Georgia passed its first test of the 2010 season with an expected 55-7 win over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday. But that was just a pop quiz compared to what is coming up Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs will travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks, who come into the game with momentum after a 41-13 win over Southern Miss.
Anyone who has watched the Georgia-South Carolina games in the past knows they are always close and often come down to one play. This year is no different, especially with both teams ranked close together in the top 25.
Here’s a breakdown of who has the edge on offense, defense, special teams, coaching, and intangibles, and who will come out on top.
The Gamecocks have had trouble moving the ball and scoring points in the past, but they were able to do that and more against Southern Miss Saturday.
That doesn’t mean much because Georgia is a little better on defense than the Golden Eagles are. They will give the Gamecocks a challenge with the 3-4 setup.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia had one of the best games of his career, completing 16-of-23 passes for 193 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
They also ran the ball effectively with 224 yards, led by freshmen Marcus Lattimore who had 54 yards on 14 attempts.
Georgia comes into the game without its star receiver, A.J. Green, who has been suspended for violating NCAA rules. That hurts, but the offense still should be fine with a deep offensive line, two solid running backs in Caleb King and Washun Ealey, and a talented tight end unit led by Orson Charles.
And let’s not forget about quarterback Aaron Murray, who looked sharp in his debut last Saturday with three touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown.
One of the reasons, if not the reason South Carolina has been to a bowl game four out the last five years is its defense. Seven starters return from a defense that ranked 15th in the nation last season, led by defensive lineman Cliff Matthews and Ladi Ajiboye, who could be all-conference players by season's end.
South Carolina also has one of the best secondary units in the conference, led by Stephon Gilmore, who was an All-American as a freshman.
Georgia had a big day defensively with three interceptions in their win Saturday, but they will have their hands full with Garcia, who can move out of the pocket. Justin Houston is the Dawgs' best pass-rusher and will need to stay at home whenever Garcia rolls out.
With the new 3-4 scheme it will be interesting to see how the unit does against an offense that can run the ball and use play action to move the ball through the air. Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will need to ensure that his guys stay aggressive like last week.
EDGE: South Carolina
It’s rare that you see one player handle the kicking and punting duties, but that’s what Spencer Lanning has done. And he has been effective at it. He went 2-for-2 in field goal attempts last week and punted twice with a 52.5 average.
The Gamecocks' return unit could be better, as they have yet to score a TD since head coach Steve Spurrier arrived on campus.
Georgia features what could be the best special-teams unit in the nation. Punter Drew Butler won the Ray Guy award for the nation’s top punter and kicker Blair Walsh was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Brandon Boykin and Braden Smith are dynamic at returning kicks; if South Carolina lets either have any room to run, it will cost them.
There is no denying that Spurrier will go to the College Football Hall of Fame in the near future. He has had major success at Florida, winning a national title in 1996. But since 2005 when he arrived at South Carolina, he has compiled a 36-28 record and has not been able to get things going in Columbia due to various reasons.
Mark Richt is coming off his worst year at Georgia, losing five games for the first time in his career last season. But whenever he has a single-digit winning season the year before, he comes back to have double-digit wins and a shot at either the SEC or national title.
Plus, Richt has never lost at Williams-Brice Stadium. In fact, he has lost only six road games in his 10-year career.
The Gamecocks have some things going for them: their stadium is the 20th-largest in the nation, they have a solid fan base, and the team plays with a lot of passion. They may not win 10-11 games every year, but they have the ability to be in the hunt.
The Bulldogs are a team that keep moving, no matter what is thrown at them. They have had many off-the field issues in the past, but because of their tradition and their fan base, they seem to have success every year. This year will be the ultimate test, as their best player is out for the next three games.
As I said earlier, it will all come down to one final play. If Carolina wins, that could put the team in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. If Georgia wins a tough road game without the All-American Green, that will give the Bulldogs more momentum.
South Carolina looks confident and has the ability to win, but it won’t be enough because Georgia is just the better team.
FINAL SCORE: Georgia 21, South Carolina 18.