Fall Preview: South Carolina vs. Georgia
As part of this in depth preview of South Carolina's 2007 conference oppenents, GamecockAnthem.com will look at the history between the two teams, position by position breakdowns, what each coach will hope to establish in the match up and keys to a Gamecock victory. As always, we thank you for turning to GamecockAnthem for all of your Gamecock needs.
There will be no bigger game early in the year for the 2007 Gamecocks than when they travel to Athens, GA to play the Georgia Bulldogs between the hedges in week two of the season. In what is always a huge early season match up, the stakes have been raised even higher this year with both teams holding SEC title aspirations. Steve Spurrier even announced to some of his close friends that if the Gamecocks can leave Athens with a 'W,' they could be playing in Atlanta in December. Spurrier has always been one to tell it like it is, and while his team has met its goals the past two years, a win at Georgia would be crucial for the Gamecocks to have a chance at challenging for their first ever SEC crown.
Overall: Georgia leads 44-13
South Carolina under Spurrier: UGA leads 2-0
Last 10 years: UGA Leads 8-2
Last time playing: UGA won 18-0
While the Gamecocks usually play Georgia close, and Spurrier dominated them while at Florida, USC is 0-2 under Spurrier and has lost five in a row overall to Mark Richt's Dawgs. In the two losses under Spurrier, there have been a couple of underlying problems that South Carolina could not overcome.
The first of these problems has been the inability of the Gamecock defense to stop the UGA running game, specifically up the middle. Georgia's running backs have been able to pound off six and seven yards at will on 1st downs, leaving them in makeable 2nd and 3rd down situations. This has made life much easier for Georgia's quarterbacks, especially young Matthew Stafford a year ago. On many drives, Georgia only needed 1st and 2nd downs to keep the chains moving. The combination of Georgia's seasoned offensive line and talented running backs going against Carolina's undersized defensive front has proven to be costly for the Gamecock defense.
Another problem the Gamecock defense has faced is the inability to apply pressure on Georgia's quarterbacks. On three different third down occasions last year, Stafford, who is athletic but does not possess elite speed, was able to escape the pocket for first downs due to a lack of a pass rush on plays where receivers were covered. Stafford showed a tendency all year to throw interceptions and even threw three in Columbia, but he was able to beat the Gamecocks with his legs and was not made pay for the mistakes he did make.
On offense, turnover problems doomed the Gamecocks last fall, leading to Spurrier being shut out for only the second time in his coaching career. While the Gamecocks moved the ball fairly well and even had more opportunities in the red zone than Georgia, they could not get any type of running game going and failed to produce any points, which doomed them in the end. The decision to run a toss sweep backed up in their own end zone cost Carolina five points in the waning seconds of the first half as well. These mistakes hurt Carolina dearly and allowed Georgia to coast to a relatively easy victory without having a great day offensively.
If the offensive line can give quarterback Blake Mitchell time to work in the pocket, the Gamecock offense could redeem itself after last year's shutout loss to the Bulldogs
South Carolina Offensive Line vs. Georgia Defensive Line
One of the biggest question marks of the offseason is the Gamecocks' offensive line, and they will get their first test of the year in Athens. While past Georgia defensive lines have always been strengths of the Bulldog defense, the 2007 front four does not feature a proven playmaker such as a Quentin Moses or David Pollack. One name, however, most Gamecock fans will recognize is defensive end, Jarius Wynn. Many who follow recruiting believed the JUCO transfer was going to enroll at Carolina after an intense recruiting battle. Instead, he enrolled at Georgia, and while he struggled some to grasp the defense during the spring, he is bigger than the other Georgia defensive ends and will garner some playing time if not a starting spot. At this time, Georgia is projected to start sophomore Roderick Battle and senior Marcus Howard at defensive end. Battle is talented, but unproven, and while Howard is a high-motor guy, he will remind many of some previous Gamecock defensive ends, as he is only 220 lbs. Inside, returning starter Jeff Owens will line up beside Kade Weston, who is raw but has unlimited potential.
