1. Let’s get the pessimism out of the way first – can Georgia win this Saturday? Shit, yeah. Lest we forget, the Dawgs lost by three on the road to a top ten team despite (1) losing the turnover battle; (2) losing its best receiver early in the game (3) losing its best player for a significant part of the game; (4) generating its typical penalty fest; (5) coming out on the short end of the stick, luckwise (Clemson horse tackle penalty saves a Georgia score, Clemson movement penalty negates a bad snap on the Tigers’ last scoring drive); (6) blowing a first-and-goal on the Clemson five with a bad snap on what may have turned out to be a score that would have resulted in a tie in overtime… well, you get my drift.
I don’t offer this in the spirit of claiming a moral victory. Quite the contrary. Georgia deserved to lose because it made too many mistakes to win – “too many” being the operative term there. To screw up as much as they did on top of having as many breaks go against them as happened and still lose by only a field goal to a team that’s firmly in the national title conversation suggests that there were a lot of good things being done by those same Dawgs. That doesn’t mean they’ll get everything fixed this week against the ‘Cocks, but I’d sure rather take my chances on a team that’s capable of winning if it makes fewer mistakes than one that’s only got a shot to win if it plays over its head.
2. History may not tell us who’s going to win the game, but it does suggest that whichever team wins will do so in a close one. Since 2001, no game in this series played in Athens has been decided by more than five points except for Georgia’s lopsided win in 2003 (still love that TD return on the onside kick). Spurrier has never won in Athens as South Carolina’s head coach by more than four points.
You know what can matter in close games? The home crowd. And if I can take a moment to gently criticize those of you who have worried about how this Saturday’s crowd can be expected to react, some of y’all have very selective memories. Instead of fretting about Auburn ’99, or complaining how Sanford Stadium never seems to rock except for the blackout game in ’07, why don’t you consider a more recent and relevant example? I refer, of course, to the 2009 South Carolina game. Remember that one? Carolina raced out to a 17-7 lead. It seemed like Georgia’s offense never touched the ball. If there were a time for the crowd to give up on the home team, that would have been a reasonable one. But the offense started to get some traction. Then this happened…
… and the place went bonkers. It was a high energy venue for the rest of the night. That was a good thing, because Martinez’ defense allowed Garcia to have a career game. But Sanford was as loud as I’ve ever heard it on Carolina’s last play of the game, when Rennie Curran stopped them short. That led to one of my favorite moments in the series.
You’ve got a young defense that can feed off the crowd’s energy, if it’s there. So when Richt is asking us to show up and be loud, he’s not blowing smoke. He’s remembering his history.
3. Have you noticed how opposite the strengths and weaknesses of Murray and Shaw are? Shaw is a legitimate running threat; Murray ain’t. The weakest part of Shaw’s game is the intermediate throw, as he lacks the arm strength to make that toss consistently. Murray’s intermediate game, however, may be his strong suit. Shaw does his best throwing when he’s stable in the pocket and is much less of a threat throwing on the run. Murray, as we saw as recently as last week, remains a real passing threat when he’s flushed from the pocket and forced to throw on the move. And if Murray struggles against quality opponents, Shaw’s problem seems to be tied to geography. When he’s away from Columbia, he’s definitely less effective, as last year’s split stats show.
South Carolina already knows what it needs to do to keep Murray in check, namely, rinse and repeat last year’s success of breaking down Georgia’s offensive line and pressing the receivers to keep them from getting open before the rush got to Murray. Georgia needs to force Shaw from the pocket without allowing him to escape on the outside and do damage with his feet. I would argue that the Dawgs are better equipped to do that than they were last year. It’s worth watching to see if the improvement I noticed in containing the edge against Clemson was a mirage, because it could be a big deal if the defense can either force Shaw inside with his runs (remember, this is a kid who doesn’t like to slide) or, even better, make him throw the ball outside the pocket.
4. I mentioned it yesterday, but Marcus Lattimore is gone. You can give me all you want about how the Lattimore of 2011 and 2012 wasn’t the Lattimore of 2010, and I’m not buying it. Because against Georgia he was. One key for Georgia is making sure the dominant running back shoe is on the other foot.
Gurley is all-world caliber. Best RB we’ll play this year in the regular season. We didn’t tackle him well when we had our shots. You can’t hit him high and you have to wrap him up. We didn’t do either.
5. One other thing missing from the Gamecock offense is that tall, pain in the ass wide receiver. Shaq Roland is the tallest wideout SC counts on, but he’s only 6’1″ and still isn’t the most consistent fellow. Ellington is probably their best wideout. He’s a tough son of a gun, but he’s also a 5’9″ tough son of a gun. If the secondary can avoid getting beat, it will be tough for Shaw to place throws over them to shorter guys.
On the other hand, the ‘Cocks get both their tight ends back and they’re both good ‘uns. It will be a very different challenge for Georgia’s pass defense this week than what it had to handle at Clemson.
6. Mitchell is gone, so we’ll have to see who steps up to replace his production. It sounds like the Carolina secondary is banged up and may be missing two starters, so that helps. But it may not help that much if the offensive line can’t do a better job protecting Murray. Again, it looks another week when we shouldn’t question the conventional wisdom about how the game shapes up.