September 10, 2011
Overall Record: 46-15-2
Last 10 Meetings: 7-3
Richt vs. South Carolina: 7-3
The early-season contest against South Carolina is the biggest game for Mark Richt and Georgia since the 2008 Florida game. Simply put: this is the game that will either give Georgia a clear path to the SEC East title, or will make a very, very big hole to dig out of for the remainder of the season.
Certainly the focus of the off-season, at least from the fans' perspective, is the Boise State game. That game simply does not carry the weight of the Carolina game – it never has, and it never will. Losing the 2005 game with Boise State would not have stopped Georgia from winning the SEC, and winning or losing it in 2011 won't make a bit of difference when November rolls around.
South Carolina has suddenly, perhaps because of the flaws in Knoxville, Athens and Gainesville, become the team to beat in the SEC East. Carolina was by far and away – looking back on it months later – the best team in the East in 2010. They routined the Dawgs in Columbia in early September, thrashed the Vols in October and then punked the Gators on the way to the school's first significant title since the 1960s.
South Carolina is a threat to win the SEC overall, and they know in Columbia that this is the season to make it happen. Alshon Jeffery, who will enter 2011 as the best wide receiver in the SEC, won't be around for what is certain to be Marcus Lattimore's final season in 2012. That's why there is a sense of confidence as well as the inevitable bravado and panic surrounding Carolina this summer. Confidence? Carolina fans are nearly legendary with it before they enter the season. Bravado? It's easy to love your team before they've played a game. Panic? It's as if it runs in their blood – but this year one of their own is making them even jumpier than usual.
Stephen Garcia, he of what has to be a record five suspensions, is the key to Carolina's season. It was clear after spring practice that Conner Shaw was not going to get the job done, so Carolina's poor fans sat and wondered, as Steve Spurrier likely did, whether Garcia would pull things together for just 12 more games. If he can, Carolina should make a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. If not, one can certainly see Carolina slipping to six losses in the regular season.
South Carolina player to watch:
182 yards. 37 carries. Two touchdowns. Countless missed tackles and extra yards at the end of runs. This is Marcus Lattimore's stat line as a true freshman against Georgia in 2010. That early season victory stood as Lattimore's brazen introduction to SEC play, and also propelled South Carolina all the way to the Georgia Dome to play for the conference championship. In total, Lattimore rushed 249 times in 2010, tallying 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. He's the workhorse Steve Spurrier needed to balance the Gamecocks offense. Don't expect fewer carries in 2011 – or less production.
What the Dawgs must do:
Slow down Lattimore. If Georgia can hold Lattimore to only 140 yards rather than 180 they will stand a much better chance of winning the game. Lattimore chewed up Georgia like no other running back since Kenny Irons in 2005. Georgia's new presence at nose – John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers – is going to have to assert itself. Last year Georgia's defensive line got whipped – that can't happen again this season if they want to win.
Inside the numbers:
South Carolina has beaten Georgia three times since Mark Richt took over as head coach, and in all three of those contests the Bulldogs' offense struggled. Carolina has held Georgia to an average of nine points a game. Twice in those three games (2001 and 2010) the Dawgs have failed to score in double digits.
Moderate. Georgia has gone away from South Carolina as a recruiting destination of late… probably because the talent over there has been slightly limited the last few years.
Last year's prediction: This game will be quite a test for Aaron Murray. Georgia needs to have a conservative game plan on offense. Murray may well be a star in the future, but he probably won't play like one on the first road trip of his career. Williams-Brice is loud when Carolina gets momentum, but it is not that difficult a place to play when you are in control. Georgia needs to jump out to some sort of lead and hope the defense can slow the Cocks down.
Murray wasn't really the problem with Georgia's loss to South Carolina – Marcus Lattimore was. Sure, Murray wasn't asked to do very much, but he wasn't the player who fumbled on the goal line (Washuan Ealey). Georgia would have had momentum at that point, but, alas, too much Lattimore and not enough Georgia offense turned out to be Georgia's undoing.