Going up against an unproven defensive line will be huge for a South Carolina offensive line that will be looking to hit its stride while replacing three starters. As most Gamecocks know, Coach John Hunt's offensive line returns its two starting tackles from a year ago in Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorenson. Senior Web Brown is a heady player and has had a productive offseason, but it will be imperative that he keep his weight up in order to keep his spot as the starting center. Some combination of Lemuel Jeanpierre, James Thompson, Garrett Anderson, and Kevin Young will make up the two guard spots. Jeanpierre is a converted defensive lineman, but is known as one of the hardest workers on the team. Kevin Young and Garrett Anderson are both young, but talented and also could end up playing center.
The South Carolina offensive line will not have to be dominant against the Bulldogs, but it will need to hold par to give Cory Boyd a little running room and Blake Mitchell a chance to throw. Boyd's ability to break the first tackle and the fact Spurrier will scheme around the question marks at offensive line should take care of the rest.
Running back Cory Boyd is expected to anchor a strong Gamecock rushing attack this season.
South Carolina Running backs vs. Georgia Linebackers
One area where the Gamecock offense is extremely settled is at running back, where they return their two leading rushers in Cory Boyd and Mike Davis. Both Boyd and Davis are underrated guys who are not speed threats, but are hard workers and are rarely taken down by the first defender. They will go up against a Georgia front seven that is replacing six of seven starters and an entire linebacker corp. The Georgia linebackers are not without talent, but even their most experienced player, Brandon Miller, is playing a new position after moving from strongside to middle linebacker. Likely playing beside Miller are Dannell Ellerbe and Darius Dewberry, who are athletic but also unproven.
The South Carolina running backs should have an advantage running up the middle if the offensive line can give them some room to work, while Georgia's linebackers probably have the speed edge to get outside and cut Boyd and Davis off. Look for South Carolina to run right at the Georgia front seven, especially to the side of the undersized Marcus Howard.
South Carolina Wide Receivers vs. Georgia Secondary
Another intriguing match up and an area where both teams have question marks is at receiver for Carolina and in the secondary for Georgia. Both squads lost big contributors in Sidney Rice at WR and Paul Oliver at CB, respectively. When looking for proven players at those positions, one should look no further than South Carolina's leading returning receiver Kenny McKinley, who caught 51 balls and was an excellent complement to the NFL-bound Rice. With McKinley the only proven Gamecock receiver, Spurrier will need for a couple of young guys to step up in order for his offense to be effective. The number two and three spots on the depth chart will likely come from some combination of returnees Jared Cook, Moe Brown, and JUCO transfer Larry Freeman. Also looking to make an impact will be a group of freshman receivers ranked among the best in the nation, featuring speedster Chris Culliver, athletic target Jason Barnes, Florida standout Dion Lecorn, and Columbia-native Mark Barnes.
For Georgia, returning starter Kelin Johnson will be joined by South Carolina-native C.J. Byrd at safety and sophomores Bryan Evans and Asher Allen at cornerback. While Georgia has a recent past of putting safeties in the NFL, they don't have that proven playmaker here yet either.
Though South Carolina will likely look to establish the run, they will test the Georgia secondary early. If a young playmaker can step up, then the Gamecock receivers could give Georgia trouble, but without help, McKinley alone will not be able to beat the Georgia secondary.
Overall South Carolina Offense vs. Georgia Defense
Redshirt Senior Quarterback Blake Mitchell will be returning for his final season as USC's starting quarterback, and it will be important he continues his strong finish from last year with a good start this fall. Spurrier will probably use plenty of three step drops and will likely run the ball more than he normally likes to do in order to keep the Bulldog defense off of Mitchell and give the young offensive line a chance. Look for Cory Boyd early and often, as the Gamecock offense will hope to ride him as far as he can take them. Boyd will also be a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield and a good check down option for Mitchell, as he caught more passes last year than any other back in the SEC. If the line can give Boyd a little room, and he can establish the run, that will allow Spurrier to open up his playbook and be a positive change from last year when the running game could not get going at all. Look for Spurrier to also attempt to get the ball to speedsters such as Moe Brown and Chris Culliver in space, as well as giving Jared Cook and Larry Freeman the chance to see if they can step up and perform well. The Gamecock offense will have to limit turnovers, and not just move the ball, but put it in the end zone when given opportunities, a problem that plagued them in last year's game.
