[su_spacer size=”20″] After being stunned by the Kentucky Wildcats this past Saturday night in Columbia, the South Carolina Gamecocks are bound to be smarting when they come between the hedges this Saturday (6 p.m.-ESPN) to encounter the 2-0 Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia would seem to be a solid favorite to down 1-1 South Carolina which trimmed North Carolina 17-13 in its Sept. 3 Thursday night season opener this time around but, then, all Bulldawg Nation is painfully aware of how Bulldog teams have fared against Spurrier-coached squads down through the years. Spurrier won 11 of 12 meetings against Georgia when he was head coach of the Florida Gators and although Mark Richt is 5-5 against Spurrier since the latter assumed the Gamecock coaching reins in 2005, South Carolina has beaten Georgia four out of the past five seasons.
[su_spacer size=”40″] So, absolutely nothing can be taken for granted when the ol’ ball coach comes to town as ever since the Bulldogs knocked Florida from the unbeaten ranks in the 1966 game, and out of the SEC title race, when Spurrier was on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy, Spurrier has had the Georgia game circled on his calendar, both when he was coaching Florida and now at South Carolina.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Like the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks have a new starting quarterback this season in redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch (6-3, 220). In the opening win over the Tar Heels, Mitch completed 9-of-22 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, while surprisingly also running the ball 10 times for 44 yards. Junior Perry Orth (6-1, 212) replaced Mitch in the opener when the latter left the field in the final quarter with an undisclosed injury. South Carolina’s most dangerous guy, of course, is junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (5-11, 208), the leading returning receiver in the SEC with 1,136 yards. He had three receptions for 45 yards in the opening game while senior running back Brandon Wilds caught four balls for 44 yards.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Wilds (6-2, 224, Sr.) is Carolina’s leading returning tailback from the 2014 campaign but in the opener against North Carolina, senior Shon Carson (5-8, 201) reeled off a 48-yard touchdown run on his very first carry and totaled 75 yards on just four carries. Wilds tacked on 51 yards on 14 carries.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Defensively, the Gamecocks’ ringleader is junior linebacker Skai Moore (6-2, 218), who was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week after the win over North Carolina, in which Moore recorded 10 tackles and had two game-saving interceptions in the end zone.
[su_spacer size=”40″] So, Saturday night’s key SEC battle figures to be a typical Bulldog-Gamecock head-knocker between the hallowed hedges and if South Carolina is to continue its recent mastery of Georgia, here are the Big Five factors the Gamecocks must achieve to do so.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 1. Play with the confidence and swagger the Gamecocks have displayed in frustrating the Dawgs four out of these past five meetings.
[su_spacer size=”20″] Punch Georgia in the mouth early on with a big play, offensively or defensively, and put some doubt in the Bulldogs’ heads about “can we really defeat a Spurrier-coached team?’
[su_spacer size=”40”] 2. As always, keep the Georgia defense guessing with brilliant, and surprising, “ball plays”
[su_spacer size=”20″] Spurrier has kept the Bulldogs’ defense off balance down through the years with his unpredictable calls from the sideline and Saturday night’s battle should be no different.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 3. Play Georgia’s highly-touted offensive line to a stalemate up front
[su_spacer size=”20″] If the Gamecocks’ front seven defense can neutralize the Bulldogs’ O-line and shut down the running lanes for Chubb, Michel and Marshall, thereby keeping this a low-scoring game, it will surely enhance South Carolina’s chances of an upset.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 4. Keep the football as much as you can
[su_spacer size=”20″] The best defense against this explosive Georgia bunch would be for the Gamecock offense to control the ball with QB Connor Mitch throwing short passes to ace receiver Pharoh Cooper and RBs Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson eating up the yardage, thereby keeping the Bulldogs’ offense on the sidelines for much of the game.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 5. Most vital, do not turn the ball over in this big battle.
[su_spacer size=”20″] Losing fumbles or throwing interceptions would only send the partisan Sanford Stadium crowd into even more of a frenzy and find the Gamecocks not only attempting to beat the Bulldogs on the field but all that noise cascading down from the 92,000-plus up in the stands as well.