What’s going to give?
Georgia has won 15 straight regular season games. South Carolina hasn’t lost an SEC East game since their 2010 trip to Kentucky and haven’t lost a home game to an SEC East team since #1 Florida came calling in 2009. Georgia likewise hasn’t lost an SEC road game since 2010.
Georgia has never lost three in a row to the Gamecocks. The Dawgs have scored at least 40 in every game so far. South Carolina hasn’t allowed 40 points at home since 2007. In fact, the Dawgs haven’t scored over 20 points in Columbia since Hines Ward’s debut in 1994.
In that sense, it reminds me a little of the Florida game. The focus in Jacksonville has usually been on the high-profile coach and his offense and its stars. But Georgia’s bigger problem was getting in the endzone itself. So it is here, at least when the series heads to Columbia. It’s not that South Carolina’s defense is an afterthought; how could it be? But the first things that probably pop into your head about the Gamecocks are Spurrier and Lattimore. Yes, it’s of great importance to play great defense against a capable offense. But it would be nice to see if the new Williams-Brice video board can handle a visitor’s score in the 30s.
How is the game going to flow?
The last two meetings in Athens have been barnburners: South Carolina’s 45-42 win last year and Georgia’s 41-37 victory in 2009. The games in Columbia have been much lower-scoring: South Carolina didn’t put the finishing touches on their 2010 17-6 win until late, and Georgia had to hold on to win 14-7 in 2008. Even in Georgia’s more successful outings to Columbia, such as 2006, they didn’t manage more than 18 points.
It’s tough to get a read on what to expect from this game. We’ve seen both teams put up points in SEC games, and we’ve seen both teams grind out games (lest you forget the pace of the Georgia-Missouri game before the turnovers kicked in.) Georgia’s balance and the versatility of Shaw lead you to think that this might be higher-scoring than your typical Georgia-South Carolina game in Columbia. Both defenses are capable enough that a score comparable to last season’s would again take some turnovers or special teams plays.
Can Georgia overcome its big game trends?
Aaron Murray as a starter has yet to lead Georgia to a win over a top 20 team. It’s a stat you’re likely to hear a lot between now and game time. No, it isn’t fair to put some of those losses on him. We won’t beat him up any more over it, but the quotes this week do tell us that the magnitude of the game might be on his mind. We know he has a habit of coming out a little amped up early in games (a habit, we note gratefully, that’s been absent the past two games.)
Concerns over Murray are a proxy for larger concerns about the ability of this team to avoid the costly mistakes that have done them in over the past three seasons. The interceptions, the ball security, the special teams breakdowns, the missed blocks – all things that will let a lesser team like Tennessee hang around and a comparable team like South Carolina walk away with a win.
Georgia’s defense also faces a step-it-up moment: the defense earned a stellar reputation a year ago, but that reputation didn’t come from the team’s biggest games. Georgia gave up 35 to Boise, 45 to South Carolina, 42 to LSU, and 33 to Michigan State. You’ll correctly object that not all of those points were on the defense. Most were though. More troubling was that in those four losses an average of 30 points per game came after halftime. Georgia led in two of those games at intermission, and they were within a score in the other two.
The Bulldog defense has finished well in close games so far in 2012. They turned it up and put away the Missouri game. The finished the Tennessee game by causing turnovers on three consecutive series. That will be important against someone like Marcus Lattimore who, despite his recovery from knee surgery, still shows that valuable ability to get stronger as a game wears on.