Georgia coach Mark Richt is confident his team will respond from a season-opening loss with a strong effort against South Carolina.
The Bulldogs might be a BCS contender, but they are going to enter no-man’s land with an 0-2 start. That raises the stakes against the Gamecocks, who just so happens to be Georgia’s top competition in the SEC Eastern Division.
Doomed by two turnovers, penalties and poor pass protection, the Bulldogs lost 38-35 at Clemson last week. But Georgia’s home opener against the Gamecocks allows a quick chance for redemption. South Carolina and Georgia are considered co-favorites to win the SEC East, and the winner will have a leg up in the race to get to the SEC title game in Atlanta.
“I think we’ll bounce back,” Richt said. “I think we’ll be ready to play and we’ll be excited about playing. We’ll be home for the first time this year. I know our fans will be ready to support the team. … We know it’s a big game and our quest is to try to win the Southeastern Conference. We haven’t played a conference game yet so we have a lot to play for.
“We’ll be home. We’ll be in conference play, and we know how important that is. We haven’t beaten South Carolina in three years.”
South Carolina is coming off an impressive 27-10 win over North Carolina. The Gamecocks boast Heisman Hopeful defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and an offense that rolled up 406 yards against the Tar Heels.
Georgia will need to turn up its level of physical play after an inconsistent effort against Clemson. Richt said that fundamentals will be a huge point of emphasis in practice this week, including blocking and tackling in space
“There were times where we couldn’t have blocked plays better than we did and had some tremendous results,” Richt said. “Then there were times where we looked like we were in the first grade out there. We were getting out of position, and there were a couple of holding calls that really hurt us and some pass protection issues that we just didn’t handle very well. It just wasn’t a consistent enough effort to do what we really needed to do and put more points on the board.”
Georgia hasn’t beaten South Carolina since a 41-37 shootout win at home in 2009. That, and getting off to a positive start in SEC play, should serve as motivation for the Bulldogs between the hedges.
“Since it’s conference play it’s definitely way more important, but at the same time every game is important,” Georgia defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “We just want to do the best we can and try and get a victory.”
The Gamecocks manhandled Georgia a year ago, claiming a 35-7 victory with the Bulldogs lone touchdown coming late in the fourth quarter against South Carolina reserves.
Although Carolina carries a three-game winning streak against the Bulldogs into the contest, Georgia has still managed to appear in the last two SEC Championship games. That is something the Gamecocks hope to change this season, but a loss this week will make that goal much more difficult, if not impossible.
While there is room for improvement, the South Carolina offensive line played well. On defense the team played lots of bodies in an attempt to combat over 90-degree heat and humidity.
After watching his team get off to a hot start in the first half, coach Steve Spurrier took the lightning out of his offense in the second half, opting instead to concentrate on clock management. While the ploy worked, Shaw’s stats suffered in the final two periods as he finished with 11 completions in 20 attempts for 149 yards.
“Our offense wasn’t very good in the fourth quarter, but we did some good running and obviously hit some big plays in the game. We had some good plays and had a lot of bad plays. We’re happy to beat them,” said Spurrier.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
—DE Jadeveon Clowney has been panned nationally for what many have called a subpar performance against North Carolina. Despite only picking up only three tackles and no sacks, while appearing to be winded on several occasions, the All-American and Heisman Trophy Candidate still managed to dictate play against the UNC offense by getting into the backfield. He will be counted on to have a bigger game against Georgia as their offensive line struggled against Clemson’s pass rush.
—RB Mike Davis knew he had big shoes to fill, following the exit Marcus Lattimore who is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers. The sophomore, a highly recruited performer out of Georgia, has relished the chance, however. Following outstanding spring and fall practices, Davis displayed his potential against North Carolina, rushing 12 times for 115 yards. Included in the total was a 75-yard touchdown run in which he out-ran the entire Tar Heel defense to the end zone.
—PK Elliott Fry was not expected to claim the Gamecock kicking job. The freshman walk-on did just that, however, booting field goals of 39 and 26 yards in his initial college game. While fellow walk-on Landon Ard took over the kickoff duties in the second half, Spurrier was pleased with Fry’s placekicking talents. “Elliott made eight of nine (field goals) in high school and 49 of 50 extra points,” Spurrier said. “In the games, he’s pretty good. Sometimes, in practice, he missed a few. I just said ‘Elliott, you’re pretty good in games so I won’t worry about you. Just go kick it like you do in games.’”
—QB Aaron Murray will need to demonstrate his leadership and get the Bulldogs to quickly regroup after a tough loss at Clemson. Murray was on target against Clemson, completing 20 of 29 passes for 323 yards. But he also threw an interception, lost a fumble and was sacked four times.
—RB Todd Gurley was named SEC player of the week following his 154-yard, two TD night against Clemson. But Gurley was limited to just 12 carries due to a strained thigh muscle. Georgia coach Mark Richt said the injury shouldn’t impact Gurley this week against South Carolina.
—WR Justin Scott-Wesley will be asked to step up and make big plays with deep threat WR Malcolm Mitchell out for the year with a torn ACL. Scott-Wesley had four catches for 55 yards in Georgia’s season-opener at Clemson.
—LB Ramik Wilson was one of the few bright spots on defense for Georgia, finishing with 13 tackles. The Bulldogs will need for Wilson and LB Amarlo Herrera (12 tackles) to be at their best to stop South Carolina’s running game.