South Carolina Defensive Line vs. Georgia Offensive Line
There may not have been two units on either team that got talked about more in the offseason than the South Carolina defensive line and the Georgia offensive line. The talk of South Carolina's spring camp was the shift in talent at the position and overall upgrade of a unit traditionally below average in the SEC. USC's defensive front will face a Georgia offensive line that returns only two starters and features an all freshmen left side in Trinton Sturdivant and Tanner Strickland.
The Gamecock ends will be much improved and will look to terrorize the young Georgia line with an unrelenting rush from returning Freshman All-American Eric Norwood, Liberty Bowl Defensive MVP Jordin Lindsey and highly touted newcomers Travian Robertson, Clifton Geathers, and Cliff Matthews. Also, gone are the days of teams running all over the Gamecock defensive line, as the rush defense will be bolstered by the return of a seasoned veteran and the emergence of a young talent at DT. Marque Hall will return from a season ending knee injury last year against Georgia, while Ladi Ajiboye joined the team in the spring from prep school and was deemed "unblockable" by Spurrier. They will be spelled by former four-star Kenrick Ellis and former starter Nathan Pepper, who would probably be starting any other year on the Gamecock defensive line.
While things are looking up for the South Carolina faithful, and Georgia could face a rebuilding year on the offensive line, it is important to remember that while young, the Georgia offensive line is still talented and will not be dominated by Carolina. One thing of interest here is Mark Richt was able to decide on a starting five early in spring camp and was able to stick with those five for the last 11 practices, something the Gamecock offensive line wasn't able to do. While I would give an edge to the South Carolina defensive line at this time, neither line will dominate the other, and it will still be a back and forth battle throughout the game.
South Carolina's improved defensive front will hope to apply more pressure on Matthew Stafford this season.
South Carolina Linebackers vs. Georgia Running backs
There is no bigger strength on the Georgia football team than at the running back position. The Bulldogs will feature a talented and deep backfield, led by seniors Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown. They will likely be joined in the crowded backfield by redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno and newcomer Caleb King, who both bring big play potential.
At linebacker, the Gamecocks return All-SEC performer Jasper Brinkley as well as Freshman All-SEC backer Rodney Paulk. Jasper's twin brother and former defensive end, Casper Brinkley, rounds out the linebackers. They will be much more prepared to stop the run than previous Gamecock linebacking crews, with both Brinkleys weighing in at over 250 lbs. Dustin Lindsey, Marvin Sapp, and athletic freshman Melvin Ingram will also be factors off the bench here.
For the Gamecock linebackers to hold the talented Georgia running backs in check, it will be important for the defensive line to keep the Georgia offensive line off the Brinkleys and company. Brennan Southerland is an excellent fullback, who will look to get to the second level and cut off the Carolina linebackers. If USC's backers can roam free in space, then they will be able to use their athleticism to cover a lot of ground and get to the ball carrier. With an improved USC front seven competing against a rebuilding Georgia offensive line, don't look for the running game to be quite so easy for the Bulldogs. However, they are still experienced and talented and will get their share of yards.
South Carolina Secondary vs. Georgia Receivers
The South Carolina secondary and Georgia receivers are both looking to improve on a 2006 season that featured many ups and downs. For South Carolina, the problem was batted balls and missed interceptions that landed in opposing receivers' hands, while for Georgia dropped passes was a huge problem.
South Carolina's secondary looks to be a solid unit, which will be bolstered by the return of free safety Brandon Isaac. The former Georgia Military standout, who missed all of last year but redshirted and is back for his senior season, showed the ability to cover lots of ground and make the big hit in spring practice. Freshman standout Emanuel Cook will join Isaac at strong safety and is looking to build on a freshman campaign in which he made 47 tackles and quickly gained the reputation as one of the surest tacklers on the team. At cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn and the much improved Carlos Thomas will start with Stoney Woodson coming off the bench as the third guy. Sam Pope is a JUCO transfer who likely will play a factor somewhere in the secondary, be it cornerback or safety.
