SEC Football: South Carolina vs. Georgia Preview

By Zach Virnig
South Carolina Football, SEC Football
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Toss out the SEC “bridge” schedule from last season, the best two teams in the SEC East, South Carolina and Georgia, will square off again in early September like they have done annually since 1992. This will be the second-straight season Georgia faces a South Carolina team ranked in the top 10.

Georgia went down five spots to No. 11 in the updated week two Associated Press poll after a 38-35 defeat from Clemson. No. 6 South Carolina enters the game winners of their last six games and three-straight appearances against Georgia.

How much motivation Georgia has left coming into the biggest game of their season may tell the narrative of who wins on Saturday. Georgia needs to look at this as a must-win game. It’s highly unlikely that Georgia can shake off two-straight losses in their first two games like 2011, and punch their ticket to the SEC Championship game this season. South Carolina with a relaxed schedule and a win here would be viewed as being in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.

Georgia has failed to win a game in college football’s biggest spotlight for awhile now, and South Carolina has only gotten to Atlanta once in 2010, with three conference losses that year, when the division was downright awful. It seems like this heavyweight bout has even more on the line than most others tend to believe.

The game shapes up to be a grand exclamation to the start of the 2013 season and an instant classic with all eyes on Sanford Stadium. If South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, or Georgia’s Todd Gurley or their  SEC first-team quarterback Aaron Murray want to be the 74th winner of the Heisman Trophy, their potential candidacy starts Saturday.

South Carolina’s defense completely rattled the Bulldogs and their offense with that 35-7 rout last season, the largest margin of victory in the series. Both roommates and Georgia running backs, Gurley and Keith Marshall, combined for 76 total yards facing Cocky’s top-12 overall defense in their freshman seasons. Last season, South Carolina keep Georgia under half of its average per game offensive output, creating two sacks and an interception from Murray. It seems like defensive end Chaz Sutton and the rest of the gamecock defensive line can do better than a pair of sacks this time out. Clowney’s battery will be recharged after much heat was on him after last Thursday’s performance finishing with three total tackles. On the other end, Murray was sacked four times against Clemson.

Physically and mentally, Gamecocks signal caller Connor Shaw looked outstanding to kick off his final season at South Carolina. Implementing Shaw in the run game is South Carolina’s strong suit, so expect the Gamecocks to get the ball rolling with designed quarterback draws. Shaw’s ability to extend plays in the previous meeting, opened up his effectiveness to be accurate towards the teeth of Georgia defense. Shaw went for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and his 78 rushing yards was his season best.

Georgia’s offense wasn’t the problem by any means at Clemson. Gurley ran for two touchdowns, including an early 75-yard touchdown run. That play by the SEC Offensive Player of the Week did damage to not just Clemson, but Georgia’s big-play receiver, Malcolm Mitchell. Gurley was slowed for the continuation of the game with a quad injury, while Mitchell will miss the remainder of the season after injuring a ligament in his right knee after celebrating the touchdown.

Bulldog wide receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett will have to step up for Murray, as replacements for Mitchell. Murray is 1-6 in his career going against top-10 teams, and to break the tide, his receivers are priority A, B and C on Saturday.

Georgia will have to crack Carolina’s two-quarterback operation of Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and their offense in general.  Clemson  hung 38 points and 467 yards of total offense facing the Bulldogs defense who had six new starters, including three true freshmen. Carolina should expect gaping holes in this game for running back Mike Davis, but not to the extent of a 75-yard run like he had against North Carolina. Georgia defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons comes back this week from a suspension, and we will see if that does anything to Thompson’s status checking into the game as a drop-back passer.

When it’s all said and done, though, Georgia gets right back on track with a 34-30 win.

Zach Virnig is a SEC Writer for Follow him on Twitter @ZacharyVirnig, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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