Coming off their bye week, the South Carolina Gamecocks can rewrite the season narrative. They travel to Athens this week to face the third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. The Gamecocks have the opportunity to not only break a three-game skid to their SEC rival but also to end the Bulldogs 15 game win streak over eastern division opponents. South Carolina opened as 24 point underdogs this Saturday, so it will take a Herculean effort to come back home with an upset victory.
Gamecocks can rewrite the season narrative
Last year’s match-up was billed as a chance for South Carolina to make a statement at home against a highly ranked Georgia team. Instead, they fell flat on their faces in a game that was never much of a contest. Now the Gamecocks have that same opportunity, but this time it will be in a hostile environment. Coming off of their first of two bye weeks, Will Muschamp’s team will need to be at its best in all three phases to give themselves a shot. It wouldn’t hurt if the Bulldogs were to come out sluggish for a noon game against a 24 point underdog. If the upset is to occur, there are a few key areas the Gamecocks have to win the battle in.
As always, one of the biggest keys to pulling off an upset is turnovers. South Carolina will need its offense to protect the ball, and will also need the defense to steal a possession or two. Turnover margin has not been kind to the Gamecocks on either side of the ball so far this season, especially if you take out the blowout of Charleston Southern.
The offense has turned the ball over eight times in four games against power-five opponents. That is simply not good enough. Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski will be making his second career road start, and ball security will be of the utmost importance. If South Carolina gives the ball away, it will be a long afternoon in Athens. The offense must also sustain drives. Even if they don’t get points each time they have the ball the Gamecocks have to avoid three and outs. If Georgia is able to control the clock and pound away with the ground game it will also spell trouble.
The defense can also help in this area. If they can force some mistakes from the Bulldog offense, momentum can turn in their favor. Sophomore Jaycee Horn has been excellent at corner during his time in Columbia. However he has yet to snag an interception, this Saturday would be a great time to remedy that. South Carolina has eight takeaways through their first five games, while Georgia has turned the ball over just four times. If the Gamecocks have a chance to shock the world, they will need to win the turnover battle.
Let’s Get Physical
After the first three games of the season, South Carolina’s defense had a ton of questions that needed answering. They have begun to turn things around over the last two ball games, and that improvement will need to continue. Their win over Kentucky was the first game in a while where the Gamecocks were clearly the more physical team. They were able to impose their will in the run game on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the run game was nonexistent in their road loss to Missouri. They need to make sure it travels with them this week.
Led by Javon Kinlaw, the defensive line has been playing very well the last few games. They dominated the contest with the Wildcats, overwhelming that offense with brute force. Despite the scoreline, the defense also held its own from much of the road loss to the Tigers, but as the plays mounted they wore down. Georgia will provide an entirely new level of test for this group. The Bulldogs offensive line is one of the biggest and best in the nation, and their plan is simple. Lean, push, and wear on the defense with that big line and four talented tailbacks. South Carolina has to keep up its improved tackling and physicality in the trenches and force Jake Fromm to beat them with his arm.
There is a distinct talent gap between these two programs currently. When coupled with the hostile road environment, the task of leaving Athens with a win becomes more and more daunting. The Gamecocks cannot go blow for blow with this team for four quarters, which means it will need some big plays to help even things out. Bryan Edwards has been playing at a high level as a senior, but he is still due for a true breakout game. The ability to get him or Shi Smith in some favorable match-ups will be a big key. It is doubtful that South Carolina can consistently march down the field on this stingy Bulldog defense. They must counteract that by sprinkling in a few chunk plays for big yardage.
The defense would also benefit from a few big plays. Pressuring Fromm or stuffing run plays for a loss will help them keep Georgia behind the chains. The Dawgs are at their best when they can be patient and focus on a devastating ground game. Forcing negative plays and long down and distance situations will allow the Gamecocks more opportunities to force mistakes. In order to pull off an upset on Saturday, keeping Georgia’s offense out of rhythm and behind the chains is imperative.
Put It All Together
In their victory over Kentucky, this team played its most complete game in all phases in recent memory. Now they have also had a bye week to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked so far this season. If they can carry over the momentum, the Gamecocks can rewrite the season narrative this weekend. They will need to have their best performance of the season to get it done. Consistency has been the main issue with coach Muschamp’s team during his tenure. If there was ever a time to put it all together, this Saturday in the Peach State is a perfect opportunity to do so. If they can take care of the ball, compete physically in the trenches, and spring some big plays it will put them in a good position.