Damn, that never gets old.
On paper, the ‘Cocks are off to a respectable 2-0 start: middle of the conference pack in net ypp; ditto for scoring; first in defensive third-down conversions.
But then you realize that was compiled against the likes of Eastern Illinois and East Carolina — literally, directional schools, for the win. It should come as no surprise, then, that Sagarin ranks South Carolina’s strength of schedule at an anemic 196. (The only conference team with a weaker slate is Auburn.)
So what’s Georgia looking at with this season’s version of the team that handed it its last home conference loss? Well, the freshest thing you can point to is that it struggled in its win against East Carolina, needing a field goal with time expiring to put the game away. And by struggled, I mean here’s the way the series in the second half went for both teams: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, field goal, field goal, punt, field goal. Still, it does show a certain amount of resiliency to come back from a 14-point deficit on the road.
According to 247Sports, there’s a pretty significant talent gap between Georgia (1001.75 aggregate; 93.5 average) and South Carolina (748.26 aggregate; 87.14 average). (Before you ask, there was a significant gap in 2019, though not as large.)
So how does that shake out in practical terms? Well, here’s Jake Rowe’s take on two matchups:
Georgia’s front seven against South Carolina’s offensive line and run game: The Bulldog front seven is off to an excellent start in 2021. It’s a huge reason why the Bulldogs have given up an average of 177 yards in its first two contests. The Bulldogs have tallied 14 tackles for loss in two games while South Carolina’s offensive line has given up 13. The Gamecocks are still trying to get things figured out up front and the glaring stat from their 20-17 win over East Carolina last week is the run game’s average of just 2.81 yards per carry.
Dawgs247’s Take: This is a battle that Georgia should win and win decisively, but the Bulldogs aren’t coming off their best showing. They didn’t tackle well against UAB last week and the Blazers were able to open up a few holes. South Carolina can stay in this one if it can get the run game going and it has the running backs to make that happen. It’s going to be tough sledding against this UGA front, though. That’ll definitely be the case if Devonte Wyatt, who sat out last week due to undisclosed, non-injury-related reasons. If Georgia is as successful as ECU, the Gamecocks will have a really tough time keeping pace.
Georgia’s quarterback vs. South Carolina’s defensive backs: We don’t know who’ll start for Georgia at quarterback. It’s going to be JT Daniels or Stetson Bennett IV and we lean toward the latter right now. Bennett had a huge game last week and Todd Monken had a tremendous plan going into it. It almost certainly won’t be that easy against the Gamecocks. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s secondary has a pair of interceptions in its first two games and it has done a great job of helping the defense get off the field on third down. Whoever plays quarterback for Georgia is going to have to stop that trend and keep the chains moving.
Dawgs247’s Take: It’s not a reach to suggest that the Bulldogs won’t be able to lean so heavily on the big play this week. South Carolina will likely do a better job of keeping the receivers in front and making UGA earn it. The Gamecocks are big and physical in the secondary and the Bulldog behind center will have to make good decisions and take care of the football. South Carolina got an upset win the last time it was in Athens due in large part to turnovers. Whether it’s Bennett or Daniels pulling the trigger, they’ll have to play with patience.
The latter of those two leads to my big question: how does SC choose to defend? Do the ‘Cocks take the Mississippi State path and sell out to stop the run while taking their chances with Georgia’s deep passing game, or do they follow Clemson’s strategy? No, they’re not Clemson, but the strength of SC’s defense is their line, as Seth Emerson notes ($$).
South Carolina poses an interesting test, because its defensive line may be its strength: Former five-stars Jordan Burch and Zacch Pickens are back there, and the Gamecocks limited their first two opponents to a combined 2.37 yards per rush.
Playing soft in the secondary seems like the wiser course of action to me, as it may limit Georgia’s explosive plays and force the Dawgs to get more out of their running game than they’ve shown in the first two games.
Barring turnover diarrhea, though, it’s hard to see how much strategy will matter, given the sizeable talent gap between the two. One thing I’ll be curious to see is whether Luke Doty, who’s recovering from an injury, gets any playing time this week, or whether they let Zeb Noland, who is pretty much a statue at quarterback, take the heat from Georgia’s defensive front seven.
And your thoughts?