. However, the fact that five of the Aggie receivers accounted for at least four catches and more than 50 receiving yards is a testament to South Carolina's inability to cover in space.
|Texas A&M Receivers vs. South Carolina|
Georgia showed glimpses of the short passing game on Saturday against Clemson as well, but expect that facet of the game to be utilized more regularly against the Gamecocks. In particular, look for shifty playmakers like Reggie Davis, Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie to turn relatively short routes into big gains.
On Saturday, Georgia relied on a number of big offensive sets. It was not uncommon to see a tight end (often freshman Jeb Blazevich), a true fullback (Taylor Maxey) and an H-back (Quayvon Hicks) on the field at the same time as Gurley, Keith Marshall or Nick Chubb in the backfield. That formation will likely be less prevalent against a Gamecock defense that has such a demonstrably established weakness against the passing attack.
Georgia won't ignore its powerful running game, but the Dawgs would be foolish not to exploit South Carolina's coverage deficiencies.
Setting Up the Run
Georgia's offense won't run away from the run. If anything, the short passing game will keep any defense honest and in doing so open up the running game. Though less spoken of, Texas A&M also had success running the football against South Carolina as the Aggies racked up 169 yards on the ground to go with four rushing touchdowns. Trey Williams and Brandon Williams each accounted for over 50 yards and more than five yards per carry.
And neither of those backs are Gurley. As the Heisman candidate showed on Saturday, he doesn't need tons of carries to take over the game. Expect Gurley to be Gurley when he gets his opportunities.
Some well-timed draws and continued reliance on the toss sweep should keep the Georgia running game in a good position to finish the game late—especially if the passing game can take the wind out of the Gamecock defense early.
South Carolina running back Mike Davis was a non-factor in the season opener as he continued to battle back from injury. If he's not back fully healthy in time for the Georgia game, the South Carolina offense could be in trouble.
For Georgia, putting pressure on the quarterback must remain a point of emphasis. Gamecock receivers like Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd are more than capable of making big plays and quarterback Dylan Thompson is an experienced passer who won't go down easily in such a big game. But it's hard to complete passes with Leonard Floyd and Amarlo Herrera in the backfield all day—just ask Clemson.
As defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt continues to develop his youthful defensive backfield, a premium will be placed on pressuring the quarterback. If Thompson struggles to get comfortable and fails to find a rhythm, the secondary will likely acquit itself quite nicely and overcome small miscues. However, if a strong Gamecock offensive line controls the battle in the trenches, Georgia's cornerbacks and safeties may be depended on to make some big plays.
Embrace the Moment
This Georgia team seemed keenly aware of the opportunity a win against Clemson presented. Accordingly, that same mentality should be carried over to the South Carolina game, which is even more important given SEC East implications. Players and coaches alike need to feed off of the game's magnitude and not shy away from it.
South Carolina is the team with its back in the corner. For the Gamecocks, a loss to Georgia means two conference losses and a setback against the prohibitive favorite in the division. Losing to the Bulldogs all but eliminates South Carolina from clear division contention just three games into the season. It's Steve Spurrier's squad that should be tense coming into this game, not Mark Richt's.
On Monday, Richt confessed to Tim Tucker of the Albany Herald, "You're probably never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss."
That sentiment translates to both Georgia and South Carolina in very different ways at this juncture. Georgia needs to prepare for a Gamecock squad that is much better than its season-opening loss may have implied. Similarly, the Dawgs need to focus on their own weaknesses. Fortunately, Georgia has an extra week to do so.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.
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