Early Preview: Georgia

South Carolina will hit the road for its SEC opener when they travel to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. Both teams enter the game in hopes of returning to the Georgia Dome to play for an SEC Championship, but one's hopes could be dashed before the season begins.

When South Carolina and Georgia meet on the football field, the stakes are always high. They have never been higher than when Carolina steps between the hedges at Sanford Stadium on September 10th for a 4:30 battle on ESPN. Many predict that the winner of this game will win the SEC East. While the winner certainly will not have the East wrapped up with seven conference games remaining, but the winner will certainly have a leg up on the other.

Georgia will be coming into the game on the heels of a tough match-up with Boise State in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. The Bulldogs will enter the match-up with the Gamecocks either extremely confident after a win over the Broncos, or looking to avoid an 0-2 start that will surely put head coach Mark Richt squarely on the hot seat.

Match-ups

Georgia OL vs. South Carolina DL

There's no doubt that Georgia will want to run the ball. Richt dismissed Washuan Ealy from the team in May, and learned earlier this week that Caleb King will be academically ineligible. That puts the load squarely on the shoulders of freshman phenom Isaiah Crowell, but we'll touch on that shortly.

Georgia returns three of its five offensive linemen from a year ago, including left tackle Cordy Glenn and four-year starter Ben Jones at center. Glenn, a 6-5 348 lb senior, and 6-5 342 lb senior Justin Anderson - who is listed at left tackle on the depth chart but could play guard - will be matched up with the Gamecock defensive ends. The Bulldog big men will struggle to keep the Gamecock defensive ends from getting upfield so the interior match-up will be key for Georgia to have success on the ground.

Guards Kenarious Gates - the final returning starter from 2010 - and Chris Burnette - a former center - are listed at the two guard positions and Jones at center will try to open some holes for Crowell to squeeze through and reach the second level. They will be matched up against a physical Gamecock interior defense that should have the depth to rotate players in and out at a fast rate.

Georgia RB vs. South Carolina LB

Georgia fans are hoping that Crowell will be as good as advertised. Though it's always tough to come in as a true freshman and succeed in the SEC you only have to look at last season to see that it can be done. Auburn's Michael Dyer and South Carolina's own Marcus Lattimore both experienced tremendous success. If Crowell can have the kind of season Dyer and Lattimore had last season, Georgia will be a tough out for anybody.

On Thursday Richt announced that former running back Richard Samuel will return to that position after moving over to the defensive side with the depth Georgia had at running back in 2010. In two seasons at running back, Samuel ran for 528 yards and three touchdowns on 114 carries. Samuel will bring some experience to the Bulldog backfield and will be called upon to help bring Crowell along.

Should Crowell or Samuel get through the front four, they'll be headed to the Gamecock linebackers. After battling injuries at the linebacker position, Carolina hopes to have a healthy group in 2011. Shaq Wilson will anchor the MLB position with Rodney Paulk or Quinn Smith occupying the WLB position. Antonio Allen and Devonte Holloman will see plenty of action at the SPUR. If healthy, the Carolina linebackers should keep the Georgia running backs from getting into open field.

Georgia QB/TE/WR vs. South Caroliona DB

Georgia has perhaps the best returning quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray, but he loses his top receiver in All-American A.J. Green. The Bulldogs were just 1-3 last season without Green, including a loss to South Carolina. Now he's gone for good and Georgia must find a new threat. 6-3 241 lb tight end, Orson Charles, could be Georgia's biggest threat. He provides a big target with great hands and speed for his side. Murray's top receiver will likely be Tavaress King, a 6-1 junior. King was third on the team in 2010 with 504 yards receiving and three touchdowns on 27 receptions.

The Gamecock secondary will enter the game extremely tested after facing East Carolina in week one. The South Carolina coaches will either know that they've corrected the woes of 2010 or extremely worried that Murray may have a field day. The Gamecock defensive line will not pressure Murray like they should be able to pressure ECU's Dominique Davis.

South Carolina OL vs. Georgia DL

Anyone that watched last year's game in Columbia between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs knows where that game was won. Carolina dominated Georgia up front and Lattimore had a field day. Georgia hopes with the arrival of JUCO transfer John Jenkins and sophomore Kwame Geathers will fill the void inside. Both will play nose tackle, arguably the most important piece in a 3-4 defense. The nose tackle has to eat up space and both of these behemoths can do just that. Gamecock center T.J. Johnson will face the task of trying to block the duo to allow guards Terrence Campbell and whoever wins the left guard spot - A.J. Cann at the moment - to get to the second level and block the Georgia linebackers.

DeAngelo Tyson will move back to defensive end opposite Abry Jones. The duo combined for 70 tackles last season and will be a formidable foe for experienced tackles Kyle Nunn and Rokevious Watkins.

This will be one of the biggest match-ups to watch in this game.

South Carolina RB vs. Georgia LB

Zone read, zone read, zone read.

Over and over again that's what Carolina ran, and over and over again Lattimore ran for 5-6 yards a pop. If Johnson is able to control Jenkins and Geathers up the middle, the zone read should be wide open. It will be up to Alec Ogletree - who was moved to linebacker from safety - and Christian Robinson to shake off the Gamecock guards and get to the ball. Those two, along with outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Cornelius Washington, will have to do something no one was able to do last year - tackle Lattimore. Lattimore escaped tackle after tackle last season en route to his big day. If Georgia fails to tackle this year it will be another long afternoon for the Bulldog defense.

South Carolina QB/TE/WR vs. Georgia DB

Brandon Boykin will likely face the task of covering All-American Alshon Jeffery. At 6-4, Jeffery has a distinct height advantage over Boykin at 5-10. At 6-2, Sanders Commings could be a potential cornerback but may end up at safety. Commings could potentially cover Jeffery at corner or possibly play help defense over the top. Jason Barnes and D.L. Moore will both provide height problems for the Bulldog secondary as well. Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia will have to try to avoid locking in on Jeffery as he has been prone to do and spread the ball around to the other receivers. Tight end Justice Cunningham could be a wild card. Though Cunningham will mostly be called on to block, if the receivers can spread the field and Cunningham could be a target over the middle.

This is a game where both teams think they win. If history repeats itself, it will be another low scoring slug fest (though the last trip to Athens was anything but that). This season's match-up will be no different. First one to 20 may be enough to win this game.


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