Georgia vs. South Carolina Complete Game Preview

Andrew Hall@DudeYouCrazyCorrespondent IIISeptember 8, 2014

Georgia vs. South Carolina Complete Game Preview

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    South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Georgia's Mark Richt
    South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Georgia's Mark RichtKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Despite opening weekends that went drastically different for each team, this Saturday's meeting between the Georgia Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks still figures to be instrumental in shaping the SEC East.

    The Gamecocks began shaking off an embarrassing season-opening loss to Texas A&M with a victory over East Carolina in Week 2.  A win over the Dawgs would put coach Steve Spurrier's squad back in the hunt for an eastern division crown.

    Meanwhile, Georgia drew national attention for its decisive win over Clemson to open the season and used an off week to refine schemes and develop a game plan for the Gamecocks.

    Here's what you need to know about this game:

    Date: Saturday, Sept. 13

    Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

    Place: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina

    TV: CBS

    Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Gamecock Sports Network

    Spread: Georgia by 3 per OddsShark.com.

Video Preview

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    Could this game decide the SEC East?  Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss.

Georgia Keys to Victory

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    Georgia's Hutson Mason
    Georgia's Hutson MasonDave Tulis/Associated Press

    Managing the Crowd

    The environment at Williams-Brice Stadium is one of the most hostile in all of the SEC.  Between the heat and humidity that typify Columbia in early September, rich Gamecock traditions and 80,000-plus South Carolina fans, the stadium crowd can be insurmountable at times.

    That was certainly the case for the Dawgs in 2012 when they fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter against a hungry South Carolina squad.

    Georgia has not won in Columbia since 2008, and to do so this year, negating the crowd early will be a prerequisite.  Look for a potent Bulldog offense to take some shots early in an attempt to put a suspect South Carolina defense on its heels.  If the Dawgs have success in that regard, some of the impact of the crowd may be minimized.

    Mistake-Free Football

    In 2012, the Bulldogs fell behind to the Gamecocks in part because of an interception on the opening drive and a surrendered punt return for a touchdown later in the first quarter.  While the potential of this South Carolina squad may still be unknown, the impact of such mistakes on the road is understood.

    In Week 1, quarterback Hutson Mason was solid (but not spectacular) and did not cough the ball up a single time.  The running backs were sure-handed in toting the football and special teams play was clean.  An equally mistake-free effort will be needed to hand South Carolina its second home loss of the 2014 season.

    Hold the Line on Defense

    In Week 2, the South Carolina running game wore down East Carolina's defense and effectively held off the Pirates' upset bid in the fourth quarter.  Sound offensive line play throughout the contest paved the way for the Gamecocks' 33-23 victory.

    Most notably, a drive lasting in excess of 10 minutes in the final period was particularly crippling to East Carolina's efforts as South Carolina, led by running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, ran the ball 12 times (including nine consecutive rushes at one point).

    Georgia's defense is still weaker than the Dawgs' offense, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can ill afford to give up long, grinding drives.  Accordingly, disrupting the line of scrimmage and winning the point of attack must be a priority for the Bulldogs.

South Carolina Keys to Victory

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    South Carolina's Mike Davis
    South Carolina's Mike DavisStephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Rattle Hutson Mason

    While Georgia's quarterback is not new to the Bulldogs system, he's never been the man under center in such a meaningful road game.  Last year, Mason came in for an injured Aaron Murray at home against Kentucky before getting starts at Georgia Tech (capacity crowd of 55,000) and in a bowl game against Nebraska.  And, of course, he opened 2014 with a home game against ACC rival Clemson.

    The crowd could have an impact on the fifth-year senior, but this is arguably the biggest game of Mason's career given its implications on the SEC East, so nerves could be a factor on their own.

    Dialing up pressure, even at risk of giving away yardage up the middle on the ground, could be crucial in taking the quarterback off his game early.

    Feed Davis

    Georgia likes to feed Todd Gurley, but South Carolina has a pretty stellar running back of its own.  Though Davis is not as well-rounded as Gurley, he's still more than capable of racking up hard-earned yards in a big game.  In fact, he ran the ball 16 times for 149 yards (and added 49 receiving yards) against the Bulldogs last year.

    Davis has been battling nagging injuries this season and has accounted for just 76 carries over South Carolina's last seven football games (dating back to last year).  But this game has undoubtedly been on the Atlanta native's mind for a long time.

    Strong running by Davis could demoralize the strong front of Georgia's defense (much the way Gurley demoralized Clemson's unit) and open up the passing game for quarterback Dylan Thompson, who's more than capable of capitalizing on opportunities.

Georgia Players to Watch

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    Georgia's Todd Gurley
    Georgia's Todd GurleyScott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Todd Gurley

    Todd Gurley's stellar effort against Clemson put him front and center in Heisman conversations, and that alone makes him worth watching.

