The No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs hit the road for their first conference matchup of the season as they will face a depleted South Carolina defense on Saturday.
After demolishing the Oregon Ducks in Week 1, the Bulldogs (2-0) coasted to an easy 33-0 win over Samford last Saturday. So far in 2022, this is not your grandfather's Georgia teams that we used to know; the Bulldogs have the No. 2 passing offense in the country through two games, averaging 395.5 yards per game through the air. Defensively, what else is new? Georgia has given up just three points in two contests.
As for the Gamecocks (1-1), they suffered a tough 44-30 defeat in their SEC opener last week to Arkansas. In that matchup, two defensive starters in Jordan Strachan and Mo Kaba were lost for the year due to injury, and three more starters are questionable entering Saturday. Not an optimal situation for South Carolina in preparation for the reigning national champions coming to town.
No. 1 Georgia at South Carolina
When Georgia Has the Ball
When did Georgia start running the Air Raid offense? Kirby Smart must've been sick and tired of hearing coaches negatively recruit against the Dawgs on the trail for not throwing the ball enough. Forty passing attempts per game through two weeks despite beating Oregon and FCS Samford by a combined total of 79-3. Ruthless. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has continued his stellar play that led Georgia to a national title last season, completing 75 percent of his passes with five total touchdowns.
The surprising part is that Bennett has gotten that done without much contribution (yet) from All-American tight end Brock Bowers, who has just five receptions. Senior running back Kenny McIntosh has been exceptional coming out of the backfield, leading the team by a wide margin with 14 catches.
With that said, Georgia hasn't run the ball as effectively as we've come to expect thus far. The Bulldogs averaged just 3.97 yards per carry against Samford and rank 10th in the SEC in yards per game (129.5) through two weeks. With multiple South Carolina defenders out for the season, and starting defensive tackle Alex Huntley being questionable, this could be a get-right matchup for the Bulldogs. The Gamecocks struggled mightily to contain the Arkansas ground attack last week, allowing 295 yards and five rushing touchdowns.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
The improvements over the offseason have been noticeable for the Gamecocks on offense. After finishing 13th in the SEC in scoring a year ago, they are putting up 32.5 points per game thus far. South Carolina might have a legitimate game-changer at the wide receiver position in James Madison transfer Antwane Wells, who leads the SEC in receptions (15, tied) and yards (244) after his big game (8 rec., 189 yds., TD) against Arkansas. After a shaky opening performance, Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler looked a bit more comfortable against the Razorbacks, completing 62 percent of his passes for 378 yards and a score.
For the offense to take further steps, Rattler needs some semblance of a running game. Albeit facing two stout run defenses from a year ago in Arkansas and Georgia State, the Gamecocks have averaged just 1.9 yards per carry thus far. Not a recipe for success with a defense coming to town that's allowed just 159 yards on the ground in two games combined and would probably suggest the unit hasn't played up to standard yet either.
South Carolina came out of last week's matchup battered and bruised with injuries on the defensive side, while Smart will have his players amped up after their below-standard showing against FCS Samford. That spells trouble for the Gamecocks who don't have an edge on either side of the football. Bulldogs win and maintain their No. 1 standing for another week.
Prediction: Georgia 41, South Carolina 17
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
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