Thursday, September 10, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. South Carolina

The Dawgs host Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday under the lights in Athens. This one is almost always close, and judging by the woeful offensive performances of each team in week 1, it would seem to be heading that way again. But, before we run down what to expect this weekend, we'll briefly revisit last Saturday's 24-10 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

To quote Kramer after pushing a giant ball of oil out the window, "Well, that didn't work."

The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff and, against a defense that was downright pitiful last year, marched 80 yds for a quick and easy TD. RB Richard Samuel ran effectively, and Joe Cox was poised and precise on 3rd downs, with the drive culminating in a seeing-eye TD pass to WR Mike Moore.

After Georgia's defense held the potent OSU offense and forced a punt, it appeared this one was going to be an easy win. But, as the first half wore on, the Bulldog O seemed to get more and more discombobulated, or less and less combobulated, if you prefer. Play calling seemed to lack purpose, players failed to make plays when opportunities did arise, and the Dawgs found themselves on the short end of some questionable calls and spots by the officials.

In the end, the Dawgs lost the turnover battle 3-0, gave up a big kickoff return resulting in a score, blew a punt return for a TD of their own with an unnecessary penalty, and simply couldn't reestablish the rhythm they had offensively on their first drive.

Georgia fans are blaming just about everybody involved with the loss, including Uga VII, the canine, non-funny version of Steven Wright. Although offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Cox are catching the brunt of the Bulldog Nation's ire, I rather believe it was a case of way too many smaller mistakes and miscues from the coaches on down that kept the Bulldogs from scoring more than a 54 yd field goal over the final 55 minutes. If you watch the game and keep a running list of all the things that went wrong, you really can't point to one thing and say, "If that doesn't happen, we win the game," but you'll definitely have a nice tally by the end.

So, on to Steve Orr Spurrier and the Fighting Fowl from Fresno. OK, the Gamecocks are from Columbia, but it would have been better if they were from an "F" town.

The moniker "Evil Genius" used to strike fear in the hearts of SEC defenses, and nausea in the stomachs of fans. However, the effectiveness of his offenses has faded of late. The Cocks have finished no better than 7th in the SEC in scoring since his vaunted arrival, and Spurrier has yet to develop what could even be considered an above average quarterback out of anyone during his tenure. Having said that, the Gamecocks are, sad though it may be, in the throes of perhaps their best 4 year run in the school's history. This is due, in large part, to a defense that has traditionally started well over the past several seasons. Whatever the case, South Carolina typically plays Georgia tough, so let's see what we've got.

For the Gamecocks offensively, things were 'supposed to' turn around when they signed QB Stephen Garcia, a highly regarded talent out of Florida in 2007. After starting his career by breaking numerous team and societal rules, he's assumed the starting role in this, his redshirt sophomore year. He's strong-armed and mobile, but has yet to put it together in his head. Now, on his head is a different story (see below). Although many young quarterbacks tend to throw the odd interception, Garcia threw an astronomical 8 picks in just 122 attempts in '08. While reports suggested that he'd made some progress during the off-season, his interception and 106 passer rating in week 1 against NC State did little to support that.

Bask in the awesomeness.

At tailback, the Cocks will rely heavily on RB Brian Maddox. Seldom used in '08, Maddox is a powerful, low-to-the-ground runner at 5'11, 225lbs. He wasn't really able to get off the schneid against the Wolfpack, averaging just 2.9 ypc, and you can expect that backup freshmen RBs Jarvis Giles and Kenny Miles, the "iles" brothers, will be used a bit more as quicker, change of pace backs.

South Carolina lost its top two receiving threats last year to the NFL in WR Kenny McKinley and TE Jared Cook (Cook, you may recall, nearly beat Georgia by himself in '08). There is no shortage of experience or ability, though, with WRs Moe Brown and Jason Barnes, and Weslye (correct spelling) Saunders at TE. RS freshman WR Tori Gurley had a solid performance in his first game, and at 6'5, 230lbs, he could be one of the SEC's best before his career is through.

The O-Line is not particularly big, and has been considered problematic for the Gamecocks over the past few years. Spurrier brought in O-Line coach Eric Wolford from Illinois to try to shore things up. After shuffling things around a bit, it seems he's settled on a starting rotation. It should be noted that the Gamecocks have three French-sounding names amongst their two-deep on the line, with Pierre Andrews, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and Rokevious Watkins.

Overall, since the arrival of that little dickens of Gator legend, each year has been met with great expectations of the offense. But, sure as a sequel fails to live up to the original movie, the offense has sputtered. Last week, the Steve Sputterer offense failed to put together a scoring drive of its own, relying on a turnover deep in NC State territory for its only score.

