Game Day Analysis: South Carolina vs. Georgia
South Carolina Offense vs. Georgia Defense
The Running Game
The South Carolina rushing attack should have a very big impact in the SEC showdown this Saturday at Williams Brice Stadium. Whether or not it is a positive or negative impact will depend on the play of the offensive line, which struggled at times in the win against Mississippi State last weekend. Although the line improved their play during the second half of the game, they will need to compete at a much higher level this Saturday. In regards to the "battle in the trenches", the edge easily goes to the Georgia Bulldogs with a front four that has more talent than the Mississippi State defensive line that gave Carolina fits last week. With All SEC caliber players on the edge in Quentin Moses (All American kind of talent as well) and Charles Johnson, along with ultra talented big men Jeff Owens and Kade Weston, the Georgia Bulldogs should have a solid day defensively. On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks should counter with the same starting five as the Mississippi State game. This could cause a eyebrow to be raised by many Gamecock faithful, but the fact that the unit performed at a higher playing level in the second half of last week's game, and that this group has shown through the spring, summer, and fall that, when faced with criticism and adversity, they will all work very hard in doing what they need to do in order to be ready for game day. Expecting the Gamecock offensive line to dominate is absurd, but they should play better than they did last week and potentially better than many fans believe.
The Carolina rushing attack managed a disappointing 81 total yards against Mississippi State due to a combination of the offensive line's struggle to block for the run and the yardage lost from the 4 sacks that were given up. However, there were some bright spots as Cory Boyd reintroduced himself to the SEC with a team leading 93 yards on the ground. Starting tailback Mike Davis did not fare so well as he managed only 6 yards on 7 carries. Davis did not seem to run with the same authority that he showed late last season, and as a result, he did not hit the holes as quickly as one should. While he did not set the world on fire rushing the ball, he did excel in all of the nuances of football that running backs do not get credit for (i.e. blocking). This Carolina backfield will be facing a tough match up against a trio of senior linebackers for the Georgia Bulldogs in Danny Verdun Wheeler, Jarvis Jackson, and Tony Taylor. These three starters for the Dawgs accounted for only 10 tackles in their season opening win against Western Kentucky, but despite these low numbers, each player is very solid and played a big role in allowing Western Kentucky only 67 total yards rushing. However, South Carolina is not Western Kentucky, and if the Gamecock offensive line can open up some holes, the USC backfield should have a solid, but not earth shattering, day.
Despite playing a more talented defense in the Georgia Bulldogs (albeit not by a large margin as the MSU defense will be one of the tops in the SEC and it will be interesting to see what Auburn can do against them this weekend) the Gamecocks should improve on their rushing total of only 81 yards. While it should not be a 200-yard game, or even a 150-yard game, there is the potential to muster over 100 yards for sure. If the offensive line has improved and learned from the first game "jitters" and mistakes, then there should be signs of improvement in the game this weekend.
The Passing Attack
There is no denying that the South Carolina passing attack was nothing near what a Steve Spurrier team is capable of in the season opening win, but it is very hard for an offense to be effective when another team is not respecting either the rushing or passing attack of the opposition. Despite having to receive stitches for a deep cut sustained in the first quarter of the MSU game, Blake Mitchell returned and effectively led the offense the rest of the way after throwing an interception on the first play of the game. He has been somewhat hampered by his cut during this week, but it should not be anything that will have a major impact on the upcoming game. If the offensive line improves their pass blocking as well, especially the left side of the line, then Blake should see his production increase by a fairly large margin. Make no mistake about it, Blake Mitchell is a solid SEC quarterback, and if he is given the time and a run game to support him, he should be able to put up some impressive numbers in a Steve Spurrier offense. The receiving core of the Gamecocks had a decent day at the ballpark this past Thursday, despite the low numbers. However, for this offense to be potent, they need to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers, particularly Sidney Rice. If Rice starts off strong this Saturday and the Georgia defense has to double team him, then expect to see the other Carolina receivers in Kenny McKinley, Syvelle Newton, Jared Cook, Boyd out of the backfield, and others to see one-on-one opportunities. However, it will all be for naught if the receivers cannot catch the ball, as there were a few drops this past weekend.
The Georgia secondary is considered to be one of the weak points on the 2006 squad. And while talented, they are not very experienced, and they may have a hard time against this Cock N' Fire offense. Starting cornerback Paul Oliver is a very, very solid player as well is Tra Battle, the starting safety. And while the others are not bad players by any means, the Ole Ball Coach could use certain plays that allow the offense to pick on them. They are also a little thin in the secondary, but barring injury, this should not have too much of an effect on this game. With the pressure that the front four will most likely generate, the secondary could see a lot of short, quick passes in an attempt to protect Blake Mitchell from the Bulldog front four and to keep the defense as a whole on their heels and to make them a little hesitant to play aggressively. California proved last week against Tennessee that if the secondary does not tackle well on the short passes like curls and outs, that they can lead to very big plays. The Carolina receiving core has the weapons to make them pay for missed tackles, however, Georgia is very solid fundamentally, and it would take some big time "jitters" by the secondary to create these opportunities.
