Posted: 4:00 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, 2013
Maestro, cue the music:
Now let's talk football. The Dawg Sports staff already weighed in with their predictions for tomorrow's South Carolina game. Their pessimism was, in some instances, a little tongue-in-cheek. But the reasons for it are very serious. Last Saturday the Georgia Bulldogs exhibited some very real warts. Young defensive players looked by turns unaccustomed to the speed of big time college football and worn out by the pace of it. The offensive line, assumed to be a strength, looked (by their won head coach's admission) like elementary schoolers. These are real challenges. This is the time of year for football fans everywhere to point out that "you always improve more between weeks one and two than you do at any other time."
Those fans forget that the other team gets to improve, too. South Carolina has some young contributors in the secondary who gave up plays to North Carolina QB Bryn Renner, who is no Aaron Murray. But young tailback Mike Davis showed himself to be a real homerun threat, the kind you don't want to see coming when you haven't figured out this whole tackling thing. On the other side of the ball, South Carolina'sdefensive line is on par with Clemson's, if not better. Clemson didn't have a Jadeveon Clowney, and they didn't need one to get copious pressure on Aaron Murray. That's all the more reason for pessimism. And of course there's the fact that Georgia will play without its most explosive playmaker, Malcolm Mitchell, and will be facing the guy who seems to spend most of his summer dreaming up ways to torture Bulldog fans in retaliation for Bill Stanfill beating him within an inch of his life over 40 years ago.
My point being, if you're looking for reasons for optimism going into this one you'll have to look a lot harder than you will if you're looking for reasons to be dour. Those are just laying around all over the place.
But I think there are reasons to expect a Bulldog win, if you really consider it. For one, even without Mitchell, Georgia has a lot more ways to test the South Carolina defense than the Tarheels ever did. Second, if the Gamecocks were able to muster only 27 points against their neighbors from the north, you shouldn't expect them to muster many more against the 'Dawgs. Oh sure, Spurrier will be good for 7 points on a gadget play or wrinkle he came up with at the 19th hole over Memorial Day weekend.
I tend to believe that the Bulldog offensive line didn't play up to its potential last week, and it probably won't be the last time this season that happens. But that's another issue for another day. This weekend, I think they'll accept the challenge the coaches have laid out for them, and they'll play up to their competition.
Perhaps the biggest factor in this one may be Todd Gurley's relative health and ability to play through pain. He won't likely be 100%, but he'll need to be well enough to gain consistent yardage if Georgia's to have a chance in this one. South Carolina suffered some bumps and bruises of their own, including starting center Cody Waldrop who now may not play.That's a big blow. And frankly I wasn't that impressed with the overall performance of the Gamecock offensive front last week.
Bottom line, I believe that Georgia will be able to score more points than South Carolina at home. I believe that Georgia will be able to score points early and force South Carolina to catch up. Connor Shaw is great at managing games that he's winning and not flubbing things up. Forcing him to play catch up in front of a hostile crowd could be the key in this one. Prediction: UGA 34, South Carolina 27.
Feel free to use this as your open comment thread for tonight's college football action, and for your general early weekend antics. We'll be back tomorrow morning with a full slate of game day coverage. Until then . . .
postscript: The one thing that could torpedo this prediction? Special teams. Colin Barber punted the ball well last week, and Nathan Theus snapped literally the only bad snap of his Bulldog career at the worst possible moment. I expect the Bulldogs to eschew field goals in favor of going for first downs and touchdowns. However if the Gamecocks either return a kick for a score or have another one of those fake punts that crushes our momentum (cough, 2011, cough) all bets are off and the Morrissey goes on the stereo. You've been warned.