1. Will the South Carolina offensive line show improvement in week two?
The 2006 Gamecock offensive line debuted in rather unimpressive fashion last week in the season opening victory at Mississippi State, while being pitted against a stout Bulldog defensive front. The South Carolina line, which only returns one true starter from a year ago in center Chris White, took it's lumps in Starkville, but that contest served as a learning experience for the new look unit. After allowing a total of 4 sacks and generally struggling to give Blake Mitchell time to function, the Gamecock coaching staff decided to up the tempo of practice this week to try and simulate game speed. The initial reports are that the offensive line has responded well, and improvement along the line is expected on Saturday, but how much is yet to be seen.
The Gamecocks will be facing yet another group of Bulldogs on Saturday, but these Dawgs are a different animal. Georgia features what some consider to be the best tandem of defensive ends in the conference with Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson, and while the Gamecocks have the luxury of having played against quality competition in week one, the offensive line will have their work cut out for them against Georgia. Jamon Meredith and Gurminder Thind, the Gamecocks two starting offensive tackles, will especially be called upon to compete at a high level against the Bulldogs talented duo of defensive ends.
If the offensive line can provide Blake Mitchell and South Carolina's assortment of talented skill players time to function as an offense, then that bodes well for the Gamecocks on Saturday night. However, if the offensive line once again struggle, then it will likely be another long night for the South Carolina offensive attack.
2. Can the Gamecock defense slow down the Bulldog rushing attack?
One year ago South Carolina traveled to Athens, Ga and competed for four hard fought quarters against the Bulldogs in a game that the Gamecocks had every opportunity to emerge victorious from. However, a few untimely errors and the inability to stop the run ultimately did the Gamecocks in. The Gamecock defense allowed the Bulldogs to rush for 239 yards and average nearly 5 yards per carry on that night, and unfortunately that was only a sign of struggles to come, as South Carolina's run defense would prove to be a liability all season long.
The South Carolina faithful had little reason to hope for an improved defense in 2006, as the Gamecocks lost ten starters from that 2005 unit. However, when the Gamecocks took the field against Mississippi State this past Thursday, they fielded what appears to be a much faster, more athletic, and better conditioned defense across the board. Although it was only one game, the Gamecock defense stymied Mississippi State and held them to 79 yards rushing and an average of only 2.4 yards per carry. That performance has given the young Gamecock defense a well deserved boost of confidence, and despite the loss of so many key players from a year ago, there is now reason to be optimistic for an improved defense in 2006.
Enter Georgia. The defending SEC Champion Bulldogs feature what many consider to be one of the top running back stables in the entire nation. Led by Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, and Danny Ware, the Bulldog rushing attack has the ability to provide a variety of looks, but they generally offer one common denominator - results. Brown was the workhorse back against the Gamecocks last season, as he rushed for 144 yards and 1 touchdown, while averaging an astounding 7.2 yards per carry. If the Gamecocks wish to pull the upset on Saturday night, then job number one will be to slow down the Georgia running game.
South Carolina's starting middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley had a superb debut against Mississippi State, as he totaled 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and a couple of pass deflections. In order for the Gamecocks to have success stopping the run, they will need a similar effort from Brinkley on Saturday night. Junior defensive tackle Marque Hall also played at an extremely high level in Starkville, and the Gamecocks will need him to continue to wreak havoc against a questionable Georgia offensive line.
If the Gamecocks can, in fact, manage to slow down the vaunted Georgia rushing attack, then that will force the Bulldogs into a tough position, because quarterback Joe Tereshinski, though a senior, is short in experience and can not be relied upon to carry the load offensively for the Bulldogs.
3. Who will win the field position battle?
Most analysts believe that this annual rivalry game between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs will feature a defensive struggle and once again come down to a fourth quarter battle. As is often the case in that scenario, the team that wins the field position battle generally finds itself in a position to be successful.
The battle for field position in a low scoring affair often depends on defense and special teams play, which happen to be two areas that both South Carolina and Georgia performed well in during their season opening match ups. Thus the team that can perform better in these two areas on Saturday should have the upper hand in the all important battle for field position.
4. Will the Gamecock offense be able to produce the big play?
One important factor that the Gamecock offense noticeably lacked for much of last season was big play potential. Youth, injuries, and lack of speed all contributed at times to South Carolina's lack of big play ability, but no matter what the reason, the Gamecock offense often struggled as a result. Steve Spurrier hopes to change that in 2006, as the Gamecocks return practically every significant skill player from a year ago and even add some new weapons to the arsenal.
The Gamecocks would be well served to break off some big plays on offense against Georgia, rather than consistently attempting to methodically march the field against the talented Bulldog defense. With offensive weapons like Sidney Rice, Syvelle Newton, Kenny McKinley, Cory Boyd, and Mike Davis in the fold, the Gamecocks now have the quality of skill players in place to break the big play. If the Gamecocks can manage to break a couple of big plays on the night, then that would greatly help their chances in what is expected to be another hard fought, defensive struggle.
5. How will the hostile environment affect the Bulldog offense?
The raucous crowds that fill Williams Brice Stadium during fall Saturdays have grown to near legendary status in these parts, and with Steve Spurrier now gracing the sidelines at South Carolina, optimism and excitement are at an all time high for Gamecock faithful. Some of the best game day atmospheres in recent memory have occurred when the Georgia Bulldogs come to town, and this Saturday promises to add yet another chapter to the historic rivalry between these two programs.
Unlike previous years, the Bulldog offense no longer strikes fear in the heart of opponents, as they will not field a typical dominating offensive line, nor will they have the luxury of an experienced signal caller behind center on Saturday. As previously mentioned, the strength of the Georgia offense will undoubtedly be their talented trio of tailbacks, but the rest of the offense, including an unproven crop of wide receivers, will be a relatively unknown commodity entering into the hostile confines of Williams Brice Stadium on Saturday evening. The Carolina faithful will do everything in their power to try and rattle the Georgia offense, and if they are successful, then the Gamecocks will likely be in good position to capture the landmark victory.
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