The success of the passing game will rely heavily on how the running game does in the early stages of the game. If the Gamecocks can make the Dawgs respect the run, then there should be some passing lanes for Blake Mitchell and the USC offense. If the offense line cannot open up any running games and Mitchell is running for his life, then this could be a big time defensive ballgame. Generally against an aggressive and fast defense, an offense will try screens, draws, a short passing game, and a variety of misdirection plays in an attempt to use the defenses speed and aggressiveness against them by causing them to over run plays, putting them out of position to make a play. Steve Spurrier and the USC offense know the defense bailed them out last week and they also know that with a young defense, this can't be expected every week. With that being said, expect improvement in both areas for this upcoming game. But the question may be: can the young defense led by Tyrone Nix have back-to-back spectacular games, and this time against a more talented team?
South Carolina Defense vs. Georgia Offense
The tailback position for Georgia is hands down one of the deepest and most talented groups in the entire country. The Georgia depth chart shows the starting tailback to be 5'8'' 208lb junior Thomas Brown. While small in stature, Brown is one of the most physical backs in the SEC and has no problems in running over defenders. Behind Brown is another junior in 6'1'' 224lb Kregg Lumpkin, who was one of the highest rated running backs coming out of high school. Completing the three headed monster for the Dawgs is yet another junior in 6'1'' 222 Danny Ware. These three ultra talented running backs combined for 120 of the 136 rushing yards gained by Georgia last week against Western Kentucky. Judging only by what is on paper, these stats seem very unimpressive for a team with this kind of talent playing against a much weaker opponent. However, the UGA offense had a short field for most of the day because of the play of special teams and the defense. The Gamecock will counter with starting linebackers Cody Wells, Jasper Brinkley, and Marvin Sapp. These three Gamecock defenders combined for an impressive 20 total tackles and 2 sacks last week. Many Gamecock faithful remember when our linebackers were plagued with inconsistency and constantly underachieved, but this unit will become one of the strengths of the defense. And it all starts with the man in the middle, Jasper Brinkley, who alone made 11 tackles to lead the team against Mississippi State. And with the strength of the Georgia offense being the rushing game, it would not be surprising to see these numbers increase. If the Gamecock linebackers can get off their blocks, shoot the gaps, take good angles, and make their tackles then the UGA offense will be trouble.
Many followers of both South Carolina and Georgia agree that each of their offensive lines must improve to challenge for the SEC crown. While Georgia does have some experience along their line, they also have some depth issues. Leading the unit is senior center Nick Jones, who was moved from his guard spot to take the place of the departed Russ Tanner. Working in the Gamecocks favor is the suspension of potential All SEC tackle Daniel Inman. Although they still have talent at each position, there are not that many starts among all of the players and this will be a huge plus for the also very inexperienced Gamecock defense. However, the UGA offensive line has a big advantage in terms of size as 3 out of the starting 5 weigh in at around 320lbs. With the USC defense somewhat undersized, it will be crucial to beat them with speed, aggressiveness, and technique because there will not be many cases in which a defender will be able to just "bull rush" an offensive lineman. Squaring off against this UGA offensive line will be the starting group of Casper Brinkley and Ryan Brown on the edges, and Marque Hall and Nathan Pepper on the inside. These players enjoyed a very productive game this past week at Mississippi State as they combined for 9 total tackles. Not shown on the stat sheet was the constant pressure that they put on the Mississippi State quarterbacks, as there were many times when the quarterbacks were knocked very hard on the ground (e.g. Marque Hall's monster pressure that broke the collar bone of starting quarterback Michael Henig), and the fact that they took up blockers which allowed the linebackers to use their speed to run to the ball. However, it would help the Gamecocks cause if they can get some more players in the ballgame to give the starters some rest.
If the USC defense can play aggressive and play their assignments then they should be able to contain, not stop, the Georgia rushing attack. It always helps when a team can sub in the third string tailback, and get first team production and play out of him. If the Carolina defensive lineman can have another solid game in which they play very physical until the whistle is blown and take up blockers, then the Gamecock linebackers should be able to use their speed to stop the UGA running backs. Expect the USC defense to have a lot of players near the line of scrimmage in a variety of formations, followed by different stunts and blitzes to try and confuse a somewhat inexperienced UGA line in order to stop the rushing game of Georgia. If the Gamecocks can stop the run consistently and force the Bulldogs to pass, then it should be another productive game for the Carolina defense. However, with the talent that UGA does have, especially their tailbacks, it would be very difficult to completely shut down their rushing attack, but it is not out of the question for USC to hold the Dawgs to a somewhat low total. It will not be another game like last year when the USC defense, led by the unconventional methods of then defensive coordinator John Thompson, gave up 238 yards rushing to the Bulldogs. This 2006 defense has the potential to hold the Georgia rushing attack to a very respectable 130 to 150 yards, which against a quality SEC team like Georgia is a positive. Especially when their passing attack looks like it could struggle early on this season.
