You will be shocked, shocked to learn that this Red & Black piece matching position groups for tomorrow’s game strikes a rather different tone than does our intrepid Saturday Down South author did (I’m beginning to wonder if that was a work of parody). In fact, it could be argued the R&B analysis is overly flattering to South Carolina. Based on what I saw last week, I don’t think the teams’ secondaries are on equal footing.
That’s not really where I want to go here, though. This post is about looking at the number of difference makers each team has. What player or players hit the field who make a coordinator scheme around him/them, who make an opposing fan take note and express concern?
Deebo Samuel is the obvious choice for South Carolina. If Georgia isn’t scheming to keep the ball away from him on kickoffs, I’ll be disappointed. And I have to believe that he’s at the top of Smart’s and Tucker’s defensive to-do list. Judging from what I saw in Carolina’s opener, though, he’s about it in that regard.
That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of good players in SC’s two-deep; there are. Bentley is growing into his role as the center of the offense, there are some good receivers who compliment Samuel nicely and Dowdle is a quality SEC back. The point isn’t that Georgia can plan on taking the day off; rather, there simply aren’t a lot of those difference makers in Carolina’s starting 22.
Don’t take my word on that, either. Ask Muschamp.
Saturday is why South Carolina’s Will Muschamp finally made a complete commitment to a tempo-based offense in his seventh season as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference.
The No. 24 Gamecocks’ coach surveyed the conference and national landscape and looked at what stood between him and the team’s stated annual goals of Beat the East and Win the State. Specifically, the defensive lines at Georgia and Clemson and South Carolina’s inability to run the football against those lines.
In the four games against the Gamecocks’ most bitter rivals during Muschamp’s tenure, South Carolina has been outrushed 1,002 yards to 265 yards. They are 0-4.
“It’s so hard offensively right now, unless you are just elite from an ability standpoint, to create explosive plays,” Muschamp said. “In order to create some explosive plays, in the passing game especially, you need to be able to run the ball and stay balanced and create one-on-ones down the field.”
That backs up what I saw against Coastal Carolina. The ‘Cocks did a nice job busting open short plays into intermediate gainers against a defense that was far less mechanically sound, but didn’t wind up with a single play that exceeded thirty yards. (Georgia, by comparison, played just as vanilla on offense, but still managed a couple of 40+ yard plays.)
I can count one obvious difference maker on defense in Deandre Baker, who, remember, wasn’t challenged with a single pass play thrown at him in coverage last Saturday. By himself, Baker makes the Dawgs secondary a better group than SC’s. Offensively, you’ve got guys like Robertson and Hardman with the speed and athletic ability to play in Samuel’s class, Swift’s every-down versatility both running and catching the ball making him a matchup nightmare and Cook’s raw speed, all for starters. (Justin Fields’ physical attributes would seem to be an obvious example, too, but for now, inexperience trumps talent in his case.)
None of this should be taken as a guarantee of a Georgia win, of course. Things happen every Saturday nobody expects, and until I see evidence that regression to the mean has taken root, South Carolina’s turnover prowess from last season has to be respected. But, bottom line, if the SEC is, at heart, a Jimmies-and-Joes league, you have to think the squad that has more elite players in uniform has an advantage, especially with two similar staffs and the familiarity each has with the other.