[This article was updated September 4 following Georgia’s season opener.]
South Carolina opened the 2010 season on September 2 with a 41-13 smack-down over Southern Mississippi. Two days later, Georgia destroyed Louisiana-Lafayette 55-7. The SEC East rivals face each other on September 11 in their first true test.
Both teams played with intensity versus nonthreatening opponents from smaller conferences. The match ups showcased improvements that Georgia and South Carolina have made over the last year.
South Carolina Summary
South Carolina polished up their offense and appeared to have corrected weaknesses that dogged them in seasons past.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Steve Spurrier. He was confident and displayed good ball control. Garcia was backed by freshman Connor Show who showed promise on his first outing.
Four-star recruit Marcus Lattimore gave a solid performance at running back. He should be able to help South Carolina improve on its 2009 record as worst rushing team in the SEC.
The Gamecocks took advantage of short-yardage, third down opportunities, improving on last year’s 37 percent conversion ratio. They were also productive in the red zone scoring on every attempt (Four TDs, One FG). Spencer Lanning was two for two on field goals including a 42 yarder.
Georgia answered some big questions in their season opener. They put to rest uncertainty about freshman QB Aaron Murray and Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 defense.
Murray showed guts, quick thinking, athletic ability and accuracy. He scrambled well and made plays happen. The Dawgs’ offense was well-balanced with 193 yards passing and 184 yards rushing. They were eight for 17 on third down conversions.
Georgia’s defense was fast and furious and exhibited signs of the Junkyard Dawgs of old. They held the Cajuns’ offense to just 134 yards (which included one 60-yard pass) and kept constant pressure on quarterback Chris Masson. The secondary dominated the backfield.
Special teams gave Georgia an even greater edge with a 46.7 yard punt average from Drew Butler and a 52-yard field goal from Blair Walsh.
Showdown in the Cockpit
Georgia enters unfriendly terrain when they meet up with the Gamecocks in Columbia. Both teams want to get a leg-up in the SEC East race. Both have extra motivation to win.
The Gamecocks are looking to avenge a bitter four-point loss to Georgia last year that came late in the game after a blocked extra point. The Bulldogs are itching to redeem themselves after finishing 4-4 in the SEC in 2009.
Here is how the Dawgs and Gamecocks compare following both teams' first games.
South Carolina’s Quarterback Duo
Despite preseason controversy, quarterback Stephen Garcia displayed a new confidence and the ability to make plays happen when he couldn’t find open receivers. He hit five of his first six attempts and rushed 22 yards for a touchdown on the Gamecocks’ second possession. In all, he completed 16 of 23 passes for 193 yards plus 38 yards rushing.
At the end of the second quarter, true freshmen quarterback Conner Shaw rushed for a dozen or so yards and connected on a 10-yard pass to Lattimore before time expired. In the fourth quarter, he threw a 15-yard touchdown pass. Shaw finished the day with 32 yards in the air and 31 yards on the ground.
Garcia and Shaw look to be a double threat at quarterback
Georgia’s Young Quarterback Duo
Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray commanded Georgia’s offense. He knew the playbook, managed the game and made plays when the heat was on. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 42 yards. He was intercepted once as a result of a dropped pass by Kris Durham (WR) – not an inaccurate throw.
Murray left the game just shy of the fourth quarter to give backup quarterback - and true freshman - Hutson Mason time on the field. Mason stepped in and fired a 26-yard touchdown pass to Logan Gray. He is the eighth player in FBS history to record a touchdown pass on his first throw as a collegiate player. Mason finished 2 for 5 and 33 yards.
Both quarterbacks may be young and inexperienced but showed poise and promise.
South Carolina’s Playmakers
The Gamecocks have 13 wide receivers on the roster, including five that are six feet three inches or bigger. Sophomore Alshon Jeffrey caught seven passes for 106 yards against Southern Miss and was able to churn out first downs on every reception during the first quarter.
Freshman wide receiver Ace Sanders, one of the smallest guys on the team at five feet seven inches, ran for 53 yards on a reverse. Sophomore DL Moore caught a 29-yard pass from Shaw in the third quarter.
Marcus Lattimore is essential to the Gamecocks rushing strategy this year. He is one of Spurrier's biggest signing wins during his five years at South Carolina. At a solid 220 pounds, Lattimore made the most of his carries scoring two touchdowns on 54 yards.
Georgia played Louisiana-Lafayette without starters A.J. Green (WR), Washun Ealey (RB) or Tavarres King (SE) and were still able to rack up 55 points.
The Bulldogs showed strength across the board with solid protection from the offensive line. Carlton Thomas rushed for 61 yards and Caleb King picked up 47 yards and a touchdown. Shaun Chapas (FB) made critical blocks and fellow fullback Fred Munzenmaier caught a touchdown pass.
Wide receiver Kris Durham, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, stepped in with 83 yards and one touchdown.
Blair Walsh was two for two on field goals including a 52-yard-long torpedo.
South Carolina Defense
South Carolina held Southern Miss to 67 net rushing yards and no touchdowns inside the red zone.
The secondary was quick to the ball and good on pass defense. Akeem Auguste (FS), Stephon Gilmore (CB) and DeVonte Holloman (SS) combined to shut down Southern Mississippi’s top receiver, 6-foot-6-inch Deandre Brown.
Gilmore had two tackles for a loss and stopped Southern Miss at the one yard line at the top of the fourth quarter. Auguste led the team with eight tackles (seven solos, one assist). Holloman nabbed an interception in the first quarter that led to a South Carolina touchdown.
Georgia successfully unveiled its much anticipated 3-4 defense under new DC Todd Grantham. They racked up nine tackles for negative 26 yards. Akeem Dent, Justin Houston and Akeem Hebron had one sack apiece for a combined negative 18 yards. Dent also stopped the Cajuns’ on a fourth down, one-yard play.
Georgia’s secondary shut down any hope the Cajuns had for their passing game. They combined for three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns.
Sophomore cornerback Vance Cuff forced a fumble and broke up a key third down pass. Baccari Rambo (FS) had six stops. Jakar Hamilton (FS), a junior college transfer, intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
The Gamecocks are 9-1 in their last 10 games at home. They suffered their only loss at the hands of Georgia in 2008. They enter the stadium on September 11 with two extra days of rest and preparation versus Georgia.
On the flip side, Georgia is 4-1 vs. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks and has already won two in Columbia. Since he became head coach at Georgia in 2001, Richt has only lost four games on the road (not counting “neutral” sites).
Who has the edge - Georgia or South Carolina? Sound off in the comments below.