Can Aaron Murray bounce back in Week 2?
Georgia and South Carolina have combined to win the last three SEC East titles, and Saturday’s game will play a key role in determining the division champion this year.
After losing to Clemson last Saturday, the Bulldogs have to win against the Gamecocks to keep their national title hopes alive. And while a loss to South Carolina wouldn’t put Georgia out of contention to win the East title, the Gamecocks have a much easier path to the division crown.
South Carolina fared better than Georgia in Week 1, handling North Carolina 27-10 on Thursday night. The Gamecocks allowed the Tar Heels to move the ball some (293 yards), but the defense held North Carolina without a touchdown in the second half.
South Carolina has claimed the last three meetings in this series, including a dominating 35-7 win last year. The last Bulldogs’ victory came in 2009. Dating back to last season, the Gamecocks have won six in a row, while the Bulldogs have claimed seven victories in their last nine games.
Three Things to Watch
Georgia’s offensive line
Even though the Bulldogs have a potential All-SEC quarterback in Aaron Murray and two standouts at running back (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall), the offensive line holds the key to winning on Saturday night. Clemson recorded four sacks against Georgia’s front five last week and generated consistent pressure on Murray throughout the second half. In last year’s meeting with the Bulldogs, South Carolina had only two sacks, but the defensive line clearly dominated the line of scrimmage. Now that Georgia’s offensive line has a game under its belt, along with the motivation of last year’s performance hanging in their heads, can this unit give Murray time to throw? And it’s not like the Gamecocks are just a one-man show (Jadeveon Clowney). Senior Chaz Sutton and freshman Darius English are two other threats off the edge, while tackles J.T. Surratt and Gerald Dixon will present plenty of problems for the offensive line.
South Carolina running back Mike Davis
In last week’s win over North Carolina, Davis had a breakout performance, rushing for 115 yards and one touchdown on 12 attempts. The sophomore’s 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter ended any hope the Tar Heels had of a comeback. Davis will share carries with Brandon Wilds, but he will be the Gamecocks’ feature back. Clemson rushed for 197 yards against Georgia, so there will be opportunities for Davis to have a big performance. The Bulldogs are getting safety/linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons back after a one-game suspension. Will Harvey-Clemons make a big difference in the rush defense? Or will South Carolina’s massive offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage? Georgia needs a better effort from its front seven to win on Saturday.
Even though most of the spotlight in this game will be on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, don’t overlook the special teams department. The Bulldogs will be without kicker Marshall Morgan, who is suspended for two games due to an off-the-field incident. With Morgan sidelined, Patrick Beless is expected to attempt field goals and extra points. Beless connected on all five extra points against Clemson but did not attempt a field goal. The Gamecocks broke in a new kicker last week, with Elliott Fry connecting on both of his attempts. With a close game expected, the inexperience at kicker could play a significant role in determining the outcome of this game.
Key Player: Michael Bennett/Justin Scott-Wesley, WR, Georgia
With Malcolm Mitchell sidelined for the rest of the year due to a torn ACL, it’s up to Bennett and Scott-Wesley to emerge as go-to receivers for quarterback Aaron Murray. Bennett returned from a season-ending knee injury in 2012 to catch five passes for 60 yards in the opener, while Scott-Wesley grabbed four passes for 55 yards. Even though Mitchell will be missed, Bennett and Scott-Wesley are a capable duo, and Saturday’s game against South Carolina is a huge opportunity for both players.
Everything seems to point to a South Carolina win. The Gamecocks have the momentum and own three consecutive victories in this series. South Carolina’s defensive line also has a sizeable advantage over Georgia’s offensive line, especially with last year’s meeting in mind.
However, Georgia didn’t play terrible in the opener and only lost by three points to a top-five team. The Bulldogs will only get better on defense with more snaps for the young players, and Harvey-Clemons’ return will help slow down South Carolina’s offense.
Even though some are down on the Bulldogs after Week 1, the guess here is Murray delivers with a solid performance to knock off South Carolina to take an early lead in the SEC East standings.
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