South Carolina Gamecocks Face Measuring Stick Game Versus Georgia

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The South Carolina Gamecocks took care of business on opening weekend. They came out focused and aggressive, beating Coastal Carolina 49-15 on a scorching hot day in Columbia. Now the real fun begins. The Georgia Bulldogs come to town and will provide a measuring stick for how good this Gamecock team can be. Both teams easily dispatched inferior opponents in week one, and now all eyes are set on the SEC opener. This game will go a long way in determining if the South Carolina has risen to the level of a true challenger in the SEC East. It could also be used as a statement by the Bulldogs that they will not loosen their grip on the division.

Dawging It

The Bulldogs come in as one of the top three teams in the country. They are fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance last season and are the defending SEC Champs. They head to Williams-Brice Stadium with a very talented roster and very high expectations. On offense, Georgia is led by sophomores Jake Fromm and DeAndre Swift. Fromm took over the starting quarterback job in week two last season and has improved each week since. He was efficient in the 45-0 win over Austin Peay in week 1, going 12-out-of-16 with 157 yards and two touchdown passes. Swift is the next in the line of explosive running backs for Georgia. He also had a light workload in week one but proved his ability as a freshman.

The Bulldogs are replacing a lot from last season’s dominant defense, so the trip to Columbia will provide a measuring stick for that unit. If they can control the line of scrimmage and stifle the Gamecocks’ running game, they can dictate how the game goes. Outside of Deandre Baker, the secondary is young. How they match up with the Gamecock talented receivers will be a key.

Gamecock Keys

Bentley’s Best

File Photo: SEPTEMBER 01: Jake Bentley #19 of the South Carolina Gamecocks. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Quarterback Jake Bentley threw four touchdown passes on Saturday, giving him 31 for his career. Entering his third season as the starter, he has been a solid signal caller in garnet and black. One of his biggest issues has been his play in big games, most notably against South Carolina’s two major rivals. He has a chance to reverse that trend this weekend. A big game against the Bulldogs could prove to be a measuring stick to how much Bentley has improved in the off-season. He is more comfortable in the up-tempo offense new coordinator Bryon McClendon has moved to. That comfort level will be tested by the Bulldogs.

Bentley was efficient against Coastal Carolina, completing 22 of 29 passes for 250 yards. He connected with nine different receivers on Saturday, showing good composure and the ability to spread the ball around. He will need to be at his best if the Gamecocks are going to pull off the upset this week.

Blocking and Tackling

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said last year’s contest with South Carolina was his team’s most physical game of the year. Things are always physical and intense when the Bulldogs and Gamecocks play. The trend over the last decade is that games in Columbia are usually low scoring defensive affairs. Coach Will Muschamp’s crew will need to bring their hard hats if they want to win on Saturday. They will need to hold their own on both lines of scrimmage.

If they can block well enough, tailbacks Rico Dowdle, Tyson Williams, and A.J. Turner have all shown they can make plays. Getting the running game going will help keep the offense balanced, and allow Carolina to use tempo to keep Georgia on their heels. The interior of the Gamecock offensive line is its strength. Zach Bailey and Donnell Stanley are multi-year starters who each have NFL potential. Sadarius Hutcherson has been praised by the coaching staff all through the off-season after filling in last year as a freshman.

South Carolina is replacing Skai Moore in its linebacking corps after he led the team in tackles all four years he played. Bryson Allen-Williams returns after missing most of last season with injury. He was all over the field in the opener, including his first sack of 2018. T.J. Brunson is the leading returning tackler for the Gamecocks and has taken over the role of leader on the defense. Tackling will be a big factor this weekend, Georgia will try to use its running game to control the game and keep its defense fresh. South Carolina can’t afford missed tackles, letting the likes of Swift, Mecole Hardman, or Justin Fields run free will make for a long day. If Muschamp’s team can match the physical challenge the Bulldogs present, they should be in the game last with a chance to win it.

Big Plays

Offense

In every upset, the need for big plays is crucial. Despite having to replace a loss of talent, the Georgia defense is a stout one. Relying on sustaining long drives to score is not a viable option. The Gamecocks will need to find some chunk plays to move the ball down the field quickly. They’ll need to attack the Bulldogs’ young secondary, and get Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards involved early. During fall camp, the aggressive mindset of the new-look offense was emphasized. How many big plays they can create this weekend will be a measuring stick as to how explosive they can be in 2018.

A big play in special teams could also provide a boost. Samuel has three kick-off return touchdowns in his career, and A.J. Turner can also provide a spark in the return game. Big plays, whether through the air, on the ground, or in special teams will take pressure off of Bentley. It will also give what will be a raucous crowd even more reason to be loud. Keeping the crowd involved could be a huge factor, as Williams-Brice Stadium can be one of the more intimating places to play once it gets going.

Defense

Last season’s success was largely predicated on the defense’s ability to force turnovers. A big play or two on defense could go a long way helping Carolina pull off the upset. Turnovers can swing momentum in a big game, and help even the odds for the underdog. Setting the offense up with a short field or two will help create scoring chances and take even more pressure off of Bentley. The Gamecocks will need to pressure Fromm, and hope they can force him to make a few bad decisions. They have to take advantage and capitalize if the opportunity for a turnover arises.

Measuring Stick

The Gamecocks and Bulldogs are 4-4 in their last eight meetings. This series has been closely contested since the turn of the century. In Columbia especially, the defenses usually rule the day. Georgia has won three straight, and are looking to maintain their stranglehold on the SEC East. South Carolina is looking to challenge that supremacy and will see this game as a measuring stick to how close – or how far – they are from catching their rivals. Expect a physical and intense game. In that regard, this match-up rarely disappoints. Both teams are looking to make an early-season statement to the rest of the conference. Whoever comes out on top at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday will have the upper hand early in the SEC East’s race to Atlanta.

Main Photo Credit:

File Photo: SEPTEMBER 13: Georgia Bulldogs face off at the line of scrimmage against the South Carolina Gamecocks.. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)