Tomorrow night the Gamecocks (1-0) travel to Athens, GA for a matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs (0-1) in the second game of the season. Georgia escaped with a win in Columbia last year 14-7, but that was with Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and Mohamed Massaquoi. So what will happen this year?
Stephen Garcia did not look great last week, but he wasn't horrible either. He managed the game well, going 12 of 23 for 148 yards and a pick. He never did anything to put Carolina in a bad spot (the pick was more a great play by the DE than a bad pass by Garcia), and he avoided a number of NC State tacklers, even hurdling one. Garcia will probably have a similar game to the NC State game, with maybe one more pick and a TD, plus around 200 yards. Georgia has a much better defense than NC State, but Garcia will have improved over his opening game.
UGA sends out Joe Cox and maybe Logan Gray. Cox was severely underwhelming against Oklahoma State last week, so much that Gray—the backup—and a DB got time under center. Cox has been named the starter for the USC game, but he has been experiencing some flu-like symptoms. He will still start, but Gray will get playing time because of Cox's illness and his poor play. Needless to say, the Dawgs miss Matt Stafford.
Edge: USC. This is really a default pick, because Joe Cox was just awful against Oklahoma State. Garcia's not great, but he's better than the Cox/Gray dream team.
USC had a powerful running game through the first half last week, but it tailed off in the second half. Brian Maddox bowled people over and got big gains early on, but only finished with 66 yards on 23 attempts. Freshman Jarvis Giles looked ok, making one stupid play where he ran backwards in an attempt to avoid the defense but just ended up losing a lot of yards. However, he also had a great run on the Cocks last drive that helped seal the victory. Kenny Miles and Bryce Sherman may see some gametime this week, Miles in a conventional running back role and Sherman for trick plays, sweeps, or options. There's talent here, but it's raw, and I don't know how well it will do against UGA's defense.
Richard Samuel will be starting for UGA at running back. After picking up 87 yards on 20 attempts agains Oklahoma State it's clear he's good, but can he do it against an SEC defense, let alone South Carolina's? He had some carries last year and averaged 5.1 yards, so I don't think he will have too many problems.
Backup Carlton Thomas is an unproven freshman, with one carry for three yards in his career. He's also small (5'7", 179 lbs.), so don't expect to see him too much. Caleb King missed the last game with a hamstring injury and was initially thought to be better, but he tweaked it again on Tuesday, so his status is unknown for the game. If he's cleared to play he likely won't get many carries just because Samuel is a capable back and they don't want to risk a worse injury.
Edge: UGA. This is a pretty even matchup, but I think Samuel is better than anyone on South Carolina's roster as of now. USC has more depth, but how much will that help?
South Carolina has a quality veteran in Moe Brown, a stud freshman in Tori Gurley, a big workhorse TE in Weslye Saunders, and a lot of depth with Jason Barnes, Alshon Jeffrey, and a host of others. Brown came up big against NC State, leading the team in receiving yards and pulling in a clutch 33-yard catch to seal the game. Gurley looked amazing, pulling in balls with scary skill and protecting them from the defense.
Saunders looked good outside of one drop, but I expect a little more from him this week. The other receivers provided a good complement, not doing anything special, but being there for little five-yard outs and other easy plays for Garcia to convert. Against UGA's defense I expect a dip in production from everyone but Saunders. Saunders is a big guy and can outmuscle most players on UGA's defense, so I think he needs to have a big game. Moe Brown had a monster game against UGA last year, but I think he will just be solid this year.
UGA has some good receivers and one great one. A.J. Green, while a dirty traitor, is an amazing receiver. He's no Julio Jones, but he could easily be the second-best receiver in the SEC behind Julio. 56 receptions, 963 yards, and eight TDs don't lie, although he was not his playmaking self last week against OK State, pulling in only four balls for 52 yards. Part of this could be the lack of a quality QB, but I also think he underperformed a bit last week. He will be pumped to play his homestate team—he's from Summerville, SC and caught passes from USC's backup QB Reid McCollum in high school—and should have a better game than last week, even though he's facing a much tougher D.
