1. Pressure Jake Bentley – The Gamecocks junior quarterback energized the program when he took over under center in the second half of the 2016 season. The son of a coach, he is a coach on the field for Will Muschamp. Georgia did a good job of pressuring him last season in Athens. But this year, the crowd will be on his side, while the talented Georgia front – which replaces a great deal of skill of experience – will get a huge test. If the Bulldogs don’t rattle Bentley, it spells trouble for the Bulldogs.
2. Secondary Passes the Test – Senior cornerback Deandre and junior safety J.R. Reed both had all-star seasons a year ago and are on all the watch lists in 2018. They’ll both need strong performances. “You gotta have your guys be guys.” It’s the largely untested defensive backs who will get that baptism by fire. You may have heard that Georgia has been recruiting well. Now these young players, largely sophomores and freshmen, will show their stuff against a collection of wide receivers that is one of the league’s best. Deebo Samuel, back from injury, is an elite touchdown maker, while Bryan Edwards and OrTre Smith are big targets who can put a hurt on opposing defenses. This is a battle the Gamecocks feel they must win to pull off the upset.
3. Sound Special Teams Play – This is a box to check off. Under Kirby Smart’s watch, Georgia has graduated from going into games hoping to avoid those dreaded special teams disasters and get a push in the kicking game to a program that uses it as a weapon. It starts with Rodrigo Blankenship delivering, a strong punt game and winning the return battle. The Gamecocks may try something tricky. Remember the fake punt a year ago. A big play in the kicking game can swing that momentum like nothing else. Georgia’s superior depth should show here, and this is a battle the Bulldogs are counting on winning.
4. Cash in Offensively – Red zone touchdowns win big games and championships. When the Bulldogs get in close, Georgia needs to put seven on the board. That big, powerful offensive line has to get the push, and skill personnel must find pay dirt. Last season, Sony Michel made so many big plays, scoring plays, when the blocking had broken down into a stalemate. Can D’Andre Swift and company follow suit? Can Georgia hit the in close passes for scores? It all starts up front, but if the other guys overload, then the skill personnel must show why Georgia and every major program in the country wanted them.
5. Hit the Explosive Play – One of two of those lightning plays can make the difference or break a tight game open. Will Muschamp will have his defense geared up and the yards figure to be hard to come by. A long run by Swift or James Cook or a quick strike TD to Mecole Hardman or another of the fleet receivers could make the difference. Georgia hit a ton of big plays and scored a bevy of long touchdowns last season. Jacksonville, the SEC Championship Game and Rose Bowl all stand out. Maybe the Gamecocks have a “sell-out” look defensively and the Dogs make them pay.