For the Dawgs defensively, giving up 24 points is usually not considered a major triumph, but given the offense it was facing, and given the ridiculously short fields it was trying to defend, a major triumph it was. The key to this game, even more so than in any other, will be to take advantage of turnover opportunities, because they are going to present themselves. I also expect the Dawgs to make Garcia beat them, as they did with QB Chris Smelley a year ago. Georgia's interior D-Line was stout against OSU, so they should be able to more or less shut down the run against the Cocks. Having said that, after one game, the Bulldogs are no better at generating a pass rush without blitzing. Garcia is as Garcia does, but they cannot afford to make life easy for him by allowing him to watch Lonesome Dove in its entirety in the pocket.

Defensively for South Carolina, they are once again big, fast, and can hit. The Cocks get DE Clifton Geathers (brother of former Bulldog Robert Geathers) back from a one game suspension, although he may not be at 100% physically. With him and Cliff Matthews on the ends, the Gamecocks feature one of the best pass rush tandems in the SEC. With standout DT Nathan Pepper, and a more than serviceable Travian Robertson in the middle, the Cock line is a tough nut to crack.

As for linebackers, NFL scouts will be drooling over GA native Eric Norwood. His 9 sacks last year were the most amongst linebackers in the SEC. At 252lbs, Norwood also has plenty of speed, and is the cornerstone of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense. Shaq Wilson holds down the other starting spot, and is almost more like an extra safety than a linebacker.

If there is a chink in the proverbial Cock armor, it is the secondary, but that might be a reach. What they may lack in pure athleticism, they make up for in toughness and fundamentals. Safeties Darian Stewart and Chris Culliver anchor a unit that gave up just 74 yds through the air against NC State.

Overall, this is an extremely well coached defense, and has been for years. Everybody knows their roles, and they work in concert as one unit. They will make you beat them with long, sustained drives, and punish you over the middle. They'll make you get bored, frustrated, and you do something stupid, and they've got you. Just like Iceman in Top Gun.

The Iceman Eateth.

For the Bulldogs offensively, they've got to forget last week, but at the same time remember last week. Hmmm, paradoxical. Bobo and Richt need to come up with a game plan that involves more than one drive and stick with it. For this game, it's got to be a commitment to the run. Obviously, that doesn't mean running on 3rd and 8, but teams that have been most successful against South Carolina's defense have worn them down on the ground. RB Caleb King was expected to return, but now there are reports that he's re-injured his hamstring to the point where he'll be extremely limited (if he is able to go at all). Georgia also got mildly inventive by putting freshman CB Branden Smith in for a few plays on offense last week. That's a good thing, as he is possibly the fastest player on the team, and a threat to break a long gain at any moment. However, Bobo needs not to force things. Pound the ball, throw when you have to, and take the occasional play-action pass shot down field to loosen up South Carolina's defense to allow WR AJ Green to make the sensational play. He is, after all, the best player Georgia has on offense (you'll also see an end-around, a reverse, or an end-around/reverse option pass to/from AJ in this game. I will guarantee it).

In the end, we need to see from Joe Cox what we've been told he's good at. He needs to be accurate, and he needs to know where to go with the football. If Georgia's running the ball as they should, then Cox shouldn't have more than 25 pass attempts (unless SC somehow gets up by several scores before the 4th quarter). Play the blame game all you like, but I don't believe there was a single player on Georgia's offense, not one, that played up to his potential last week. I think the players realize that, and come up with the W here, 20-13.

Offensive Player of the Game: While I said that Georgia needs to have a strong running game, AJ Green needs to get as many chances as the Dawgs can give him. What's more, I think he truly believes in Joe Cox, and the two need to become a viable connection.

Defensive Player of the Game: Safety Reshad Jones got completely hosed on a helmet-to-helmet call last week, but he also missed a sure interception. He won't again this week.

Thought for the Game: Under Mark Richt, Georgia hasn't lost to South Carolina when they've scored at least one touchdown. They've lost twice to SC under Richt, so it's kind of pathetic that they've gone 'touchdownless' in more than one game, but there it is. If the Dawgs score a TD early, g'head and put this one in the W column. That is, unless, they don't score but three points for the final 55 minutes or so, which couldn't possibly happen.

Well, that's what I've got for you this week. While it's easy to think that this is going to be a tough year based on last week's performance, there's not really any point in worrying about all that with 11 games to go. I suggest saving that for week 3 if the Dawgs are 0-2.

As always, thank you for reading. See ya between the hedges. Go Dawgs!!!


  1. 'Throes', not 'throws'. Otherwise, great, sane analysis. WTF is wrong with you?

  2. Thank you, Ollllddude. I've since corrected that mistake, and I vow never to let it happen again. Stupid homonyms.