Kickin’ it in Columbia
There is certainly no shortage of talking points for the big game against the Cocks this weekend; the AJ suspension, Murray’s first away game and SEC game in the same day, what the new and improved defense will look like, the HEAT!….it goes on forever. All this aside, the common consensus seems to be that it will be a close on with very few people in the media willing to stick their neck out with a prediction with good reason. Especially with AJ unable to play the two teams seem to be fairly evenly matched. Let’s have a review of how I see the teams matching up.
Offense – Garcia hasn’t proven to be the stud that was promised when he first arrived at USC but he has matured and definitely showed promise against the Dawgs in Athens a year ago. Weslye Saunders who torched us in that last match up will not be in attendance but the emergence of Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders gives Garcia a solid supporting cast to work with. Georgia on the other hand has the highly touted offensive line and tailback by committee in Caleb King and Washaun Ealey. Tavarres King is back and Kris Durham’s hands seem to be even better than I remember. The big question is the freshman quarterback. I was one of the many people to be quite pleased with Murray’s production in his first game against U-LA-LA, but he is still in question. I’d be willing to bet that Murray ends up having a stellar game but there isn’t enough proof to back it up just yet.
Defense- The general feeling is that USC is going to load the box and try and get to Murray, probably even more so without the security of AJ Green’s play making abilities. USC is a solid SEC defense and shut down Southern Miss after a shaky start. The Georgia defense ushers in a new coordinator, a new scheme, and a chip on their shoulder when they get off the bus. The team is eager to get the “swag” back and are eager to hearken back to the Junkyard Dawg era. I expect to see the real defensive play book open up this week, which has been referred to as the Bible by the players because of its size. I think the DBs will be the game changers. With all the pressure coming from the defense the DBs will have little room for error but Defensive Backs coach knows a thing or two about shutting down South Carolina since his UConn Huskie team dominated the Gamecocks in a recent bowl game.
Special Teams- Here we arrive to the crux of my argument. All evidence points to this being a close one, and in close games special teams can be the difference. Despite some serious frustrations on special teams over the past couple of seasons, there is no question in anyone’s mind that Georgia holds an edge here on the feet of Drew Butler and Blaire Walsh. If it plays out that Murray and the offense are sluggish and the Bulldog defense is able to keep Garcia and company and bay, then field position will be huge. Butler will play the oh so important role of pinning the Gamecocks deep in their own territory and Walsh may be needed to provide a long field goal that may be the difference in the game. New special teams coach Warren Berlin will hopefully get the rest of the Georgia special teams on par with the kicking game, but it is essential that we not give up the big play on special teams. The bane of Georgia’s season last year (among other things) was allowing big kick returns after touchdowns that take the breath out of the fans and players. Walsh and Butler are still enough.
Intangibles- This can be the most irrelevant category one day and nearly the most essential the next. Home field advantage benefits the Cocks all the more with a rookie quarterback coming into his first SEC game. USC is riding a wave of excitement and high expectations that the media has echoed with high praise. They will be eager to continue their rise in the polls with a win over a ranked team and will be delighted to hand Coach Richt his first loss in Columbia. Both teams have had to deal with NCAA sanctions but the more crushing blow falls to Georgia with the drawn out process and eventual suspension of AJ Green. The word out of the locker room is that the team isn’t affected but its hard to imagine that they haven’t felt some negative effects. The heat will be there no matter what the weather channel says, but I don’t know if this benefits anyone except the people selling water at the game. Gamecocks want to protect this house.
Coaching- Steve Spurrier may be older but he is as wily as ever and still wants to beat the Dawgs. Grantham is the new guy in town but he is still installing and figuring out what works. As long as I get to see Spurrier throw his visor and Grantham head butt one of his players I will be happy to call this one a draw.
Look for this one to be close. I really think that the kicking game makes the difference and the heat makes the boys sluggish and maybe even hard to watch at times. I’m going with history and predicting that it comes down to the last play of the game.
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