When South Carolina and Georgia take the field at Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday in front of a sellout crowd and a nationally televised ESPN Gameday audience, expect the fur and feathers to fly ...
South Carolina will have to hold onto the ball - it is that plain and simple. Lose the turnover-ratio battle against a team the caliber of Georgia's, and the Gamecocks lose the game. There will be turnovers on both sides of the ball but the winner will convert those turnovers into points. Turnovers which stop momentum during long drives are equal heartbreakers. Chances are, the team that makes the fewest mistakes in terms of turnovers, wins this game.
Conversely, should Georgia turn the ball over against the Gamecocks, as they did so many times in 2000, then the Cocks win this one going away. The hometown crowd at Billy-Brice likes nothing more than watching an opposing team hand their Gamecocks gifts. If Georgia wants to suffer the full wrath of the SC faithful then all they need do is to turn the ball over when it counts. This Carolina squad is very capable of making any team pay for the freebies.
For the Gamecocks, they must not allow any special teams victories for the Dawgs. No punts or kickoffs returned for TDs. No long returns period. The Gamecocks must have no flubbed squibblers, no missed tackles on return teams. No blocked punts allowed. No offsides on kickoffs. Drive the ball deep and cover well. Get the punts off and downfield and covered. On the other hand, SC needs a big break from their return teams. Remember, this game is going to be a battle of field position and it all begins and ends on special teams. Carolina needs a long kickoff return from Troy Williamson, Matthew Thomas or Demetris Summers. Expect Noah Whiteside to do something memorable when returning a punt or two. South Carolina absolutely must convert on all of their extra point attempts. The Gamecocks absolutely must hit all field goal attempts inside the twenty-five. Winning the head-to-head Special Teams battle has been a consistant statistic found in recent Gamecock victories over the Dawgs.
Georgia has better personnel on special teams. They have a field goal kicker whose range extends out to nearly 45 yards with comfort. They have a stud punter. They have more athletes so they have more depth and therefore they have better kickoff and punt coverage teams. South Carolina will have to negate the Dawg's talent advantage and find a way to out-mental UGA on special teams. If Georgia is solid and unfaltering with their special teams play, then they will be tough to beat.
Carolina's Defensive Line Vs. Georgia's Offensive Line
Let's include the entire Gamecock front seven in this one. While everyone is talking about the match-up between the SC OLine and the UGA DLine, and that one is important, in our opinions this game will be won or lost when the Gamecocks are on defense and the Dawgs are on offense. Moe Thompson and George Gause will be out to prove that they are the best defensive end duo on the field today. Darrell Shropshire and Jason Capers are dead set on stuffing the Georgia rushing game up the middle and the Gamecock linebackers are simply better than Georgia's and they are out to demonstrate as much to the world. But where Carolina has to show the most improvement from their teams of old are in the depth department. How players such as Stanley Doughty, Charles Silas, DeAdrian Coley, Freddy Saint Preux and others perform and contribute tomorrow ... will determine the outcome of this game.
Georgia's offensive line is young but experienced and very talented - but not perfect and not impregnable. If they allow pressure up the middle, we repeat, up the middle and thus allow Shrop and Cape penetration, then the Gamecocks win. Georgia knows they have to keep hands down and holes open today to be productive and SC will be out to deflect passes, stop third and short conversions and cause miscues in the Dawg backfield. Somehow, some way, SC will want to disrupt action in the Dawg's backfield tomorrow.
Georgia's Defensive Line Vs. Carolina's Offensive Line
Tomorrow South Carolina will be facing one of the most talented, deep defensive lines in the country. David Pollack is relentless, his motor is always running. And the Dawgs have a pretty good Thompson of their own in Will Thompson.and a number of others. If South Carolina fans are feeling good about their depth on the defensive line, remember, Georgia has equal if not better depth in the trenches - especially on their defensive line ... and Robert Geathers likes playing against his home state's flagship university. But the Gamecocks' offensive line is one of the top two or three in the conference when it comes to their starting five and they are well prepared to face the Georgia onslaught. Pollack is the epitome of the phrase, "you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.' To do so, expect the Gamecocks to come right at him in an attempt to slow him down and react rather than coming full bore on every snap. But the SC offensive line has more to concern themselves with than Pollack and they know it. The Gamecock offensive line will have to be sharp and relentless in their own right. In other words they cannot afford to be reactive but rather proactive and attacking across the entire front if they hope to keep the Dawgs back on their heels.
Georgia's game plan will be to stack the box and force Pinkins to the air. By stacking the box Georgia overloads the Carolina offensive line and thus allows Pollack and Thompson the freedom to rush at will and make it doubly difficult for Pinkins to find time to throw. Skip Holtz will have to help take some of the pressure off of the Gamecock offensive line by calling quick hitters both up and across the middle - on the ground and through the air. The quicker the Cocks get the plays off, the less effective Georgia's defensive line will be. This will not be all about muscle against muscle, it will be about timing and play calling and execution. It will be about finesse, although you may not recognize it unless you know what you are looking for.
Lou Holtz is in a groove and when he is, he is very tough to beat. He feels good about this game and his team's chances for an upset victory. His staff will need to be nearly flawless tomorrow. They are going to have to maintain control of their players' minds more than anything else and not allow the hype and hoopla to play too much of a factor. If the Gamecocks blink early and make mistakes, it will cost them. The question is whether or not the Carolina staff has a surprise or two up their sleeves as they did in 2000 with the zone blitz defense. If Holtz and his crew have found a Georgia weakness and are able to take advantage of it, then this game is going to be very very interesting. Also, Lou Holtz has eluded to this many times, tomorrow will be the day we find out what he means when he says he needs to know how his Gamecocks handle adversity. How they recover from mistakes and miscues.
Mark Richt is not known as a stunning strategist, but he is capable of putting a very fine game plan together. He has learned to lay most of the responsibility of planning into the hands of his staff, and when he does they are usually successful. The Georgia coaches know they are walking into a madhouse tomorrow and that their opponents are going to be sky high. Their mission will be to take the crowd out of the game early. In addition they will want to do something shocking. Something that stuns the Gamecocks and puts them behind the eight ball early. Something difficult from which to recover. It will be a gamble that, if it fails, could backfire on the Dawgs. But they are going to try it when the time is right and the Gamecocks will have to be ready to bend but not break. Georgia's coaches are going to want to deliver a death blow early and in doing so establish a dominance to be carried throughout the remainder of the game as they did in Athens last year.
South Carolina finally has a trio of SEC caliber tight ends in Brian Brownlee, Andy Boyd and even David Laggis. Laggis is chomping at the bit for a chance to play against his home state Dawgs. How SC utilizes their tight ends tomorrow may spell the difference between winning and losing this game. The Gamecocks will need their tight ends to be exceptional both catching balls thrown their way and blocking Pollack and Thompson.
Georgia has always had good tight ends and this year is no different. The Gamecocks will need their apache backers and free safeties as well as their linebackers to cover and control the attempts by the UGA tight ends to make plays. George Gause and Moe Thompson are going to have to overcome cut blocks and slow downs from the Georgia TEs.
The stadium will be rocking and rolling. The on-field Gamecocks are going to need help from their Carolina faithful in the bleachers in order to win ... and they WILL receive it.
No team can overcome the effects of a rabid Gamecock crowd if momentum swings the way of their hometown team early. Georgia's worst nightmare is for this partisan South Carolina crowd to get behind their Gamecocks and cause disruption within the communication channels of the Dawg machine.
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