Across from Green is Mike Moore, a savvy vet who's playing in his first season as a featured contributor. He did record a TD against OK State, but he only caught two balls for six yards. He needs to take advantage of the fact that A.J. Green is on the otherside of the field from him and exploit the weak side of the defense. At TE is Aron White, a largely unproven player who caught three passes for 88 yards and two TDs last year. He's got decent size (6'4", 234 lbs.), but he hasn't proven himself yet.
Edge: UGA. If it wasn't for A.J. Green this one would go the other way, but he's just that good. The question is, is there anyone capable of throwing him the ball?
Last week USC's offensive line was surprisingly good, pushing a solid NC State D-line across the field. T.J. Johnson looked great in his debut, plowing a State lineman forward to open a hole for the only TD of the game. The rest of the line was also solid, keeping Garcia relatively well-protected and not committing a single false start penalty. Now, NC State's line was good, but Georgia's is great. USC won't look as great this week, but will still be good.
Carolina catches a huge break on UGA's offensive line, as Trinton Sturdivant suffered a season-ending ACL tear, the same injury that forced him to miss all of last season. As much as I hate Georgia, you have to feel bad for Sturdivant; two straight seasons lost to an ACL is tough. The rest of UGA's line is solid, with the youngest player being a sophomore and Sturdivant's replacement (Vince Vance, a giant at 6'8", 325 lbs.) being a senior. Experience is not lost on this line, but losing Sturdivant might be a blow they can't recover from. They have a really tough task ahead of them, having to stop a relentless Gamecocks attack, and you can't expect Joe Cox to do anything to help himself out once the rush gets to him.
Edge: USC. Losing Sturdivant hurts UGA too much, and the Gamecocks front seven should find there way into the backfield frequently.
Despite missing two of its four starters last week, USC's defensive line looked great, as Russell Wilson was brought down six times behind the line of scrimmage. Devin Taylor was amazing, recording three tackles for losses, blocking a punt, and forcing a fumble. Because of his performance, he will start again this week despite Clifton Geathers' return from suspension. Across the front, Taylor, Nathan Pepper, Cliff Matthews, and Travian Robertson form one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.
With the loss of Trinton Sturdivant, UGA does not have a big-time offensive lineman to stop Carolina here. They should wreak havoc in the backfield
UGA's defensive line is extremely talented and experienced, with three seniors and a junior. Roderick Battle and Demarcus Dobbs are the ends, and both are talented playmakers who can cause problems. Dobbs even recorded two picks last year, showing the versatility of this defense. Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens are the defensive tackles, and senior Kade Weston will see playing time too. This line is a force to be reckoned with, but did not look that good against Oklahoma State last week. While they will certainly look better against USC's offense, how much better will they be?
Edge: USC. After last week, it is clear that USC possesses one of the best front fours in the country. UGA is strong, but not as strong as USC.
USC has a great linebacker in Eric Norwood. However, after a host of injuries, specifically to starter Rodney Paulk, the depth at LB is running thin. Shaq Wilson will get the start and will certainly perform well, but it was a lot nicer having Paulk start with another great talent in Wilson coming off the bench to give the starters rest. Alonzo Winfield is holding down the Spur again, a position he looked very comfortable in last week. USC will be great here, but could wear down late without Paulk.
UGA has their own version of Norwood in Rennie Curran. Curran is considered the best LB in the country along with Brandon Spikes at Florida, so you know he will make some plays. Alongside him are Darius Dewberry and Darryl Gamble. Dewberry played in seven games last year, providing a solid presence in UGA's linebacking corps. Gamble played in all but one game last year, pulling in two picks. There is experience here and a lot of talent, so they should definitely cause problems for USC.
Edge: UGA. Straight up this is a tie, but the injuries to USC's unit cause depth issues that will affect them late in the game.
