College football’s Week 2 slate is relatively light, but this SEC East showdown between Georgia and South Carolina is one of the must-see matchups on Saturday. The Bulldogs were the heavy favorite to win the division this preseason, but the Gamecocks have made considerable progress under coach Will Muschamp and a victory over Georgia would change the outlook of the SEC East and both programs for 2018.
As expected, both Georgia and South Carolina cruised to easy wins in Week 1. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 38-0 lead at halftime against Austin Peay and finished with a 45-0 victory. Georgia’s offense recorded 508 overall yards (8.5 yards per play) and limited the Governors to just 152 yards on 50 plays. The Gamecocks also flexed their muscles in the opener. Quarterback Jake Bentley torched Coastal Carolina for 250 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-15 victory.
Georgia holds a 50-18-2 series edge over South Carolina. The Bulldogs won 24-10 over the Gamecocks in Athens last season. Georgia has won four out of the last five matchups in this series, including a 28-14 meeting in Columbia in 2016. However, South Carolina has claimed three out of the last four games in Williams-Brice Stadium against Georgia.
Georgia at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Georgia -10
Three Things to Watch
1. South Carolina’s Offense
Improving the offense was an offseason priority for South Carolina coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks only averaged just 5.5 yards a play and ranked 12th in the SEC by averaging 24.2 points a game in 2017. This unit was hindered by injuries, including receiver Deebo Samuel sidelined for the majority of last year, but quarterback Jake Bentley didn’t take the next step in his development.
In an effort to spark the offense, Muschamp handed play-calling duties to Bryan McClendon and hired Dan Werner to coach quarterbacks. So far, the results have been encouraging for the Gamecocks. Against Coastal Carolina last Saturday, South Carolina won 49-15 by averaging 7.6 yards a play. The offense generated 263 rushing yards, and quarterback Jake Bentley connected on 22 of 29 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
Will Bentley pick up where he left off against Coastal Carolina in Saturday’s matchup against Georgia? Needless to say, this matchup represents a significantly tougher challenge for the junior. The Bulldogs lost a handful of key pieces from last year’s group, but coach Kirby Smart still has one of the top defenses in college football. Georgia’s front seven is in transition and didn’t record a sack last week against Austin Peay. However, there’s no shortage of talent, and it’s safe to assume Smart and coordinator Mel Tucker will open up the defensive playbook this week.
While Bentley’s development in the new spread, up-tempo offense likely holds the key to this game, keep an eye on how well running back Rico Dowdle runs against Georgia’s front seven. Additionally, South Carolina’s deep receiving corps will test the Bulldogs’ revamped secondary. Cornerback Deandre Baker is one of the best in college football, but this is a big test for the rest of the pass defense. In addition to Samuel, the Gamecocks feature another potential All-SEC receiver in Bryan Edwards, with Shi Smith rounding out the starting trio on the outside.
2. Georgia’s Ground Game Against South Carolina’s Defense
Despite losing Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to the NFL, Georgia’s ground game won’t miss a beat in 2018. That’s due to the emergence of rising star D’Andre Swift, along with the help of Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield and freshman James Cook. Swift averaged a healthy 7.6 yards per rush on 81 carries last season and recorded 43 yards and a touchdown on eight rushes last week. He’s the go-to back for coordinator Jim Chaney, but the Bulldogs will rotate in other backs.
How will South Carolina’s defensive front match up against Georgia’s running backs and offensive line? The Bulldogs have one of the SEC’s top offensive lines and had the upper hand against the Gamecocks around in last year’s matchup, clearing the way for rushers to record 242 yards on 53 attempts (4.6 ypc). South Carolina’s defense performed well in the opener against Coastal Carolina, allowing only 126 yards on 39 attempts. While last week’s matchup was a good sign for Muschamp’s defense, it’s no secret this is a significantly tougher challenge. The Gamecocks need a big game from tackle Javon Kinlaw, along with linebackers T.J. Brunson and Bryson Allen-Williams.
If Georgia has success on early downs running against South Carolina’s defense, it’s tough to see the Gamecocks pulling off the upset. Muschamp’s defense can’t afford Swift, Herrien, Holyfield or Cook to deliver big plays on the ground. Instead, this unit has to make Georgia earn all of its yardage, limiting the backs to just two or three yards per pop to set up third-and-long situations.
3. Georgia QB Jake Fromm
An injury to Jacob Eason pressed Fromm into action as a true freshman last fall. Starting as a true freshman in the SEC is never easy, but Fromm was never overwhelmed and emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference. In last year’s matchup, Fromm connected on 16 of 22 passes for 196 yards and two scores. Fromm is accurate and won’t make many mistakes – a formula that is certainly key on the road in a tough environment. A wild card storyline to watch: Will true freshman Justin Fields see snaps in this game?
When Fromm drops back to pass, he’s got one of the deepest receiving corps in the SEC at his disposal. Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin (back after missing Week 1 due to injury), Riley Ridley and Cal transfer Demetris Robertson will test a South Carolina secondary that entered 2018 as the biggest concern on defense. True freshman Jaycee Horn garnered valuable snaps against Coastal Carolina and will play a key role in Saturday’s game.
Can South Carolina generate enough pressure on Fromm to force a mistake or two? And if the Gamecocks can’t generate as pass rush, will the secondary be able to cover Georgia’s receivers?
Coming into the season, Georgia didn’t have many landmines on its 2018 schedule. However, this matchup in Columbia was one of the toughest games on the slate and a major obstacle to an undefeated record. The homefield advantage at Williams-Brice Stadium and crowd are certainly going to provide a boost to South Carolina’s upset bid. However, the edge still goes to the Bulldogs. Georgia is better on the line of scrimmage on offense, which should give Fromm plenty of time to target a talented group of receivers, and Swift will find enough room on the ground. Bentley will connect on a few big plays with Samuel and Edwards, but the Gamecocks fall just short of an upset.