I went back and looked at my final thoughts before last year’s South Carolina game. The question I asked then is just as valid going into today’s matchup, namely, if Carolina scores 17-20 points, will that be enough?
Keep in mind that a Spurrier-coached Gamecock team has yet to hang more than 16 points on a Georgia team. (And, yes, ‘Cock fans, that was enough last year.)
But here’s the thing: if you look at where the two schools were at last year when they played and compare them to how they stack up today, what areas look better for each and which don’t?
- South Carolina offense. To date, the line play has looked just as inconsistent as ever and the ‘Cocks have lost three big players from last year – Mitchell, Boyd and McKinley. Overall, it’s hard to see where SC (can I say that?) has improved on this side of the ball. That the OBC is willing to play Garcia in this game seems like an admission that things may in fact have gotten worse.
- South Carolina defense. It’s good, but it was good last year, too. Has it improved? Hard to say, but it has to have been as disappointing to the ‘Cocks to watch their defense unable to stop the Vandy offense at crunch time. Sort of like what happened to Georgia’s defense against Carolina last year…
- South Carolina special teams. Succop is reliable. The rest, new coach and all, looked shaky last week. Hard to see where it’s significantly better overall.
- South Carolina intangibles. I think the “Spurrier’s back is up against the wall” thing is overrated. The players still have to go out and execute. Unless Garcia is a helluva lot better than I anticipate, I just don’t see where’s he’s got any better strategy than he’s had in the previous three games, which is to control the action in a low scoring game and hope Georgia screws up more than his team does. South Carolina does have the homefield advantage this year, but that may turn out to be a mixed blessing if the Dawgs jump out early to a decent lead.
So, overall, I don’t see Carolina being even somewhat better than it was in last year’s game. As for Georgia,
- Georgia offense. The biggest area of improvement for either team is here. The playcalling is more sure, the confidence in the offensive line is much higher and there’s more skill at the wide receiver position than last year.
- Georgia defense. I’ll concede that it hasn’t come out of the gate as consistently dominant as it looked in the second half of last year. How much of that is by design and how much of that is the result of not getting the pass rush out of the ends that Martinez wants is the big question. But there is a part of me that thinks CMU’s offense is better than South Carolina’s (CMU certainly has the better QB), so it may not matter as much as I think. Defensive tackle depth is not as good for Georgia as it was last year; on the other hand, linebacking is in infinitely better shape today than it was a year ago. Call it a push.
- Georgia special teams. If the biggest gain in any of these groups is that of Georgia’s offense, the biggest drop is in this area. Kickoffs have to be a major concern. This is also Walsh’s first road test as a field goal kicker in the SEC. He’s got a fine leg, but he’s not Coutu from an experience standpoint, obviously. If the Dawgs drive the field but get bogged down in the red zone, this could be a problem area.
- Georgia intangibles. I don’t think these guys go into this game looking ahead or taking South Carolina for granted, despite the loss to Vanderbilt. And, as Richt noted, the Spurrier mystique is more of a factor for the games in Athens, where our fan base hates him, than it is in Columbia.
Based on that, to answer my opening question, barring the unforeseen turnover meltdown (hi, Quincy!), I don’t think that Carolina scoring 17 will get it done. Georgia should score at least in the low to mid 20s on the ‘Cocks. And if the Dawgs can jump out early to a 2+ TD lead, this one could surprise you in how ugly it gets. Let’s hope Mr. Garcia gets to play a whole lot more than his head coach is probably hoping he will.