Georgia returns its leading receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi, to a group long associated with underachieving. He is joined by Sean Bailey, who is returning after missing 2006 with a knee injury, and speedster A.J. Bryant who is also very talented. The group is still not completely settled after spring practice and will go a long way in determining the success of Matthew Stafford and the Georgia offense.
The South Carolina defense will likely try and put pressure on the Georgia receivers by playing lots of man press, much like they did last year. Munnerlyn and Thomas will come up and bump the receivers off the line to force them to worry about getting into their routes, then about making the catch. Isaac will likely be the last line of defense over the top with Cook playing closer to the line of scrimmage in run support. They will probably throw a little more zone in than last year in an attempt to confuse Stafford, as last year's defense didn't play zone very well.
Overall Georgia Offense vs. South Carolina Defense
The Georgia quarterback situation looks very different than it did last year with Stafford coming out of spring camp as the clear number one. Stafford will look to improve on a freshman campaign that saw him throw 13 interceptions to 7 touchdowns. With an unproven offensive line and receivers with a tendency to drop passes, the Georgia offense will try to limit mistakes and use their deep stable of running backs to pound away on the Gamecock defense. Here it will be important for the Carolina front seven that has improved on paper, to do so on the field and force Georgia to throw the ball. If the Georgia receivers feel pressured to win the game, then they will be much more likely to drop passes than if the offense is running at will and only passing to keep the defense honest.
The Gamecock defense will have to slow down Thomas Brown and the vaunted Georgia rushing attack.
An interesting dynamic and unknown for the Georgia offense is how will new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo influence the play calling formerly handled by Coach Richt? He called the last two games for the Dawgs last year, but this will be Bobo's first full year as OC. While there may be a few new wrinkles and a little more imagination in some of the play calling, Mark Richt has always been an underrated play caller and fans will still see his handprint on the offense.
In what will probably be one of the best match ups of place kickers this year, USC's Ryan Succop will face off against Georgia's Brandon Coutu. Coutu is coming off an injury that forced him to miss all of last season, but if he is back to 100 percent, then both he and Succop will be All-American candidates.
In the return game, South Carolina will look to improve dramatically, having not returned a kick for a touchdown since 2003. Captain Munnerlyn and Chris Culliver are the frontrunners for the kickoff return spots, but while both have great speed, they will need better blocking than in the past to be effective. It will be interesting to see if new Co-Special Teams Coordinator Shane Beamer can make a positive impact for the Gamecocks. Also look for Carolina to implore 6-foot-7 and former Georgia signee Clifton Geathers as a kick blocking specialist. Georgia's returners will likely be made up of Asher Allen and Mikey Henderson.
South Carolina's Keys to Victory
I. Stop the Run
As always, when facing a balanced attack such as Georgia's, stopping the run is key. The combination of a young quarterback, inconsistent receivers, and a young offensive line make Georgia's deep group of running backs its only proven commodity. Thus, it's even more important they are held in check by the Gamecock defense. If Georgia can't run the ball, it will start all kinds of new problems and will probably force turnovers.
II. Get to the Quarterback
No matter how well Georgia does or does not run the ball, there will still be situations where they will be forced to pass. The Gamecock defensive line is more prepared than ever to get a strong, consistent pass rush, but it has to correlate to on the field production. Even with the problems at receiver, if given time to throw, Stafford will be able to beat the Gamecocks with his arm, as well as with his feet as he did last year.
III. Take Advantage of Red Zone Opportunities
The Gamecocks offense will have to do much better in the red zone than it did last year to have any chance at a victory. When teams enter the red zone, the ability to stretch the field disappears, and it becomes more difficult to pass as the windows to throw are smaller in a zone defense, and teams will be blitzing six when they do run man. This reveals any problems within an offensive line previously hidden, and forces the line to man up, beat defenders off the ball, and get a push. If the Gamecock offensive line cannot firm up in the red zone this year, then unless there are a few big play scores, the Carolina offense will struggle to score points again this year.
The Gamecocks and Bulldogs will face off on September 8 between the hedges. Kickoff is set for 5:45 p.m., and the game will be nationally televised by ESPN2.
Stay tuned next week, as GamecockAnthem.com will preview South Carolina's week four SEC showdown against the LSU Tigers.
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