Undefeated Bulldogs set to host improved, confident Gamecocks
This matchup of South Carolina and Georgia is one of those instances where one team got the previous weekend off while the other team was tussling in a tough conference road game. The Gamecocks come in well-rested after sitting out last week, fresh off an impressive 24-7 win over Kentucky, a game that many thought could be a season-changer for them.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs trekked to Knoxville to take on Tennessee and, after an early deficit, roared from behind to make it a 43-14 blowout win on Rocky Top. The Bulldogs sport a rather-expected 5-0 mark entering this game and the Gamecocks are a shaky 2-3 squad, suffering bad losses to Alabama and Missouri in SEC play already.
South Carolina at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia -25
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Push the tempo. Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster need to be involved from the get-go. This will crank up their up-tempo offense which puts so much pressure on opposing defenses. Head coach Will Muschamp said after his charges gained just 16 rushing yards in the loss 34-14 to Missouri, "we're going to stop with all the RPO and start running the ball." Mission accomplished vs. Kentucky, where Dowdle and Feaster both had 15 carries, finishing with 102 and 107 yards respectively. The yards may be tougher to come by vs. Georgia (fifth nationally, giving up just 57 rushing yards per game), but anything close to that output will give the Gamecocks a shot.
Move the pocket, extend plays. Freshman QB Ryan Hilinski is a versatile athlete and Muschamp and the offensive coaching staff love to get him out of the pocket and looking downfield for his receivers. That's when he makes things happen. And against an aggressive defense like the Junkyard Dogs, he'll need to be moving around and making the sure throw or scrambling for first downs. The Gamecocks have a very athletic front five this season.
Getting strong as the game gets long. Word of warning Gamecocks, you better score early in this one. The Bulldogs have surrendered just 17 points in the second half so far, 10 of which came in the third quarter of a meaningless blowout of FCS opponent Murray State. So second-half adjustments are the Junkyard Dogs' forte. If this type of clampdown continues, look for another double-digit Dawg victory
When Georgia Has the Ball
The usual suspects and some new ones. Although they had some early deficits against both Notre Dame and Tennessee, the Bulldog offense made plays when they needed them in their two biggest games. Jake Fromm has been a well-oiled machine, hitting on nearly 78 percent of his passes without an interception. Miami transfer Lawrence Cager (15 catches, 197 yards) and Cal transfer Demetris Robertson (12, 153) have been a find for a receiving corps that lost so much talent from last year. D'Andre Swift has picked up 460 yards in five games, but behind him, Brian Herrien (251 yards, 6.3 ypc) and Zamir White (198, 7.6) have been nails too. This offense is rounding into form.
Clutch when it counts. Fromm and Co. convert 45 percent of their third-down opportunities and have scored 19 of the 20 times they've ventured into the red zone, including 15 touchdowns. That's proficiency man. But the Gamecock defense has held opponents to just a 32 percent success rate on third down. So this is a showdown of strengths and a statistic that should play a big part in deciding this one.
Defensive momentum? Before getting too effusive about the Bulldog offense, look across the line. After giving up 105 points in their previous three games vs. FBS opponents, the Gamecock defense finally showed up - big time - against Kentucky. The Wildcats managed just seven points, 212 total yards, and a paltry 97 yards through the air. UK quarterback Sawyer Smith went just 11-of-32 for 90 yards and was sacked four times. The fire ant defense must continue to keep the pressure up this weekend when facing Fromm, who has yet to be sacked.
There are a couple of things actually in South Carolina's favor, including three times the lower-ranked Gamecocks have pulled the upset over Georgia since 2010, also Will Muschamp has won all three of his SEC road openers while at the helm of the Gamecocks. And I have to say that if the squad that showed up against Kentucky shows up this week against Georgia, it could be a four-quarter game for sure. Despite a significant talent disparity, the Gamecocks could keep it close, but I see the Bulldogs pulling away in the latter stages of this game.
Prediction: Georgia 45, South Carolina 24
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.