June 7, 2010

Crystal Ball: South Carolina

No offense to Louisiana-Lafayette, but Georgia's SEC opener Sept. 11 at South Carolina is the game Bulldog fans are waiting on with an anxious eye.

Let the hand-wringing begin.

It's the same every year. Whoever comes out on top in this clash of border rivals is able to propel itself into the rest of the SEC schedule with that all-important first conference win tucked safely in the victory column.

Lose, and it's already an uphill battle.

Typically, this game has been one for the defenses before last season's track meet that the Bulldogs were able to win 41-37.

Points should be more at a premium this time around.

Let's break it down.

Both teams return the bulk of their offensive teams.

Georgia, as we all know, returns 10 starters, the lone exception being quarterback Aaron Murray, while the Gamecocks bring back seven offensive starters from last year, including enigmatic quarterback, junior Stephen Garcia who lit up the Bulldogs for 353 yards of total offense last fall.

Garcia had to do it all because South Carolina's running game was basically a non-factor as the Gamecocks finished last in the SEC and 102nd nationally with just 91 yards per game.

No doubt that's an aspect of the game the 'Ole Ball Coach will look to rectify.

Georgia, on the other hand, figures to get its first real test on defense trying to contain Garcia, who will have to contend with the Bulldogs' new 3-4 scheme and the pressure defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will attempt to bring.

How Garcia handles this pressure will be the key to the game (more on that later) from the South Carolina perspective.

No doubt Murray will have issues of his own to deal with it.
The Gamecocks have a history of making it tough on young Bulldog quarterbacks (See Matt Stafford's freshman year) meaning it will behoove Georgia to make some hay on the ground to try and take some of the pressure off Murray's talented, albeit young, shoulders.

One thing that's going to help Murray is the fact the game's going to be played at noon.

Yeah, it's going to be hotter than a chicken coop in August, but it's still going to be beat playing at night in Williams-Brice Stadium, which can be one of the louder venues.

The history

Georgia leads the series 46-14-2, including victories in the last two games.

That's not all. Head coach Mark Richt is undefeated in four previous trips to Columbia and Georgia hasn't lost in W-B since the Gamecocks picked off Quincy Carter five times en route to a 21-10 victory in 1999.

Best on-field battle - Stephen Garcia versus Georgia's 3-4 defense

Was that Stephen Garcia or Joe Montana who ripped through the Bulldog defense last fall?

After completing 31 of 53 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns, it was difficult to tell.

But that was then. Garcia won't recognize many similarities when he squares off against Grantham's defense this time around.

The Bulldogs will bring plenty of pressure and how well Garcia is able to handle the stress will no doubt dictate the success South Carolina's offense is able to enjoy.

Against Alabama's 3-4 scheme, Garcia struggled as the Crimson Tide rolled to a 20-6 win, but Georgia will still need to be wary not to let the nimble QB break contain and make big plays with his legs, something he was able to do in last year's game.

How we see it

Dasher's take: "Despite Garcia's success last year I look for South Carolina to try and establish the run, not only because the Gamecocks will be to in order to be successful, but from their standpoint to slow down all the blitzes and stunts that Garcia is going to be dealing with almost every play. Like all Bulldog fans, I'm very curious to see how Murray is able to handle his first road game in a hostile environment and if he can eliminate the mistakes that freshmen QBs are prone to make. One thing I don't expect is another shootout like last year. No, Murray won't be perfect, and fans shouldn't expect him to be either. He'll still need to at least attempt to stretch the field to keep South Carolina from loading up on the line of scrimmage, so look for A.J. Green to get his shots. This one won't be easy. South Carolina typically plays the Bulldogs tough at home and I think it's a game that will be a relatively low-scoring affair." Prediction - Georgia 17, South Carolina 13.

Nabulsi's take

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