COLUMBIA, S.C. – Rise and shine, folks. It’s Sunday and the Georgia Bulldogs are soon to kickoff against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia.
You heard that right, it’s Sunday and Georgia’s playing. It’s the first time since 2000 in the Oahu Bowl, in fact. Georgia won that game 37-14 over Virginia, in case you may have been curious.
In case you missed it (somehow), Georgia is playing on Sunday due to a decision by the SEC, Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity and South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner to push the game back 17 hours due to Hurricane Matthew, which had an impact on Columbia throughout Saturday morning. The game will kickoff at 2:30p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. Luckily for all parties involved, the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-70s and sunny skies.
As Georgia looks to shake off two consecutive losses to conference foes against a program that is going through a rebuild under their head coach Will Muschamp. In order for Georgia to maintain some sense of momentum and keep themselves in the SEC East race, a victory is integral at Williams-Brice Stadium for the Bulldogs.
South Carolina certainly gives Georgia a chance to breathe after playing top-tier opponents in Mississippi and Tennessee the past two weeks, however a culmination of mistakes could prove costly, as is the case in any game within the Southeastern Conference. Georgia will look to minimize flaws in many different areas, however there are three keys that could be of importance for head coach Kirby Smart to pull out a victory over his old pal.
Maintain productivity in the running game
Georgia’s running game showed up last Saturday, after a four week hiatus.
After their season-opening victory over North Carolina, in which the Bulldogs ran for over 300 yards on the ground, the production was nowhere to be seen. The absence (aside from a brief appearance of one carry) from their star running back Nick Chubb due to an ankle injury may have awoken the running game against Tennessee as the duo of Sony Michel and Brian Herrien proved to be some of Georgia’s most valuable weapons in the loss.
Georgia nearly amassed 200 yards on the ground against the Volunteers, and they have the chance to do that again as the Gamecocks’ rush defense has allowed an average of 202 yards per game. With Chubb once again off of the mend, the Bulldogs must take advantage of an average opposing run defense, and the seasoned group of offensive linemen must continue to open up holes in order for Georgia to claim a convincing victory.
Jacob Eason must continue to show his best stuff
After a struggling performance against Ole Miss, freshman quarterback Jacob Eason rebounded nicely against the Volunteers, collecting 211 yards through the air and two touchdowns. And as was seen against Missouri, he showed his ability to be clutch, with the 47-yard strike to Riley Ridley as the game clock was near its end.
South Carolina has a solid defensive group on the back end, allowing only 201 yards per game on average. Minimizing mistakes is the theme for the Bulldogs, Eason must continue to be levelheaded and make the wise decision. If the freshman is able to again display that he is quickly maturing, Georgia’s offense could be clicking again.
Eason seemed to connect with his former five-star pal, tight end Isaac Nauta, against Tennessee as he tallied 83 yards and found the end zone. The Bulldogs’ offense sure wouldn’t mind seeing him available as another offensive weapon.
Limit South Carolina’s quarterback production
South Carolina has yet to find consistency at the quarterback position as senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain continue to receive a significant amount of playing time in each of the Gamecocks’ first five games.
It’s the differing skill sets of the two signal callers that could be troublesome for Georgia, with Orth being a pocket passer and McIlwain possessing the dual-threat capability. Georgia saw the running abilities of Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee a weekend ago, and their pressed with the Gamecocks’ quarterback tandem a week later. Smart believes they’ve prepared what lies ahead by plenty of simulation on the practice field.
“You prepare (for different quarterbacks) by the plays you run with your scout team,” Smart said. “We have different kinds of quarterbacks on the scout team. We’ve got pocket quarterbacks, we’ve got scramblers, we’ve got a really good athlete over there that can run some gun runs and things like that. We have a couple of guys that give different looks over there and do a good job.”
If Georgia can keep Orth and McIlwain to minimal production, South Carolina has no true offensive weapon otherwise. The Gamecocks’ offensive attack only averages 301 yards per game, with their passing game accounting for two-thirds of the total production.
If the offensive group, led by co-coordinators Kurt Roper and former Bulldogs staffer Bryan McClendon, doesn’t have the success through the air, big trouble lies ahead as the offensive means of production will all be placed on the back of freshman running back A.J. Turner.