USC's DB's looked great last week, especially true freshmen Stephon Gilmore and Devonte Holloman. Safeties Chris Culliver and Darian Stewart are two of the best in the conference, and starting cornerback Akeem Auguste is extremely talented. USC's defensive backs fly all over the field, finding the ball and the intended receiver, and knocking both to the ground. Auguste will have his work cut out for him guarding Green, but I think he's good enough to keep the damage low. Expect a pick or three, especially from one of the veteran safeties.
UGA has a good defensive backfield as well. Corner Brandon Boykin is young and inexperienced, but he is a great talent. On the other side, Prince Miller is an extremely accomplished senior who can make plays on defense and special teams. Safety Reshad Jones is a best, recording 76 tackles last year to go along with five picks.
I would put him up there with Eric Berry. Bryan Evans is the other safety, and he provides a nice complement to Jones. UGA's secondary had trouble against Oklahoma State last week, but Oklahoma State has a much better offense than South Carolina. The secondary will grab at least one pick and limit the big plays.
Edge: USC. The plethora of talent across the board for USC, plus the depth at each position gives them the edge.
Spencer Lanning looked great punting last week, but horrible kicking, missing a 27-yard field goal. I'm sure they worked on that a lot this week, so I think he will be more reliable on Saturday. Adam Yates is waiting to take over if Lanning continues to struggle. Yates is also the kickoff specialist, and looked good last week, booming two deep. If he does what he did last week, the chances of a long UGA return are slim.
UGA has the young Blair Walsh kicking. Walsh did not look good last year, going 15 for 23 on field goals. Last week however, he made a 53-yarder. Having someone with a leg his strong really helps Georgia, as it means they are in scoring distance from the 35-yard line in. Drew Butler is the punter, and he had relatively no game action until last week, when he punted six balls for 57 yards. Having Butler is really helpful for the Bulldogs, because Joe Cox and the rest of their offense will definitely stall in the middle of the field a lot.
Edge: UGA. USC still has to work out its placekicking woes, while UGA has a great punter and kicker.
USC has Chris Culliver taking kicks and Akeem Auguste taking punts. Neither looked great last week, not doing too much with the ball when they got it. Culliver took one punt last week in place of Auguste, so it's possible he could see some time there this week as well. Also, don't rule out the possibility of a Bryce Sherman sighting.
UGA has Prince Miller returning punts and Brandon Boykin returing kicks. Miller is a great returner, always a threat to take it to the house. As stated earlier, Boykin is young and hasn't shown us anything yet, but he is a good athlete and shouldn't be taken lightly as a returner.
Edge: UGA. Miller's the difference here, as he is one of the most dynamic returners in the game.
Steve Spurrier is one of the legends of the game, but he is not the same coach he was at Florida. He's still a great coach, but he's not the best anymore. He's promised to open up the playcalling this game, so expect a few trick plays and deep balls. It will be fun to see what him and Jr. draw up.
Mark Richt is a great coach. He has turned Georgia into a national power, but he's still trying to get over that last hump. It won't happen this year, but don't tell him that. I expect him to call a great game, much better than what Tom O'Brien did last week.
Edge: UGA. Richt is a little better than Spurrier at this point in time.
USC wants to win because Georgia is their second biggest rival. UGA wants to win because USC is their second or third biggest rival. USC wants to win to prove to everyone that they are a good team. UGA wants to avoid going 0-2 and causing a state of emergency in Athens. USC would love to make another statement in a tough road environment. UGA wants to tell the SEC that Sanford Stadium is where they win, not you.
Edge: UGA. The loss to Oklahoma State has put a fire in them and they desperately need this game.
Sanford Stadium is a miserable place to play if you're an opposing team. It's loud and imposing, easily one of the hardest places to play in the country. There should be a good contingent of Carolina fans, but that won't matter as the UGA fans will be rabid. Expect a couple of false start penalties and timeouts by USC.
Edge: UGA. No matter how many Carolina fans come, they will still be outnumbered at least three to one.
Even though it may look like UGA is the better team here, I think Carolina has the talent and nerve to pull the upset. USC 14-13.
So that's that. Hopefully my prediction comes true. When I get back from Athens I will look back at my predictions. Have fun watching the game.