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Forget Todd Gurley, QB Hutson Mason Is Georgia's X-Factor Against South Carolina

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2014

USA Today

It's safe to say that, aside from Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, not many people have had better starts to their seasons than Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

All Gurley did in his season debut against Clemson was rush for 198 yards and three touchdowns, scored another on a 100-yard kickoff return and set a single-game Georgia record for total offense with 293 yards.

Georgia RB Todd Gurley
Georgia RB Todd GurleyScott Cunningham/Getty Images

Now the Heisman contender has had two weeks to recover from his strong debut and prepare for Saturday's SEC opener at South Carolina, with head coach Steve Spurrier's crew uncertainly gearing up to shut down Gurley.

“He is a big, strong back,” Spurrier said, according to Josh Kendall of The State. “He and the quarterback at Oregon are the Heisman leaders right now, but hopefully he may not be the leader (after Saturday). He’s going to get his yards, there’s no question about that. He’s going to get his yards against everybody."

Gurley will still have a great day against the Gamecocks, but it'll be his quarterback—redshirt senior Hutson Mason—who will be the X-factor on Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Georgia QB Hutson Mason (14)
Georgia QB Hutson Mason (14)David Goldman/Associated Press
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Mason served more as a game manager in the opener, completing 18 of 26 passes for 131 yards. Considering Gurley and fellow running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel ran wild, that was the right plan from head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Mason hopes that it's different against the Gamecocks, according to Seth Emerson of the The Telegraph (Macon, Ga.).

“I’m sure South Carolina when they get to prepping for us is gonna think, ‘Load the box,'" Mason told Emerson. "I hope they do. We’re gonna throw it. And I hope we throw it the first play of the game.”

South Carolina can't take any chances. It's going to have to load up against Gurley, which will expose its biggest weakness—pass defense. The Gamecocks struggled to get pressure against a stellar Texas A&M offensive line in Week 1 and looked lost at the back end, struggling to cover A&M's deep and versatile wide receiving corps.

South Carolina Pass Defense in 2014
OpponentPass YdsYards/Att.TDsINTs
Texas A&M5118.530
East Carolina3217.012
CFBStats.com

They looked better against East Carolina, but Georgia is loaded at the skill positions just like A&M, and it'll be up to Mason to take advantage just like the Aggies did.

He will.

Mason has been in this system for four-plus years, learning behind record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray. He looked sharp in the spring, nailing back-shoulder fades not only deep downfield but also in the red zone, which was a big part of Murray's game. 

Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Georgia QB Hutson MasonUSA TODAY Sports

South Carolina will go in with a game plan to shut down the Georgia running game and put pressure on Mason in a hostile environment, and with a supremely-talented wide receiving corps that includes Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, Mason will succeed with flying colors.

As I wrote this spring, that could put more emphasis on tempo within the offense, something that Mason said he preferred after the spring game.

For the most part, Georgia' game plans have been relatively conservative in Columbia over the last two decades, as Kendall noted on Twitter.

Josh Kendall @JoshatTheState

It's been 20 years since Georgia scored more than 20 points in Williams-Brice Stadium. http://t.co/S7x5se5WKY

That will change Saturday afternoon.

Whether the Gamecocks successfully take away Gurley or not, there will be more pressure on Mason's shoulders to be a difference-maker for the Bulldogs in a game that will define the early-season landscape in the SEC East.

He'll succeed.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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