    Gurley's power and speed are well-documented, but his patience may prove to be his most valuable asset against a hungry Gamecock defense looking to make a statement.  Don't be surprised to see relatively pedestrian numbers out of Gurley as Georgia's offensive line slowly wears out the Gamecock defense.  After that, however, it may be on to the races for the junior running back.

    Obviously, Gurley was a threat on special teams in Week 1, but expect him to be utilized more heavily in the passing game as well against South Carolina.  Last year, he registered 441 receiving yards, but he caught just one pass against Clemson.  His ability to make plays in space after hauling in a pass could give Gamecock linebackers fits.

    Aaron Davis

    Aaron Davis made a name for himself as a walk-on cornerback during spring practice.  He reintroduced himself as a playmaking safety against Clemson two weeks ago.

    Davis, who will be appearing in just his second collegiate game, must continue to impress in the secondary.  In the season opener, Davis notched four tackles, one pass break-up and an interception.  It will take a similar effort from Davis and his teammates to keep Gamecock quarterback Dylan Thompson at bay.

    Leonard Floyd

    Floyd was a one-man wrecking crew against Clemson.  Sure, he benefited from a host of disguised blitzes and relentless pursuit by other Dawg defenders, but at times he seemed unblockable.

    His two sacks stood out, but his six total quarterback pressures were huge in preventing any semblance of momentum from being formed by Clemson's offense.  If he can have a comparable game—as measured by impact, not merely statistics—this Georgia defense will be in good shape.

South Carolina Players to Watch

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    South Carolina's Dylan Thompson
    South Carolina's Dylan ThompsonGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Dylan Thompson

    Don't sleep on South Carolina's quarterback.  Thompson doesn't always complete a high percentage of passes, but he has a big enough arm to overcome any lack of accuracy.  

    In two games this season, he's thrown for five touchdowns and over 630 yards.  Most impressive, however, is his ability to distribute the ball to a number of different Gamecock receiving threats.  Already this year, 11 different targets have hauled in passes from Thompson.

    With Georgia's still-green secondary lining up across from him, Thompson could have a career day if he has protection.

    Sharrod Golightly

    One of 27 Peach State products on South Carolina's roster, Golightly (a fifth-year senior) would like nothing more than to go out with a win over his home-state Bulldogs.

    An All-SEC second-team selection last season, Golightly has already made some plays this year, most notably an interception against East Carolina.  

    A veteran leader on this still-developing defense, Golightly will be counted on to defend both the pass and the run.  His ability to play from the Spur position and decipher between play-action and true running plays could have a significant impact on the game.

What They're Saying

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    Georgia's Nick Chubb
    Georgia's Nick ChubbDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    Georgia

    As reported by GeorgiaDogs.com, Georgia head coach Mark Richt certainly sees last week's open date as an advantage for the Dawgs:

    It gives you a chance to take a little bit of a break and see what you’re doing, see if you think you’re on the right path. The whole key is that you want to get better fundamentally during the open date and maybe even get stronger during the open date. You also want to get far enough ahead of the game plan so you can get the repetitions of it. We had what we thought was our plan going into this week and we got more information from the East Carolina game so it’s just comparing notes and making sure we are on the right track. Hopefully it’ll help us.

    Of course, the pain of Georgia's last trip to Columbia (a 35-7 loss in 2012) still haunts the Bulldogs.  Linebacker Ramik Wilson told Seth Emerson of The Telegraph, "It was bad.  Very bad."

    Richt added, "There's no doubt it's an issue.  We've got to play better there."

    South Carolina

    Per Emerson, Spurrier had high praise for Georgia running back Todd Gurley, grouping him with Marcus Mariota as a Heisman front-runner but adding, "Hopefully we can slow him down a little bit.  But he's gonna get his yards, there's no question about that.  He's going to get his yards against everybody."

    Spurrier, of course, realizes that an inspired victory is still very much a possibility.  He told Josh Kendall of The State, "If we play with a lot of fire and emotion, you've got to believe we have a chance."

Prediction

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    Georgia's Jordan Jenkins
    Georgia's Jordan JenkinsScott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Heading into the season, this game was hailed as the de facto SEC East championship game.  That may still be the case, but only if South Carolina demonstrates marked improvement against Georgia and in the coming weeks.

    Put bluntly: The Gamecocks have disappointed thus far.  

    Defensively, South Carolina ranks 120th in the nation in total defense (per NCAA.com).  Yes, the Gamecocks had to open against a prolific offense from Texas A&M, but the Aggies put up more yards against South Carolina on the road than they did against Lamar at home.

    Todd Gurley will get all the hype heading into the game, but truthfully, Georgia's offense is home to a number of weapons that could have their way in space against South Carolina's porous defense.

    And South Carolina's offense hasn't looked any shade of dominant either—at least not without a fully functional Mike Davis in the backfield.

    That's not to say South Carolina's season is done or that the Gamecocks couldn't upset Georgia with a crowd-fueled statement game.  But based on what's been shown thus far—on an admittedly limited sample size—it's hard to pick against Georgia (even on the road) in this contest.

    Final Score: Georgia 35, South Carolina 30

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