I had a chance to talk with our SBN colleague T. Kyle King from Dawg Sports about this weekend's game. Here's what he said.
1. After the injury to Trinton Sturdivant during the preseason, there were some questions about how the Dawgs' line would hold up. How do you feel about their performance so far, and do you have any concerns about protection heading into SEC play?
There always are concerns before the first real test of the season. South Carolina represents a significant step up from Georgia Southern and Central Michigan, entirely apart from the fact that it is the Bulldogs’ first road game.
As far as the offensive line is concerned, though, so far, so good. There haven’t been any glaring deficiencies along the offensive front the way there were in 2003 and I have no complaints about Clint Boling and Kiante Tripp at tackle (as in “run it between the”). Of course, Georgia has faced a Division I-AA opponent and a Chippewa squad known for giving up gaudy point totals in road games against major conference programs, so the offensive line hasn’t been tested the way it’s going to be tested on Saturday afternoon.
Ultimately, I’m satisfied with their performance thus far and I have the same concerns I have any time the team is about to play its first conference/road/legitimate game, but my concerns are of the ordinary, rather than the extraordinary, variety.
See the rest after the jump.
I am confident in the Georgia pass rush, although Kade Weston can’t get back soon enough for me. Outside of a couple of busted coverage assignments (one of which led to a Chippewa touchdown), Dan LeFevour was able to pass as effectively as he was because the Bulldog defensive front completely took away the running game in a trade Willie Martinez was willing to make.
As usually is the case in early-season outings against lower-tier out-of-conference competition, the Bulldogs ran their base defensive package for most of the game, getting pressure with a four-man rush and very little blitzing. LeFevour took what he was given but, except for one long run, he was unable to do what he wanted to do.
That said, the Georgia secondary hasn’t yet found its feet to the extent that I’d like. Asher Allen is outstanding, but there’s only one of him. It’s one thing for the defensive backfield to get confused about assignments and give up an essentially meaningless score against a Mid-American Conference team after the Bulldogs had built up a 28-0 lead, but that sort of thing cannot be permitted to happen against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
3. Last year against the Gamecocks, Georgia had trouble throwing the ball due to dropped passes. However, late last year and so far this year, the passing game improved as your receivers stepped up and Matt Stafford improved his game. We also know that the Dawgs can run the ball. How do you expect Georgia to attack the Gamecocks' defense: on the ground, through the air, or with a balanced attack?
Ultimately, the Bulldogs will have to be balanced to win the game, but I believe that will have to start with the passing game. There’s no question the Gamecocks are effective against the run; even in the loss to Vanderbilt, Carolina’s speed around the edge was noticeable and impressive. Turning the corner on Ellis Johnson’s speedy D isn’t going to happen with anything approaching regularity.
I therefore believe bottling up the run will be the initial point of attack for a Gamecock defense that knows that Matthew Stafford and the receiving corps may beat them, but, if given running room, Knowshon Rockwell Moreno will beat them. South Carolina will load up the box and Georgia will have to pass to set up the run. An effective aerial assault, particularly on first down and in the first half, will be critical to Georgia’s chances.
4. What do you think of Knowshon's Heisman chances? Can sophomores win the trophy in consecutive years?
I hate to say it, but I think Knowshon has no shot. I doubt whether he’ll even make it to New York City. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it, but since when was the Heisman Trophy about recognizing the most deserving recipient?
During Georgia’s glory run in the early ‘80s, Herschel Walker was the offensive weapon for the Bulldogs, so it was easy for him to stand out from his teammates. Moreno may be the best cog in the Red and Black offensive engine, but he is far from the only one. If Stafford continues to perform well and Caleb King and Richard Samuel continue to make the most of their carries, Moreno won’t get enough touches to take home the stiffarm trophy.
Fortunately, the very factors which make particular Bulldogs unlikely candidates for individual awards also make Georgia a strong contender for several team honors, which are, of course, the only ones that matter.
5. Looking around at different Georgia blogs, I see one constant in predictions: if Georgia plays to their ability and don't commit many turnovers, South Carolina doesn't have a chance regardless of how well the Gamecocks perform. Do you think this is true? Keep in mind that Carolina won last year without having the benefit of a Georgia turnover until the interception on the last play. How do you think this game turns out if both teams come out and play efficient, mistake-free football?
You make a good point about the turnovers; last year’s pick sealed the deal but did not alter the outcome, whereas Stafford’s three interceptions in Columbia in 2006 ultimately had very little impact. That’s not to say turnovers don’t matter, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Certainly, the worst aspect of the Gamecocks’ first two games has been the quarterbacks’ penchant for throwing it to the guys in the wrong color jerseys, so, if Carolina eliminates that particular tendency to shoot itself in the foot, the home team has more than merely a puncher’s chance.
Given the intensity the Gamecocks bring to the rivalry, I would never say South Carolina has no chance against Georgia. I have seen too many heavily favored Bulldog teams find themselves in real battles with South Carolina ever to take our Eastern Division rivals lightly. In the Bulldogs’ first two games, I took victory as a given and set higher expectations which would have to be met before I declared a particular outcome a win. On Saturday, a win would be a win.
Obviously, the ideal scenario from my perspective is for Georgia to come out focused, determined to avenge last year’s loss in Athens (which certainly kept the Bulldogs out of the conference championship game and very well may have robbed Georgia of a shot at the national title), while South Carolina comes out demoralized and dejected after the Gamecocks’ second straight setback suffered at the hands of the Commodores. If that happens, I believe Georgia is capable of winning convincingly.
However, although I don’t believe Steve Spurrier is the coach he once was---to some extent, the league has caught up to him---he’s still too good a coach not to have his team prepared, particularly with an extra couple of days in which to get ready. Accordingly, I expect both teams to be focused and, since neither of these teams has yet seen a defense as stout as the other’s, I expect points to be at a premium. In short, if both teams are efficient and avoid errors (which I believe will be the case), I think it will be a typical low-scoring Georgia-South Carolina game in which the first team to 20 wins.