Georgia (1-0) at South Carolina (1-1) Sept. 13, 3:30, CBS
Here’s The Deal: It’s a long, long college football season, and there are always several strange twists and turns, but in one way or another, the SEC East title will be influenced in a big way in a potential make-or-break game.
Let’s just call it – if South Carolina loses, it’s done.
You can be 0-2 in SEC play on September 13th and hope to get through the rest of the conference schedule alive, and you really can’t be 0-2 with both of those losses coming at home with Missouri, at Auburn, Tennessee and at Florida still to deal with – not to mention a game at what looks like a resurgent Kentucky. The Gamecocks got Kenny Hilled in the opener against Texas A&M, looking befuddled by the Aggie passing attack and not waking up in time on offense. Last week’s 33-23 win over East Carolina didn’t exactly inspire any confidence after getting outgained 453 yards to 441. But this represents a chance to kickstart the season and change the early narrative. Losing the A&M stinks, but it doesn’t matter if Carolina can run the table, starting with a massive win over a Georgia team that looked the part of a This Is Our Year team in the opener against Clemson.
With a week off to prepare for the SEC opener, and to bask in the glory of the scintillating victory over the Tigers, three’s a chance that this is it for Georgia. The remaining schedule is hardly a breeze, but the toughest remaining date is at home vs. Auburn, and while being away from Athens for four straight games won’t be fun, this year, if you can’t beat Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky on the road – wrapped around the Cocktail date with Florida – you probably don’t deserve to be in the national title picture, with Georgia most certainly appears to be after just that one game.
Georgia won last year’s game when it was relatively healthy early in the season, but South Carolina won the previous three. This one should be as hard-hitting and energized as any SEC East game this year, and while it’s cliché to suggest that it’s a statement moment for both teams, it’s a statement moment for both teams.
Why Georgia Might Win: South Carolina’s pass defense has yet to make an appearance. To be fair, Texas A&M has one of the best passing attacks in the country, and East Carolina’s Shane Carden-to-Justin Hardy connection is among the most dangerous in college football, but still, in two home games the Gamecock pass defense was hammered by “Trill” Hill for 511 yards and three touchdowns and lit up by Carden for 321 yards and a score. The Gamecocks came up with two picks against ECU, but they also had a hard time coming up with a stop allowing Hill and Carden to complete a ridiculous 72% of their passes in the two games. To put this into perspective, in 13 games last year, USC allowed quarterbacks to complete 60% of their throws for 2,550 yards with 15 touchdowns, allowing 6.9 yards per attempt. In just two games, the secondary has given up 832 yards and four scores averaging close to eight yards per try. No, of course the pace won’t hold up, but over a 13-game stretch that comes out to over 5,400 yards and 26 touchdowns. Georgia QB Hutson Mason, get to work.
Why South Carolina Might Win: Part of the reason has to do with the shootouts, but the South Carolina passing game has been terrific so far. Dylan Thompson had to throw to try to get USC back into the Texas A&M game, and despite hitting just half of his throws, he came up with 366 yards and four scores with a pick, connecting on just enough big plays to provide hope for the rest of the season. A bit more effective against East Carolina, he threw a pick and just one touchdown pass, but he had a better offensive balance to work with and kept the chains moving. To win this game, USC has to keep control of the ball, handle the clock, and give its defense as much of a rest as possible against the rested Bulldogs. Against East Carolina, the offense was terrific at keeping the chains moving and had the ball for over 36 minutes.
Who To Watch Out For: The team with the better quarterback play might end up coming away with the win, but the spotlight will be on the two star running backs in a potentially epic duel for the second year in a row. Last season, South Carolina’s Mike Davis only carried the ball 16 times, but he made them count with a 149-yard day with a score, while adding on 49 yards on four catches. Dinged up and not quite right for the opener against Texas A&M, he came back to carry the load against an East Carolina defense worked up to slow him down. While he struggled to break free outside of one big dash, he hammered out 101 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in a rotation with Brandon Wilds. This week, it’s workhorse time.
Todd Gurley vaulted to the front of the Heisman chase with his show-stopping performance against Clemson in the opener, running for 198 yards and three scores on 15 carries and changing the game around with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score. Last year, when he was still relatively healthy, he handle the ball 30 times for 132 yards and a touchdown against the Gamecocks and caught an eight-yard touchdown pass. There might be other weapons to work with, but America will be watching, and one more monster game and a win – along with a healthy rest of the season – would lock him into a spot in New York for the Heisman ceremony.
What’s Going To Happen: The Georgia defense will be frothing. The best linebacking corps in America will bother Dylan Thompson early on and will find its footing against Davis and the running game in the second half. An inspired South Carolina will come out hotter than it had in its previous two games, but Georgia will weather the storm and come up with a terrific win that will prove to everyone that this really and truly is a national title contender.
Prediction: Georgia 34 … South Carolina 27
Line: Georgia -5.5 o/u: 61
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 4.5
Georgia (1-0) at South Carolina (1-1) Sept. 13, 3:30, CBS