Third generation Bulldog Joe Tereshinski looks to improve his game after struggling against 1-AA Western Kentucky. Tereshinski completed on 41 percent of his passes for only 90 yards. Many Georgia faithful are calling for true freshman Matthew Stafford, a highly talented freshman, to be the man to lead the Bulldog offense. If Tereshinski struggles again, this time against a much more talented and faster defense, then it would not be surprising to see Stafford enter the game to try and jump start the offense. However, head ball coach Mark Richt knows that it will be a difficult task for a true freshman to come into an environment like Williams Brice and lead them to victory, and he may lean on red shirt freshman Joe Cox. Although Cox, like Stafford, has no starting experience, he has been in this offense longer than Stafford and he may be able to cut down on any potential mistakes. It will be imperative for the Georgia offensive line to hold their blocks and give Tereshinski time to throw the ball, because if they do not, his questionable decision making could cause some much needed turnovers for the USC defense. Whoever the quarterback will be for UGA, they will be throwing to a talented, but inconsistent, receiving core. The Dawgs best receiver is Mohamed Massaquoi, who was demoted to second string after he failed to show the effort required of a starting player. Thus, the starting players will now be Mario Raley and A.J. Bryant. The leading receiver for Georgia's game last week was running back Thomas Brown with 3 catches for 20 yards. Tight End Martrez Milner has the talent to be a solid player, but is plagued with some big time drops in crucial situations. However, this is the year that our linebackers and safeties will be able to cover running backs out of the backfield and tight ends in the middle of the field.
The Gamecock defenders in charge of stopping the Bulldog's aerial game will be the same as last week. Although they played against an offense that is one of the worst in the SEC, and one that lost their starting quarterback, they showed that there may not be as much of a drop off in production as was once thought. The group is lead by senior cornerback Fred Bennett, who recorded 2 tackles and 1 interception against MSU. True freshman safety Emmanuel Cook was third on the team in tackles with 5 total tackles, and displayed solid instincts and fundamentals. Opposite of Cook, at the other safety spot is one of the more intelligent players on the Gamecock roster in Chris Hampton. Hampton had his first interception of his career this past weekend against MSU, and looks to continue his steady play in the secondary this week against Georgia. And finally there is cornerback Carlos Thomas, an ultra talented and fast cover man that is still having trouble making his tackles. Luckily, our defense is constantly running to the ball so in case he does miss a tackle, there is help on the way. True freshman Captain Munnerlyn should see a lot of action this weekend in order to take advantage of his physical style of play and his tremendous speed.
While the Georgia passing attack has more talent than Mississippi State's, the Gamecock defense should be able to contain them. After the first game against Western Kentucky, starting quarterback Joe Tereshinski seems like a solid backup quarterback in the SEC rather than the starter. However, he is a top competitor and wants to win, but sometimes that is just not enough. His receiving core has seemingly underachieved so far, and they will need to step it up against USC. This should not happen, and the Gamecock defense should be able to stop their passing attack and force them to be one-dimensional and try to pound the ball. However, the goal of South Carolina should be to force the Bulldogs to throw the ball, as this is by far their biggest weakness on offense. If the Bulldogs are forced to throw the ball in order to win, then good night, game over.
Many believe that teams generally show the most improvement between the first and second game. Both teams should show improvement, but which one will improve enough to win a pivotal game in the SEC race? There are a few different factors that are working in South Carolina's favor and should translate into a Gamecock win. The first being the Steve Spurrier factor, as he has only lost to Georgia twice (including last year) and always seems to have a little something for the Dawgs. Another factor is the effect that Williams Brice Stadium seems to have on this game. The majority of the Gamecock wins, and near wins, have come in Columbia. The South Carolina and Georgia games are typically hard fought, but this is especially true in Columbia. One final factor could be the quality of opponent that each team faced in week one. Georgia opened at home with a cupcake in 1-AA Western Kentucky, while USC played fellow SEC member Mississippi State in Starkville. The Gamecocks came out of the game healthy, and also emerged battle tested after earning a hard fought win against an SEC team. They should have a better idea of what works and what doesn't work, which will help them in their preparation for the Georgia Bulldogs. Also, because of the fact that they played in a hostile environment in Starkville, the first game "jitters" should be gone for most of the Gamecock players, especially the numerous freshmen that dot the two deep. The games between these two teams are generally hard to predict, as they can usually go either way, but these factors, along with the different coaching and player personnel, should translate into a landmark victory for the Gamecocks. It should be a close game, as it usually is, with the Gamecocks winning by 5 points or less. As of right now, the game looks like it could be a 17-15 win for the Gamecocks.
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