With Garcia and his coach in the news so much lately, it’s not hard for the South Carolina offense to dominate much of our thoughts about the game. They have a quarterback as polarizing and potentially effective as anyone since Tanneyhill. They have a tailback who launched a career off of his performance against Georgia last year. There are few receivers I’d take ahead of Jeffrey. It’s not quite Stafford-Moreno-Green, but it’s a skill triangle few SEC teams can match.
We’ve seen plenty of evidence for Garcia’s impact on the productivity of the South Carolina offense. I don’t deny that stopping Garcia, Lattimore, and Jeffrey presents problems for any team. But viewing the problem through a Georgia lens, cracking the South Carolina nut has a lot more to do with Georgia’s own ability to put the ball in the endzone.
Other than the scoring binge in the 2009 game, this has been a tight, low-scoring game over the past ten years. The Bulldogs have averaged just 18.1 PPG against the Gamecocks during Mark Richt’s ten years, and that includes the 41-point outburst in 2009. Fortunately South Carolina hasn’t done much better and managed less than 14 PPG over that span. Last year wasn’t much different on the South Carolina side of the scoreboard. Even with the unforgettable debut of Lattimore, Georgia only gave up 17 points to the Gamecocks – only 3 or 4 points more than their typical showing against a Mark Richt team. And this was a “good Garcia” game. He threw no interceptions and completed 70% of his passes. South Carolina was able to run their freshman all day, take few risks, and throw only 17 passes despite having the ball for 35 minutes because the Georgia offense put no pressure on them to do otherwise.
Georgia, meanwhile, posted their lowest score against South Carolina since a 2-0 loss in 1904. Georgia limped along to 253 yards of total offense (their lowest total of the year) and managed just a field goal in each half. The Bulldogs rushed for only 61 yards, and seven of their nine drives finished in five plays or less. Over half of Georgia’s possessions were three-and-out gaining a total of 20 yards.
You can blame the suspensions of A.J. Green and Caleb King. You can point to a freshman QB’s first SEC road game. You can even credit the defense’s inability to get South Carolina off the field. Just don’t expect too much drop-off from the SC defense this year, especially up front where they’ll provide a second tough test for Georgia’s offensive line. Three of their defensive linemen earned preseason All-SEC mention, and they have a newcomer up front you might have heard of.
There might be better defenses in the SEC, and there probably are. But from year-to-year, few have been as much of a problem for Georgia as South Carolina. For a while, we thought it was all about Charlie Strong. But they’ve maintained that effectiveness pretty well since Strong’s departure, and it doesn’t look to let up this year.