I admit to some trepidation in even attempting a preview of the South Carolina game, first, because I know in my heart of hearts I’ll never top this one, and second, because the real story to this game is not a fun one and something for which I don’t have an answer: how does Georgia cope with the incredible amount of negative energy thrown its way by the media and much of the fan base.
Five minutes after the outcome of the Boise State game, you had to figure the sphincters on the Sanford Stadium sideline were bound to be tight based on what was at stake for the season and Mark Richt’s career. This week’s reaction to the opening night loss has only served to intensify that. I don’t think there will be ninety thousand-plus fans sitting there tomorrow waiting for Georgia to make a mistake, but I worry that the players will feel like that’s the case and play accordingly. If that’s the case, it’s probably going to be a long game. And season.
I posted that the keys to the Boise State game were two-fold, line play and team psychology. As for the latter, even though the Dawgs looked disorganized, I didn’t see them quit. Indeed, they played better late than they did from the middle of the second quarter through most of the third. So there’s that. But the pressure has been ratcheted up significantly for this game.
As for the offensive and defensive lines, well, the defensive line didn’t play too badly. I like what Paul Myerberg has to say about that.
Don’t doubt Georgia’s ability to beat South Carolina. Not for a minute, and I’m not sure why you would — and don’t say it’s because the Bulldogs lost to Boise, because that would shoot a lot of holes in a lot of arguments. I can tell you one reason why Georgia can win: the play of the front seven. In stopping the run, more specifically. While the Broncos had their way in the intermediate passing game, the Bulldogs were terrific against Boise’s ground game.
I think that’s fairly accurate. But that alone isn’t going to put Georgia in the win column. And that’s because the offensive line play, particularly in the passing game, fell so short last week. Georgia was done in against Boise State by that and by being on the losing end of the field position battle all game. Those two things have to improve for Georgia to stand a decent chance of beating the Gamecocks.
I haven’t said much about the Gamecocks here, mainly because they’re sort of Georgia’s polar opposite right now. What you see with them is pretty much what you get: a supremely talented pair of skill players in Jeffery and Lattimore; a quarterback who Spurrier is going to have to live with, for better or worse; and a defense that’s fairly similar to Boise State’s (great defensive front, decent linebacking and questionable secondary), only with better athletes. It’s not a team that Georgia will beat playing its “C” game.
Tactically, I think Myerberg is right about what Georgia should try to do defensively.
… Georgia’s game plan will be simple: we need to stop Marcus Lattimore — or slow him down, at least — and force Stephen Garcia to beat us. Not that Garcia couldn’t beat the Bulldogs on his own; he’s no Kellen Moore, but Garcia has ability, experience and one of the nation’s best receivers to work with. But more so than Boise, South Carolina’s offense is one that plays into Georgia’s perceived strength defensively, if last Saturday is any indication.
Easier said that done, of course. And Georgia can’t sleep on Lattimore, the receiver, either. He’s damned good at that. But Carolina’s receiving corps after Jeffery wasn’t impressive in their opener. If Grantham can figure out a way to squeeze that down, he’s got a chance. (It’s not like Georgia gave up a ton of points last year in Columbia.)
On offense, it’s all about Aaron Murray. He didn’t look like a first-team All-SEC quarterback in the Dome. There’s plenty of blame to go around for that. The line play, of course. Some of the receivers besides Charles and Mitchell need to step up. Murray’s offensive coordinator needs to put him in a better position to make positive plays (sometimes you’ve got to let the quarterback run the ball out of the shotgun spread just to keep the defense honest, for one thing). And Murray’s got to do a better job with his decision-making, both in terms of knowing how long to hold on to the ball and in finding the open man downfield.
Ultimately, though, tomorrow comes down to whether the Dawgs can find their collective mojo in time. As Myerberg asks, “(m)ost importantly, can Georgia recover its misplaced confidence in time for an SEC run?” If the Dawgs can, that “goals remaining” talk won’t sound cringe-worthy at all.